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What Is Teacher Harassment?

Teacher harassment towards a student may result in criminal charges.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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Teacher harassment refers to forms of harassment that either come from or is directed at teachers, specifically due to the fact that they are teachers. Harassment aimed at teachers can be troublesome, especially if it comes from a student. When harassment comes from a teacher, however, it can often be grounds for termination of employment and may result in criminal charges. Teacher harassment is especially devastating due to the nature of the student-teacher relationship and the trust society gives teachers.

While teacher harassment can take a number of different forms, it typically either is directed toward a teacher by someone else, sometimes a student, or comes from a teacher and is aimed at a student. Harassment, in general, typically refers to words, actions, and images that seek to make a person feel threatened, intimidated, or uncomfortable. This can refer to acts of physical violence, threatening remarks, comments made that are offensive or insulting toward someone, and images that make a person feel threatened or distressed.

Teacher harassment that is directed toward a teacher can be dealt with in a number of different ways, depending on who is the source of such harassment. Other teachers may engage in various forms of harassment toward each other, such as sexual harassment or ageism, and this is usually treated as any type of harassment in the workplace. Teacher harassment from a parent is also treated as harassment between two adults, usually with legal consequences.

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Harassment from a student, however, can be difficult to deal with and may be difficult for a teacher to prove. Since students are often minors, and teachers are in a position of authority in a classroom, it can be difficult for a teacher to demonstrate how a student made him or her feel threatened or uncomfortable. Documenting such incidents can be helpful, however, and a student may be expelled from a school and face criminal consequences due to teacher harassment.

Harassment by a teacher is often a more devastating form of teacher harassment. Teachers are trusted to be responsible for students, who are effectively a captive audience that must legally be present in the classroom. When a teacher abuses that responsibility, he or she may cause serious psychological, emotional, and physical harm to a student. Teachers found guilty of harassment will often lose their jobs and teaching licenses, as well as face potential criminal charges based on any type of abuse they may have inflicted upon a student, especially one who is a minor.

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gagen1
Post 19

Teachers can be harassed, bullied, threatened and intimidated by students. I have personally experienced this and will probably lose my job due to the false allegations made by these tormentors. I am an inclusion teacher in a senior level Government and Economics class.

In early winter a student climbed from a window and drew a picture of an enormous penis in the snow. Due to the danger the student put himself in on the second floor roof, I wrote the situation up to the administration. This made his friends mad.

Since that time (November or so), his friends have tormented me. I asked them to stop and a co-teacher told them to stop. In January, these students photo-shopped a picture of me with a pop can in my mouth, tweeted it to twitter and passed it around the school. I experienced daily verbal assaults by these students in class (an overcrowded class of 30 students). The lead teacher told them to stop saying things to me, so while she was in the class, they did stop. However, she seemed to need to run errands constantly and was often out of class, leaving me alone. When she would leave, these students would immediately begin their vulgar statements to me. I asked them to stop.

In March, I informed the vice-principal that I was being horribly harassed and bullied by students who were retaliating against me for the incident in the snow and that it had been going on for months. She told me to write them up, but I was afraid of further retaliation.

Two weeks ago, when lead teacher left for her errand, the boys (very large and intimidating) started shouting obscene questions at me, and continued with other loud questions pertaining to things like oral sex. I wrote their names down. One of the boys walked to my desk and said out loud, "If you write us up, we will get you in trouble. You will be sorry." I asked them how and he stated that they would show the administration an inappropriate picture of me (referring to the pop can). I stated that they did not have inappropriate pictures of me. I reported the incident to the lead teacher, who wrote them up, but because of the vulgarity of the statement, I could not repeat what they said. (Up until this time, I had ignored their comments to me, not wishing to add fuel to the fire and totally fearful of any further retaliation by these boys.) Even my son was being verbally harassed because of the pop can photo.

The next day the boys met with the administration, and were escorted back to the classroom by the principal who had interviewed them. A group of students from the classroom huddled around the boys who loudly said it went just as they planned it and the principal thought it was funny. I was totally shocked, but understood the vulgar comments were meant to get them sent to the office to create a problem for me.

The next day, a student approached me and asked if I was aware that they were doing an investigation into me and interviewing each of the 30 students in the classroom based on accusations made by these boys.

I approached the administration, who rudely informed me that he was doing his job by investigating charges made against me. I was horrified and did not understand why, if charges had been made against me by two vulgar boys, I had not been informed about the situation prior to an all-out inquisition of the whole classroom. I was not allowed to explain the situation and was told I could respond when the inquisition was complete. I informed him that those two boys had a photo-shopped picture of me that had been tweeted. He stated that he knew nothing of the photos then turned his head and chuckled.

