An anti-violence activist says that without early intervention, children can become 'serial bullies' with cruelty becoming a lifelong habit.
Australian classroom bullies have new victims - teachers
SYDNEY // Bullied teachers in Australia have pleaded for more protection from angry students as interest groups report a growing incidence of intimidation and harassment in schools. Demoralised victims have spoken of their utter helplessness in the face of unrelenting threats and taunts from youngsters that go far beyond normal playground banter or adolescent mischief. "Children can become serial bullies. It is not uncommon to have the students actually bullying the teachers and it is definitely getting worse," explained Ken Marslew, founder of Enough Is Enough, an anti-violence organisation based in Sydney. "It is important to define what is bullying. This is an intentional and sustained approach to doing harm to someone. There are some students that just take a dislike to a teacher and will encourage other students to rebel against the teacher," he said. Education officials have stressed that any form of abuse within the classroom was unacceptable and said in a statement that the perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions. In many schools pupils take part in anti-bullying committees and special lessons are also held, while Mr Marslew works with local authorities to design strategies that highlight the pain that such pernicious behaviour can cause. Mr Marslew said that if left unchecked a cycle of cruelty, which often begins at a young age, can cause serious problems later in life. "Bullying which starts in primary school will go through secondary school, goes into the workplace and certainly is reflected in the level of domestic violence that we are dealing with today. We need some good early intervention processes to deal with bullying to stop it escalating." Humiliated by a torrent of vitriol unleashed by a class of 13 and 14 year olds, Alex, a single mother, has chosen to stay at home without pay rather than face such an ordeal again. "It made me feel very bad. I keep on crying and my own children were affected by that," explained Alex, who, due to pending legal action against her employers, preferred not to divulge her surname. She said she had been subjected to comments that mocked her appearance and aggressively questioned her sexuality. Alex detailed some of the remarks she endured in front of a class of 30 teenagers. "They shouted 'are you a he or a she?' 'Are you living with another woman?' 'We hate you, we don't want to learn from you, you are a liar'." The experienced high schoolteacher also said she suffered racist abuse that was laced with expletives but when she reported it to senior staff members no action was taken. "I told my executive that this was happening but instead of supporting me they accused me of not being able to teach," she added. "I just need a transfer from that school because I can't work in that stressful environment." In an e-mail, another teacher Matthew, who also asked that his surname not be printed for personal reasons, described the corrosive effect that a physical attack by former students has had on him. "I had a breakdown and have struggled ever since. I cannot express here the hardship and mental turmoil this has created and how dramatically this has changed my entire life," he said. "I have engaged union help, been through a number of lawyers and contemplated jumping off a train bridge, but as a married father, I found a purpose to keep living. But what a sad, depressed state I now inhabit." In recent times teachers have increasingly been victimised by faceless tormentors who use the internet and mobile phones to propagate their hateful messages. "Cyber bullying is one of the most insidious things that we have had to deal with in a long time because someone can remain anonymous and still do damage," Mr Marslew added. "The bullies can then be really cowardly about their approach to doing harm ? and the teachers find themselves in a terrible place." Australian researchers have found that bullying is also a problem between adult personnel. A survey of more than 800 primary and secondary school teachers revealed that the vast majority had been targeted by a more senior colleague. "The perpetrators most frequently were executive members (principals, their deputies and heads of department) and that was a disturbing finding," said Dan Riley, a member of the research team and senior lecturer at the University of New England in eastern Australia. He said the mistreatment could manifest itself in a variety of ways, where victims were often ignored or had their professional standing diminished as well as being frozen out of discussions, made to endure unbearable work conditions and given unreasonable deadlines. "There could be pressure from parents and from senior bureaucrats pushing down on the school and once you've got a pressure cooker effect then you're going to see increasing evidence of bullying, which really is only a reflection some sort of inherent problem within the school," added Dr Riley, who believes that solutions are hard to find. email@example.com