When we think of bullies in schools, we usually think of the students – less so of the teachers.
I was certainly bullied in primary school at least. Admittedly in at least one case I gave back as good as I got and it’s something I’m not proud of to this day. There were certainly a couple of toxic bullies though, and occasionally I was on the receiving end of it from them.
But the real bully at my primary school was actually a teacher.
She was a beast of a person, and perhaps most frighteningly of all, taught only years 1 through 3, which generally speaking equated to 6-8 year old children, give or take a year. Over 30 years ago she was either in her early 50s or late 40s, so I can write this happy in the knowledge that she’d be retired and no longer abusing children.
And that’s what it was. She was a bully, but she was also a child abuser. Not sexual, of course. In this current climate, “child abuse” gets automatically assumed to be sexual, but that’s only one part of the child abuse dynamic.
She was an angry woman. She had serious rage issues. Rage issues that are normally associated with men only.
When she got angry – really angry – at a student, she didn’t just give them a smack on the rear or detention. Detention was most definitely a mild punishment. No, when she got angry she had a very specific way of dealing with the offending child.
First, she’d stamp over to their seat. Stamp. Not walk, not step, but stamp. Even on a carpeted floor you could hear every thud of her heels as she positioned herself in front of her victim. She’d them grab them by the sides, often while they were still seated at their desk, reef them out of their chair, bring them up to face height, then shake the hell out of them while screaming in their face. Not just grab and restrain, not just shout, but shake furiously, like a dog with a rag doll, and scream like an angry banshee having a particularly angry day.
Those who felt that particular wrath from her were invariably left in tears, shaken (literally and figuratively) and shell shocked.
I know things were different back then – corporal punishment was still technically allowed at schools, and I recall once even being on the receiving end of the cane.
Thankfully, I was never on the receiving end of the full wrath of The Beast. The Abuser. I got detention once from her twice (both times for defending myself against bullies), and maybe shouted at once or twice, but I never got the full treatment.
It’s easy to think that all bullying that happens at schools comes from students, but even these days you’ll hear random stories, usually from minority group students, about snide remarks from teachers, about being singled out for behaviour others get away with, or about just being the butt of a joke.
As an adult, as I think back on that beastly teacher who abused her students, I’m torn between thinking she may have had some psychological issues or whether she was just psychotic and took her frustration out on children. (Male children.) In the end it doesn’t matter if she had a psychological issue – there was no excuse for what she did.
There was also no excuse for what the other teachers did either. Which is to say: nothing.
No class room was sound proof, and she didn’t engage in that behaviour just in the class room, either. Other teachers had to have heard her whenever it happened in class rooms, and other teachers would have seen and heard her when she did it on the play ground. They didn’t intervene.
They enabled a bully. They implicitly supported child abuse. At best, they turned a blind eye – at worse, they protected one of their own.
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, as do child abusers.