Victimized students describe bullying by teachers and adult staff

Victimized students describe bullying by teachers and adult staffA study of 3,305 students who self-reported at least 2-3 episodes of bullying per month highlights a seldom-discussed problem in school­­: Bullying of students by teachers and staff.

A new study in Exceptional Children, reports that special education students were more likely to report victimization by teachers and adult staff than general education students and and boys were more likely to report adult bullying than girls.

Of 361 special education students in the sample, 11.4% said an adult in the school had “called me names,” 10% said an adult had “spread rumors about me” and 8.6% said an adult had “pushed or threatened me”.  For general education students (n=2,874), the percentages were much lower, 6.5%, 3.6% and 2.4%, respectively.

For educational leaders, the only positive from this troubling report is that perceived bullying by teachers and adults may be easier to control than bullying by children.

“Unfortunately, many general education teachers feel unprepared to integrate students with disabilities into the general education classroom, lacking the appropriate training to address “moderate levels of problem behaviors within their classroom,”the researchers write.

“Even worse, some teachers have reported feeling threatened and frustrated by the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education.”

The study of self-reported frequent victims of bullying calls attention to the need for better social integration of students with disabilities in the classroom, according to the authors.  Even though they may be in the same classroom, these students are often “set apart” from general education students.  Collaborative or cooperative learning and universal design are particularly useful in promoting interactions between students with and without disabilities.

Data was collected from a national sample of grades 5-12 students attending 31 public schools in 12 states across the U.S. A total of 13,177 students completed the online questionnaire.  Of these, 3,305 (25%) reported frequent victimization of at least 2 times a month or more.

Students were asked to identify all of the verbal relational and physical events that occurred in the last month from these choices:  (a) I was called names (b) rumors were spread about me (c) I was excluded or students worked together to be mean to me (d) I was threatened and (e)I was hit, kicked, or otherwise physically hurt.  The questionnaire also asked whether the bullying was done by male peers, female peers or adult teachers or staff.

Other findings of the study include:

  • Special education students were more likely to report being physically threatened and beaten up than general education students (47.6% special-ed boys vs. 38.2% general-ed boys and 25.5% special-ed girls vs. 22.2% general education girls)
  • In general, perpetrators are more likely to target students of the same gender, so girls are more likely to pick on other girls.
  • Relational bullying is more common among girls while physical bullying is more common among boys
  • Girls are just as likely to physically bully peers in both the general and special-ed populations.  But they are less likely than boys to verbally and relationally bully students with disabilities.
  • Students with disabilities report more psychological distress than general education students to the point of not feeling safe around peers.

To complement their efforts in controlling bullying, the researchers recommend that schools offer students assistance in coping effectively with bullying.  An important way to support them in being resilient is to validate their past success in coping.

Schoo counselors and psychologists also can be important in working with students and teachers. Rather than sending staff to offsite trainings, the authors write, bring bullying prevention experts to schools and have in-house counselors and psychologists provide training.

School administrators need to have clear policies and procedures for staff-to-student bullying, with clear definitions, reporting procedures, investigation procedures, and consequences,” the researchers write.  “In addition, there is a need for preventative and educational campaigns and interventions to reduce the occurrence of adult bullying within schools.”

“Comparative Study of Bullying Vicitimization Among Students in General and Special Education,” by Michael Hartley et al., Exceptional Children, 2015, Volume 8, Number 2, pp. 176-193.



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