That evening, a friend was at a local gym and overheard people talking about the situation. The next day I was shocked that students were saying, "You didn't get fired!" This week, another friend was at a counseling center and heard people talking of the situation.

I have struggled daily since November to work with these students, and it became more difficult every day. I became physically ill over this situation. In early May, the administration took my laptop, but would not tell me why. I was told to meet with him in the morning. I called my union rep. When we met with him, I was then informed of the charges against me. All these were false or exaggerated and distorted. These boys created a hostile work environment for me and stated that they had not learned anything the entire year. I am an inclusion teacher assigned to 10 of these students with IEPs. I do not plan the lessons or teach the class; I modify lessons and assist students.

The students accused me of cursing them, flipping them off, calling them names, showing inappropriate videos, insisting that there was no God and being an atheist. I am a Christian. They said I stated I was for the legalization of drugs, creating an environment that was unproductive to learning, and that I was sleeping and appeared to be drugged, and talked about my personal life.

I say false, exaggerated and distorted because these two contributed to any unproductive learning environment every time the lead teacher was out of the room. They called me names, continually made inappropriate statements to me. Part of their daily assignment was reading the newspaper -- assigned by the teacher -- which is why they say they've learned nothing. I did not have any discussions with these students. I have never slept through a class. I have been so totally sickened by this situation that I have lost 15 pounds in just a few months. I am a diabetic. The class has never discussed God or drugs even though our local paper is full of drug abuse articles. I have not cursed them, flipped them off, called them names or shown inappropriate videos. I have discussed my personal financial situation during an assignment on household budgets and the fact that because of my husband dying I am now responsible for $300,000 in debt that I cannot afford to pay nor will I ever recover from my financial situation.

I advised them on how not to create a situation like mine. I do not feel that advising them on their future finances, based on my experience is inappropriate. The other teacher also gave personal experiences.

I was forced to write a response to these allegations. I have had a nervous breakdown over this situation. I have been put off on a medical leave for two weeks by my doctor. I am destroyed. This situation is more than any person can take. I'm having panic attacks just thinking about walking back in into this school. I've been told I could lose my job and my certification over this situation. I was told by my union that when I return to work they will fire me. I was widowed a year ago, I am 46 and have two children to take care of. Without my job I am going to lose my whole life.

Because of this situation and the fact that they interviewed 30 students without talking to me about the situation, I have lost my reputation. I am not allowed to talk about this with the students, parents, co-workers - anyone, yet the whole town is talking about me. I have been judged by the whole town without being able to defend myself because the administration would not allow me to make a statement prior to including 30 students in a situation that involved two vulgar students making their horridly vulgar comments in a classroom full of other boys and girls.

I have been unable to stop crying. I am continually shaking. I am at the end. I have no way to leave my town or start a new life somewhere else. I would have no way of ever teaching again if I lose my job. I love teaching. I am afraid to leave my house. If I lose my job, I will be out of options.

I have read up on harassment laws and my rights have been violated. There seems to be no help for teachers in situations like this when students make false allegations against a teacher and destroy their lives. We have had training on student-on-student bullying, but we have never had training on harassment, sexual or verbal - there are no signs in the school about EEO processes or contact numbers for whom to contact when you are harassed by your administration or other people in the workplace. There has been no training on what to do when students harass teachers - but according to the literature - it is a national epidemic.

The United States does not seem to be acknowledging this problem -- all the blame is on the teachers. The consequences for treating teachers with disrespect are not enforced. In my situation, my harassers were immediately sent back to the classroom, with the impression that the administration found the situation humorous and able to further erode the education system by sharing their experience for being vulgar in the classroom.

Also during this year, another student threatened to burn my house down, killing me and my children. I had never met this student - yet he admitted saying it.

The rate of suicide for teachers is 40 percent higher than in other professions. Apparently, England and Canada have taken steps to protect their teachers from false allegations, but the United States just allows the students to run the show. There is no respect for teachers anymore. The teachers are held accountable for things beyond their control, like test scores and attendance. The new teacher evaluation system does not favor teachers. The turn over rate for teaching is very high.

Our school has low morale -- more than 25 teachers have left in the two years that the new administrator has been in charge. I do not wish to leave. I just won’t return with those students in my class. There are teachers teaching at my school without teaching licenses and without proper training. Most of the teachers in my school are in continual fear of losing their jobs, due to the unobtainable demands placed on the teachers by the administration.

