Adults Behaving Badly

By Naomi Dillon

Call it what you will -- harassment, incivility, abuse, bullying -- there’s broad agreement that bad behavior is on the rise, and not just among today’s youth.   Consider the Virginia middle school principal who abruptly left her post in March and sent a letter to the community accusing the superintendent of creating “an untenable and hostile work environment.” Or the newly elected school board member in Ohio who apparently said at a May teacher appreciation luncheon that layoffs were imminent unless the teachers agreed to a pay freeze.

Now consider the Wisconsin fifth-grade teacher who was dismissed in 2010 for a history of toxic behavior that included firing off nearly 4,000 e-mails in a year’s time -- on a school computer -- that called co-workers, students, and parents “nut jobs,” “cuckoo woman,” and “Nazi aides.” Or the Pennsylvania teacher who used derogatory terms about her students on her personal blog, but so far has managed to keep her job (see sidebar, page 19).

These incidents, while isolated, point to a variety of factors in the workplace that are caused by increased stress and tension in our school districts. But while national attention and energy has rightfully focused on the phenomenon of peer-to-peer bullying, what’s missing is a hard, broader look at the relationships and interaction among adults in the school community.

Anecdotally, at least, bullying in the workplace is on the rise, and given the number of people who work in your districts, that means it could be occurring in your schools -- between teachers and students, administrators and teachers, or in some other form involving adults.

 “The less respect teachers get, the less space they have to breathe, the more demands you put on them, the more likely it is someone who might otherwise do OK will slide into negative behaviors,” says Stan Davis, a retired school counselor and founder of the online clearinghouse “There’s a lot of pressure to achieve and to blame.”

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