When the Bully is the Teacher

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Let me start what I anticipate to be a controversial post by saying this, loud and clear:

I’ve had some wonderful, amazing, inspiring teachers.

My kids have had some wonderful, amazing, inspiring teachers.

Several of our friends and family members are wonderful, amazing, inspiring teachers.

This post is not about you. Or them.

This post is about Ms. K.


Ms. K. teaches chorus to seventh and eighth graders.

Middle schoolers.

You remember middle school, don’t you?

You’re 13. You’re incredibly self-conscious. You’re trying to fit in. You’re trying to figure out who the hell you are and who you’re going to be. You’re overwhelmed.

They’ll never admit it, but this is a time in a kid’s life when grown ups have so much power and influence. Those of us who are parents know that It doesn’t seem that way, at least in my house. Far from it. But these kids of ours, deep down inside they’re looking to us, the grown-ups who supposedly have our shit together, for lessons on how to make our way in this crazy world.

As if we have a clue.


My daughter used to love Chorus.

In her middle school, students are able to take Chorus as a class and earn a grade. As someone who enjoys singing and has acted in several plays, my daughter embraced the concerts, the hard work that paid off in a triumphant performance.

There’s little joy anymore in what my girl used to love.

At first, back in September, Ms. K.’s antics seemed somewhat amusing. At the dinner table, my daughter would tell us all about Ms. K’s daily dramatics.

The change was gradual, slight.

“She yelled at us today and said we were pathetic,” my daughter said one day.

People say stuff, we said dismissively.

“She told us that there wasn’t a single brain cell in the entire class!  I mean, who says that?”

We’ve all had crazy teachers, The Husband and I said, regaling both kids with stories of the middle school and high school teachers who were the banes of our existence. Someday you and your friends will laugh about Ms. K., just like we reminisce about our crazy teachers with our friends.

Besides, Ms. K. was providing a good life lesson. In life, you’re going to encounter some impossibly ridiculous people in the world, I espoused. And if they’re not your teacher, they’re going to be your boss or your co-worker or the company president or someone you need to get along with. So, buck up; better learn now how to accept the real-life reality that some people are simply difficult to deal with and unhappy with their lives. That their miserable-ness has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.


The comments got meaner. Nastier. More personal.

Ms. K. has told her 13-year-old students that they are “going to die before their parents” because of the amount of “processed junk food” that they eat. She supervises lunch and has come up to my daughter’s lunch table to scrutinize her classmates’ meals.

Ms. K. has announced their test grades out loud. To the entire class. By name.

And on Wednesday of this week, when a student asked whether they can refer to their binders during a performance, Ms. K. replied,

“If you don’t have the songs memorized, I’m killing you all. There will be bloodshed.”

Bloodshed.

Really? Bloodshed? Really?

I asked my daughter several times if Ms. K. really used that exact word. In the classroom. In a post-Columbine, post-Newtown, post-Everytown classroom. How, exactly? What was the tone?

“She was sort of joking, but … well, Mom, a teacher shouldn’t say something like that, should they?  I was horrified. I mean, I don’t think she would really do anything ….”

Her voice trailed off.


I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone at the school about this. Maybe I was making too big of a deal about it. After all, people say stuff ….

I don’t consider myself a reactionary, knee-jerk parent. I’m not the type who has the principal’s number on speed dial or fires off emails to the superintendent when my child is slighted. I know when something is said in jest and I am usually willing to give teachers more than the benefit of the doubt.

But.

But.

To me, after what has been six months of insults and demeaning remarks to 13-year-old kids, bloodshed is where I draw the line.

Because although I am not a knee-jerk, reactionary parent, I watch the news and I happen to know what kind of knee-jerk, reactionary society we live in and I know that if my child made a remark in the classroom such as “I’ll kill you all. There will be bloodshed,” my child would be looking at expulsion and I’d be needing a lawyer and there would be a horde of media at our doorstep.

Still, I slept on this. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I realized that I was hearing things second-hand.

But I also know my kid and what my kid – who I have no reason not to believe – has been telling me about what has been going on in this classroom every damn day since August.

I know what I’ve experienced as an adult from email exchanges with this teacher.

I know what I’ve heard from complete strangers in the community about their encounters with this teacher.  For whatever reason, a double-standard is allowed to apply here.  I’m wondering who the hell she’s related to or who she knows or what she has on someone because I cannot believe I am the first parent to call this behavior out for what it is.

Bullying.