I take full responsibility for allowing these two boys to intimidate, harass and threaten me and their creation of an undesirable learning environment. I have three self-contained classes that are nothing like this class. They are beautiful students and make my whole day. I blame my administration for giving such support to students while overlooking the needs of the teachers. Had I had harassment training, and been given access to the fact that there was an EEO department that I could have gone to, I probably could have defeated this situation instead of being defeated by the situation.

I need someone to pray for me. Thank you for having a place where I could post my issue because I am under a gag order by my school - while the whole town talks about me.

Students do harass, intimidate and threaten teachers, probably more often than teachers harass students. I have worked in three other schools and never had this problem. I also observed these boys harass a 65 year old gay teacher. He did not know what to do, either.

anon325248
Post 17

I have a lot of teachers who pick on me a lot -- in school, though, not university. Once, in fact, I was just sitting down (it was sport) because we had packed up all the equipment and there was about three or four minutes left until the bell, and a teacher started attacking me about my culture/ nationality! Honestly, it's disgusting. I was just in Year 8 at the time!

anon317842
Post 16

In my freshman year I had honors English. For some reason, my teacher treated me like crap. I never did anything to her or was ever rude. So I switched out of her class.

I have had other students come up to me and tell me how all this teacher does now is talk bad about me and use profanity when speaking of me. This year I was supposed to be in her class again and when I walked into her room, she gave me dirty looks. She handed me a piece of paper and told me I wasn't in this class and to get out, and gave me more dirty looks.

I don't know what to do about this and I told the principle and she said that she doesn't know what to do. I would like some advice.

anon316589
Post 15

What if a teacher yells at you harshly all the time in a cooking program (in high school), to the point where you cannot even concentrate and dislike going to that class? Would it be wrong to tell her to stop yelling if she had been putting lots of negativity into her words chosen to the students?

anon314117
Post 14

Ugh! What do you do when you are sexually harassed by the parents of your students?

nony
Post 13

@allenJo - Yeah, I’ve never heard that happen either. Of course we’ve all heard of sexual harassment by teachers of students. It’s unfortunate that such a thing happens.

What’s weird in that regard however is that there seems to be a double standard. If a male teacher takes advantage of a female student, then there is a big hue and cry and everyone wants him tarred and feathered.

If a female teacher takes advantage of a male student, however, it doesn’t appear that the penalties are as harsh. Of course in both cases the teachers lose their jobs, but I am talking about the extent of the criminal prosecution.

With the female teacher there is a big push to get her counseling. With the male teacher he faces immediate prison time, from what I’ve seen.

allenJo
Post 12

I have to admit that I have rarely heard of teacher harassment where a student harasses a teacher and gets away with it. The teacher, as the article points out, is in a place of authority.

However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. If you are a teacher and you are a milquetoast, then maybe you sit there and take it. But it still doesn’t make sense.

The student needs to have some leverage to get away with what he's doing – and what is the leverage? Unless he can blackmail the teacher about something she did wrong, the student has no such leverage.

Even the most introverted teacher can fire off an email to a principal, if they don’t have the guts to confront the student face to face.

JaneAir
Post 11

There was a very disturbing incident of teacher harassing student in my town recently. Actually, it was students. A young male teacher sexually assaulted a few teenage girls.

It was quite scandalous, and I believe the teacher went to jail, as he should have. However, I was quite surprised by the amount of people who thought these particular young girls "brought it on themselves" by the way they dressed and acted. In my opinion, no one deserves to be sexually harassed by a teacher (or anyone else) no matter how they're dressed.

KaBoom
Post 10

@starrynight - That is terrible. I've read many news articles recently about gay students killing themselves because of being bullied. Often the teachers at the school knew what was going on and did nothing.

Of course, I can feel a bit sympathetic towards the teachers that have to follow the rules of their school district. Of course we feel like any reasonable person should step in when they see someone being bullied, but what if your job was on the line? I know I would like to say I would still do something, but if I had a family that was depending on my income, I don't know if I would take the risk.

I think in these cases, the people who actually make the rules are to blame.

starrynight
Post 9

I read about a disturbing trend in some states that I would classify as teacher harassment. Some states have banned teachers from stating their opinion about homosexuality one way or another, or even talking about it at all.

In those districts, when kids are harassed by other kids about being gay (or supposedly being gay), the teachers often do absolutely nothing. Even though the teachers aren't directly harassing the kids, I really feel like these teachers are aiding and abetting the harassers. I don't care what the school districts rules say, teachers should step in when kids are bullying one another.

In my opinion, none of the teachers in those states should be teacher of the year any time soon!

shell4life
Post 8

@orangey03 – I agree that it is terrible for a teacher to place a vulnerable young student in that position. I also think it's terrible when a student makes sexual advances toward a teacher.

