By Jane Morris
While there is a primary focus on students who bully in schools right now, there are few published studies on parents and students who bully teachers. Research shows that a fifth of teachers have been abused online by students or their parents. In most of these cases, absolutely nothing was done, even the incidents that were reported to the police were ignored. It is almost like teachers are expected to accept a bit of bullying as part of their job description.
Students Bullying Teachers
When people wonder why the retention rate for teachers is so poor, they rarely consider bullying. A major survey of teachers conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that 7% of teachers in the U.S. are threatened with physical violence from parents or students and 3% are actually physically attacked. Females are actually harassed more than twice as much as male teachers.
More than one in three teachers has been on the receiving end of online/cyberbullying from both students and parents in the U.K. Hundreds of teachers were surveyed nationwide and 35% said that either they, or their colleagues, had been subjected to some form of online abuse, ranging from postings on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While most of the abuse came from students, in more than a quarter of cases parents were the abusers.
Students Bullying Teachers Online
When parents bully teachers their kids learn that it is okay to treat teachers with disrespect. The following are but a few examples of students bullying teachers online and the resulting consequences (or lack thereof) of the bullying.
In 2008, Katherine Evans, a Florida high school student, was disciplined for cyberbullying a teacher on Facebook. She created a group called “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met!” and featured a picture of the teacher, and a request for other students to “express your feelings of hatred.” The school suspended the student for three days for “disruptive behavior” and for “Bullying/Cyberbullying Harassment towards a staff member.”
In response, the student filed a lawsuit against the principal for violating her right to free speech. The suit went to the Florida Supreme Court and the student won, which translated to awarding of financial damages for lawyer fees and the suspension being wiped from her permanent record.
A 12th-grade student in Pennsylvania named Justin Layshock was suspended for 10 days after creating a fake Myspace profile of his principal.
The profile listed the principal’s birthday as “too drunk to remember.” For the physical description, he wrote “big,” as the principal is a rather large man. It also said that he smokes “big cigs” and thinks the words “too damn big” when he first wakes up.
The profile, along with many nasty comments added by other students quickly went viral. The school traced the profile to 17-year-old Layshock, who confessed and apologized. They suspended him for 10 days and then transferred him to an alternative education program. The punishment led to an ACLU lawsuit. The school eventually let Layshock return to school.
On July 10, 2007, a federal judge ruled that the school’s suspension had been unconstitutional and ordered a trial to decide whether the student was permitted to compensatory damages for the school district’s violation of his First Amendment rights. In February 2010, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit of Appeals ruled that the school district had violated Layshock’s First Amendment free speech rights. The school district appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court but they declined to hear the case.
Justin Swidler, a 14-year-old from Pennsylvania, created a website called “Teacher Sux” in which he ridiculed Principal Thomas Kartsotis and math teacher Kathleen Fulmer.
The site included animated images of the principal getting hit by a slow-moving bullet, and an image of the math teacher morphing into a picture of Adolf Hitler. One part of the website called, “Why should she die?” gave several reasons the math teacher should be killed, followed by a request for money. “Take a good look at the diagram and the reasons I give, then give me $20 to help pay for the hit man,” the website said.
The school district contacted the local police and the F.B.I. Both declined to press criminal charges against the student although there was clearly a threat made against the teacher.
When Students Bully Teachers
At a high school near my home, a group of kids recently edited a Wikipedia entry so that it falsely stated that a teacher had been arrested for possession of crystal meth and child pornography. The entry was up for about three weeks, during which time many students, parents and local people of influence were directed to read its content. While the content was removed, there was no investigation into who wrote the slanderous material. The teacher still suffers a public backlash from parents who are now suspicious of his character.
In another case, a teacher reported receiving a large number of phone calls and emails from gay men soliciting him for sex. It turned out that a student had posted the teacher’s name and contact information on a gay sex website. There was no way of tracing who had done this.
Another incident involved a parent filming a teacher’s ass during a class show after which he put the clip online with Van Halen’s song “Hot for Teacher” playing in the background. No charges were filed against the parent.
In my school, a student photoshopped a young female teacher’s head onto the body of a naked model. It looked quite real. He passed out hundreds of copies in the hallway at school. The teacher was so devastated that she left the teaching profession for a few years but eventually came back.
I am not saying that students are not entitled to free speech. I just want people to be aware of the levels of disrespect that teachers endure and the lack of consequences.
Just like adults, kids have a very public forum online to express their opinions about whatever they choose. Yet unlike many adults, they lack the tact and ability to think critically about the impact their comments can have.
Take for example the website called ratemyteachers.com. Sites like Rate My Teacher are basically forums for cyberbullying.
This is a very popular site where anyone in the world can look up a teacher by name or by the school and see what people have posted anonymously about them. It not only rates their performance but it rates their popularity. Until recently it actually rated their “hotness” as well. The site also gives anyone the chance to comment on a teacher’s performance with absolutely no filter. You are not required to log in or enter your name or email address to post a comment.
Ratemyteachers.com has over 15 million ratings for more than 11 million teachers.