I don’t think that’s too harsh of a term to use in this situation, because I’ve seen the effects firsthand. I’ve seen the dread in my child, seen the joy that has been taken from her with something she used to enjoy, seen her extreme, out of control anxiety and obsessiveness over HER GRADE IN CHORUS, for Christ’s sake.

That is bullying.

When you tell a kid they are going to die before their parents, THAT IS BULLYING.

When you repeatedly call someone pathetic, THAT IS BULLYING.

When you humiliate a kid who has gotten a D on a test by announcing that score aloud to the class, along with her name, THAT IS BULLYING.

And when a child has to think twice to understand that you don’t really mean that you will kill them and their classmates and that there will be bloodshed, you’re goddamn right THAT IS BULLYING. 


As parents, we teach our kids to report bullying behavior. To stand up for what’s right.

So last night I had to ask myself: what’s the message I’m sending to my daughter when I say that bullying is wrong and then I don’t do anything about someone like this? When I don’t empower my girl to stand up to a bully? What does that teach her and how does that set her up for other relationships in her life when someone might make her feel unsafe? What does this say about me as her advocate?

And what does it say about the lessons we’ve learned and what we’re teaching each other?

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“When the Bully is the Teacher” by Melissa Firman is part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, where bloggers write about kindness, compassion, support, and caring for others.  This month’s theme is Building from Bullying. Read more posts here and visit 1000 Voices for Compassion on Facebook.  Join us in flooding the blogosphere with good. 

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8 thoughts on “When the Bully is the Teacher

  1. Roshni

    Everything else would be tolerable, and thanks to your support, I’m sure your kid would be fine, but I personally draw the line on someone threatening killing and bloodshed! I think the adults need to step in now and make sure that this teacher is told how much out of bounds she is!

  2. susan

    Hear, hear Melissa. I agree with you. Teachers like this are harmful to kids. I really dont like Ms. K’s tactics. She’s (way) over the line.

  3. Yvonne

    I can relate to this, because a few years ago now, one of my daughters had a teacher who behaved in a similar way, though perhaps not quite so extreme. At least she never called out grades, though she did call kids stupid and shouted a lot. I struggled to know what to do, and tried talking to a few other parents about it. Most just said the kids were probably misinterpreting what she said, that it wasn’t that bad.
    So like you, I thought maybe I was making too big a deal. I can’t even remember what we did after that, probably similar to how you have handled with your daughter – just talking about it and helping our sensitive child get through – letting her know that since she wasn’t singled out, it wasn’t personal.
    Then, towards the end of the year my daughter had that teacher, I noticed that I behaved differently with her – it was subtle but I wasn’t as friendly as I was with other teachers. I began to wonder if everyone was like that, and if the teacher felt it. I also began to wonder how far back that might go, and if the teacher had maybe got so used to people not being friendly that it affected how she treated the kids, which in affected their behaviour and so on – a vicious circle.
    I did make more of an effort to be the same with her that I was with other teachers, and I’d like to be able to tell you it made huge difference – but I can’t honestly remember! I do remember there were some days we were surprised by her being pleasant.
    You are in a tricky situation and I hope things work out.
    I can also relate to this because I was bullied by a teacher – but that’s a long time ago and thankfully I don’t think teachers would get away with singling kids out that way now.

  4. Lisa Weinstein

    Melissa, I hope you marched over to the principal and reported that teacher! As a parent of a teen, I cna completely relate! Especially since said teen is obsessive about chorus. Tell on her, publically embarass her..she deserves it!

  5. Jackie @ The Courage In Me

    Wow. That woman needs to be removed from her job as a teacher. Good grief. She is most definitely a bully. Her abusive and threatening behavior borders on more than “just” bully. She sounds emotionally and physically dangerous. I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter has lost her love of chorus. I hope she is able to find joy again in what she once loved.

  6. Roohi Bhatnagar

    OMG that is so gross.. that teacher needs to be reported.. I feel Ms K needs some serious counseling.. She needs to work on her anger management and her tongue.. I believe she’ll make a wonderful teacher after that.. N Melissa, you are so right.. She is a Bully and don’t take this lightly…

  7. Lisa @ The Meaning of Me

    Thank you, first of all, for saying this is about one teacher, not every teacher. I’m a former teacher myself and while I agree that some are out there doing things that should never be tolerated, by and large they are working to do their best at a job that is HARD and to care for the children entrusted to them.
    Done.
    Next, this kind of thing should never happen in a school – or anywhere else for that matter. It angers me to think that for whatever reason, this was allowed to occur. Good for you for speaking up – that’s what has to happen in any case where bullying is at work.

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