My favorite teacher was a petite female with a sweet disposition. Unfortunately, the biggest boy in class had a huge crush on her. He was bigger than even most of the male teachers in the school.

She knew that he liked her, but she did nothing to encourage him. However, he cornered her in the classroom after school one day and professed his love to her. He took her in his arms and would not let go.

He forcefully kissed her, but she screamed until security showed up to rescue her. He did get expelled from school, and he continued sending the teacher love notes. She had to get a restraining order, and she never really felt safe in that neighborhood.

Perdido
Post 7

One of my high school teachers harassed a student because he was super smart. This boy would always have the answer to every question, and he often corrected the teacher, which did not sit well with him.

So, the teacher refused to call on him, even when he had his hand raised. He graded the boy's tests and papers with a college level grading system, so though he should be getting A's, he would wind up with B's and C's.

The teacher would even make fun of him in front of the class. The boy's parents met with him to voice their concerns, and the teacher told them that they needed to teach their boy some manners.

They took the issue to the principal, who insisted that the teacher treat the boy the same as the other students. He begrudgingly agreed, but only to avoid being demoted.

StarJo
Post 6

I think this is fairly rare, but there was a case in my town of a teacher being harassed by the principal. What makes it even more unique is that the principal was a woman and the teacher was a man.

This older woman knew how badly the teacher needed the job. He was about to lose his house, and she took advantage of his desperation.

It started out rather innocently. She would just have him help her with paperwork in her office after hours. Before long, though, she was making sexual comments and touching him inappropriately.

He was torn, because he was happily married and did not want this. However, if he lost the job, he and his wife would be homeless.

He decided to take it to the school board, and they guaranteed him job security. The principal got replaced instead.

orangey03
Post 5

I think that the worst form of teacher harassment is when a teacher makes sexual advances toward a student. This happened to my cousin, and she learned to distrust all teachers after that.

She had a male teacher who had taken a liking to her. He once asked her to stay behind after class, saying that he had to talk to her about something. Then, he stroked her hair and tried to get her to come to his house after school.

When she refused, he became very cold. He started giving her lower grades, and when she asked him about it, he told her that it was because she thought she was too good for him, and he wanted to humble her.

She told the principal, who could plainly see by looking at her well written paper and the unfair grade on top of it that something was not right. The teacher got fired, because the principal just could not take the chance that he might do this again.

honeybees
Post 4

I think there is more pressure on teachers today than there ever has been before. A lot of kids just don't seem to have the same respect for teachers as we did when we were growing up.

Of course not all of the blame can be put on the students, as there have been many news reports of teachers and breaking the law as well.

Most schools now have a full time security person there all the time. This can be for the protection of everybody - students and staff members.

Even though some kids can be disrespectful and hard to handle, I think it would be hard to prove cases of a teacher being harassed by a student.

There would need to be witnesses and a lot of documentation to make a clear case.

golf07
Post 3

There are many ways people are affected by harassment at school. I have a friend who is a young teacher and she has felt harassed from other teachers.

Because there have been so many cuts in teacher positions, there are not very many open positions. When there is one, there are hundreds of qualified applicants who could step in and fill that one position.

My friend was hired right out of college and the students really love her. She has found some of the other teachers to be jealous of her and upset that some of their other teacher friends were not hired for her position.

Sadly there can be harassment between teachers just like there is between students and teachers.

LisaLou
Post 2

@Mykol - Yes, teachers do have a tough job of it today. Sometimes I am surprised at the number of young people who are interested in the field of education, but I am sure thankful they are.

Many of us have had school teachers that were a strong influence on our lives. They have a lot of potential to influence our lives either positively or negatively.

It is just as heartbreaking to hear of those teachers who abuse this, as it is encouraging when you hear about those who truly make a difference.

I wonder if the training the teachers receive in college focuses on the subject of harassment and how to deal with it?

Hopefully our teachers are graduating from college with some kind of education on how to handle situations of harassment from students and/or parents.

Mykol
Post 1

Teacher harassment takes on a lot of different forms and is certainly something we seem to hear about in the news a lot.

There is an increase in harassment in schools overall which includes teachers and students.

The daughter of one of my good friends teaches at a junior high school. She seems to have more problems with some of the parents than the students.

When they misbehaved for a substitute teacher the whole class had consequences from that. One of the parents met with her and harassed her and made threatening comments.

It was just the two of them, but she documented everything that was said. Come to find out this parent had demonstrated similar behavior with other teachers.

I think teachers have a hard job, and most of them don't get nearly the credit they deserve.

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