According to the site, all comments are reviewed and approved by volunteer moderators to ensure they are consistent with the site’s rules or guidelines before they are posted on the website. I’m not sure who is moderating and what they are removing because it seems that you can pretty much write whatever you like and it will appear shortly after.
This site and websites like it give young people, who lack the maturity and discretion to be able to properly rate their educators, a place to be angry and inappropriate. Thankfully, I have only been rated a few times and they are mostly positive comments. But I have very hardworking and dedicated co-workers who have been decimated on this website.
Bullying and Threats From ratemyteachers.com
For example, a very devoted teacher who typically stays at school until 8 o’clock at night grading papers and working on lesson plans has gotten several nasty comments because she is a “hard grader.”
Kids have written the following remarks:
- She is rude and picks on students just to satisfy her horrible heart
- She is useless as a teacher
- Worst teacher I’ve ever had, our whole class hates her
- She manages to say nothing understandable in an hour
- I have no respect for her
- The work is stupid and she is stupid
- Aa terrible teacher and a terrible person
- Should be in a mental asylum.
Whether or not these statements are true, it is unfair for students to be able to say such abusive things and have them stay on the internet forever.
Attempts to Remove ratemyteachers.com From the Web
When you Google a teacher’s name you are almost sure to find quotes from ratemyteachers.com on the front page, which can impact a person’s career and life forever. Many students write absolutely nothing productive and merely express their emotions towards the teacher as an individual such as, “I dislike you highly; I hate her with a fiery passion; total female dog;” or just “I hate you.” Some teachers are called morons, idiots, senile or simply told to shut up.
But even worse are the violent threats that are made. In 2010, a student commented that “at the end of the year, I’m setting her (teacher) on fire,” while another student said, “I would take so much pleasure in killing this woman.”
Many organizations have asked for this site to be taken down, including the National Union of Teachers in the U.K. and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). In the U.S. and U.K., the request was denied on free speech grounds, yet in France the courts ruled in favor of the teachers’ unions. The decision was made after citing “incitement to public disorder.”
The education minister “totally supported teachers whose difficult mission will not be the object of anonymous attacks on the internet.”8
Students Cyberbullying Teachers
But even without harmful sites and apps like this, due to the easy anonymity of the internet, bullying, and cyberbullying of teachers is inevitable.
For example, students will often make a fake email through Yahoo or Gmail and send anonymous comments to teachers. As a teacher of 12th grade English, I have one of the only classes that might prevent a student from graduating. In their senior year, many students simply stop coming to school. If they fail most of their classes, they will still graduate, but English is a requirement for graduation. Thus, it is perceived to be under my jurisdiction whether or not a failing student will graduate, and not the responsibility of the student. Students who realize that they are not going to graduate too late in the semester often become infuriated and harass the teacher.
They see the teacher as the one thing that is holding them back from graduation. While they can’t threaten you to pass them anonymously, they get their revenge in other ways. It was during this exact situation that a colleague had a huge “F” scraped into the hood of his car.
During graduation, I saw a student who had failed my class walk across the stage. A few days later I received an email from an anonymous source that read, “F*ck you! I graduated! You stupid b*tch!”
The Spawn of Helicopter Parents
If you’re thinking, “It wasn’t like that in school when I was growing up,” or “It wasn’t like that when I was a teacher,” you may not realize how dramatically things have changed in the last few years.
Parents feel more entitled than ever, and they are raising their kids to be extremely entitled as well. A former director of the Parents’ Program at Cornell University has studied what is referred to as “helicopter parenting.”
Her research shows that this type of behavior started to appear on college campuses in the 1990s. “College admissions offices began to complain that parents insisted on sitting in on their child’s admission interview. Some admissions officials started to suspect that parents of prospective students wrote their essays.” She states that overbearing parents have become a huge problem for colleges and universities.
Wealthier parents may even pay to have someone write their kid’s college application essay for them. We are talking about an essay that is typically one to two pages in length and is meant to show evidence of the student’s writing ability, personality, and values.
According to the Common Application, an organization used by more than 500 universities to facilitate the application process, the purpose of the personal essay is to “help you distinguish yourself in your own voice.” It is ironic (and outrageous) that some students have someone else write this for them.
Some parents will even escort their son or daughter to a job interview, call a manager to ask why their kid didn’t get the job, and call to campaign for a higher salary for their child.
If a parent is willing to call their adult child’s workplace to advocate for them, it is no surprise that they had harassed teachers and administration until they got what they felt their child deserved. It is a cycle of never-ending entitlement that leads to mediocrity. It starts with a parent pestering a teacher to get an undeserved grade for their child. Then they manipulate their kid’s way into college, or they get into college with grades they didn’t earn. Next, when the kid gets a job for skills and education that look good on paper but weren’t actually merited, they end up losing their job. And so far, parents cannot save a kid from being fired for poor work performance… at least not yet.
Students Cyberbullying Teachers
Have you found yourself in a situation like this where a student bullied you online? Let us know about it in the comments below, or head to the Vent Section or Share a Secret. You can also reach out to our team at [email protected]
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself, but she is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. She has a loving family and cares about making people laugh more than anything else.
Subscribe to Teacher Misery
Join the Teacher Misery newsletter and never miss a new post, book release, or teacher secret!
Leave A Comment