Bully in the Staffroom

Beware of the Staffroom Bully. They exist!

Back stabbing; openly undermining; a convincing liar; mercilessly making another persons life a misery. This sort of behaviour may be familiar for those of us who teach Year 6 or Year 10 pupils in particular, but when many teachers actively discourage bullying behaviours from their pupils, many are witness to (or victim of) workplace bullying which can make for a miserable existence for the individual concerned.

With many initiatives rightly supporting our pupils against bullying behaviour, it is a characteristic that is not just exclusive to youngsters, with this article highlighting the ‘staffroom’ bullying that goes on in various schools, which is as bad, or even worse, than what happens in the playground.

Mostly, a bully themselves will feel threatened by colleagues with competence, integrity and popularity, and sooner or later he or she picks one individual out and projects onto them their own inadequacy and incompetence. The impact of such a campaign can have devastating impacts on their victim, especially if the bully creates a ‘gang’ of followers who are themselves too scared to stand up against the victimisation, in case they suddenly become the next target.

The BullyOnline website cites various behaviours of staff who might be victims of bullying behaviour, and these are very credible for schools as workplaces:

A person who is being bullied might already know or come to discover that they have a string of predecessors who have either:

  • left unexpectedly or in suspicious circumstances;
  • have gone on long term sick leave with some sort of psychological problem, and never returned;
  • taken unexpected early or ill-health retirement,
  • have been involved in a grievance or disciplinary or legal action;
  • have had stress breakdowns;
  • been over-zealously disciplined for some trivial or non-existent reason.

Schools are under a lot of pressure, due to accountability, results and local factors to ensure that performance is at the best position for their pupils, quite rightly, but such pressures do not lend themselves to bullying behaviour from school leaders. A supportive environment is more likely to yield positive results for everyone within the setting.

A few UKEdChat community teachers told us of their experiences of being bullied as a teacher by their colleagues:

Small issue a few years ago where science teacher was unpleasant from beginning, saying previous HOD did this and that and I should do the same and then wanted me to pirate resources. I refused. He came into my classroom with students in it & screamed at me. Thankfully, head had a word. He was forced to apologise and then didn’t talk to me for a term.

Another teacher told us:

I was bullied by deputy head who always wanted control over department decisions and didn’t like it when I had different ideas to him and HoD liked my idea rather than his. Ended when he kept me in his room until I agreed with him. At that point I made official complaint to head.

The reasons? Control and trying to make an impression I think. Never really got to the bottom of it. He has moved school now. I think he did it to a number of others too.  I mainly remember being asked to speak in full staff meetings ( 120 admin and teaching) about something that he knew we had different ideas about so he could then reply in front of everyone saying how wrong I was. Of course I stopped agreeing to speak but not good for my self esteem or career progression.

Important thing to note is that I am not a young or timid teacher but it wasn’t until after that horrible day in his office that I realised how long it had actually been going on for. I now realise I had had a couple of years of being held back, intimidated and bullied. Very unpleasant. Schools do not have good Well being communication channels open for teachers to use.

We are also aware of another story where the staff in one primary school staged a campaign against one ‘high-performing’ teacher who was forced to leave and change careers due to the nasty nature of the experience. It is claimed that the new leader of the school felt threatened by this individual, and staged a dirty campaign to force departure.

Be on the look-out:

BullyOnline points out these behaviours which can indicate that your school has a serial bully:

Perhaps the most easily recognisable Serial Bully traits are:

  • Jekyll and Hyde nature – Dr Jekyll is “charming” and “charismatic”; “Hyde” is “evil”;
  • Convincing liar – Makes up anything to fit his needs at that moment;
  • Treats some people in a way that causes them unprecedented levels of stress, frustration and fear;
  • Damages the health and reputations of organisations and individuals;
  • Reacts to criticism with denial, retaliation and by feigning victimhood and blaming victims;
  • Apparently immune from disciplinary action
  • Moves to a new target when the present one burns out or leaves.

Our previous articles on the reasons why teachers leave the profession highlighted how, for some teachers, the bullying pressure forced them out of the profession and move to different careers. This is clearly one of the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession, and attention needs to be given by leaders (national and local) to ensure that bullying behaviour from school leaders and colleagues is given the same attention as the bullying threat in the playground.

Who to turn to?

When you are a victim of bullying, it can be difficult to know who to turn to. Even though the world is populated by 7 Billion people, it can suddenly feel like a lonely place. Our best tips for this are:

  • Talk to friends and family. They want to help and support you – you cannot get through this by yourself, so seek out an opportunity to talk to someone you can trust
  • Teachers across the UK can contact the Teacher Support Network (website here) by calling 08000 562 561 (or teachers in Wales can call 08000 855 088). If you don’t want to talk, you can text them for advice via 07909 341229. The TSN is a charity, and their support line is open 24/7.

What is key here is not to isolate yourself. Even the strongest people crack under the pressure thinking that they can resolve the matter themselves. You wouldn’t tell a child to cope with the bullying themselves…so practice what you preach.


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About UKEdChat Editorial 3188 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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