Why Teachers Become Bullies

Last time, I talked about additive strategies and subtractive strategies, and how insecurity in social currency invites people to take “the low road” to preserving or gaining status.

This time, I’m going to provide an example of how that “low road” strategy appears in unexpected places – like teachers. Here’s an article about a high-schooler who recorded a substitute teacher joining the class to humiliate and bully him.

And, here’s the video the kid took:

And, we may find the video shocking, and we may want to explain this by saying the substitute teacher must be an awful person, and that may comfort us by letting us pretend this isn’t lots more common than we want to think.

Here’s the real problem:

Teachers are in the social and economic strata of “public employee”. And, they’re often criticized because “they get the whole summer off”, get benefits, etc.

Look at social media commentary about teachers’ pay and working terms. Everyone from the middle class on down uses teachers as a subtractive strategy target.

If you have anyone working inside public education, and you ask them, you’ll discover that most school systems run at the management-level the same way the classrooms run at student-level – in a very socially despotic manner.

Dictates are given, often arbitrary ones – or ones that directly conflict with mission statements. Punishments for the most trivial deviations are often also arbitrary. Teachers are stripped of intrinsic motivation – the first component of which is AUTONOMY.

And, nobody is lower on that scale than the substitute teacher.

This is true also of the perceptions of students. The substitute isn’t skilled enough, established enough, or socially connected enough to “get a real job”.

A perceived poverty of social status is the ground from which social despotism sprouts.

And, maintaining order on the overall classroom – and having ANY level of rapport with a bunch of otherwise unruly kids – offers an easy pathway to the substitute who is already socially bankrupt.

I’m not making excuses for the teacher. I’m just observing the actual forces working on the human beings in the situation. And, I’m also observing that the “adult” just proved an easy pathway to getting by. Facing consequences later won’t change what the kids will take from the event, behaviorally. Because in-the-moment, the strategy was successful. The only “problem” was getting caught – another object lesson they learn from … the captains of American industry and our money-skewed “justice” system.

What You Can Do:

Recognize that people are human – and nobody more so than teenagers. They will do what works in-the-moment – and especially what is modeled for them by adults. No amount of lecturing is going to change what they learn works IN THE REAL WORLD – meaning their world, and in the immediate – not some theory-based future. This is why “consequences” are not nearly as effective as prevention!

Recognize that culture is controlled from the top-down – by example and modeling – what we used to call LEADING. If there’s a “bullying problem” at some level, it is a symptom of something happening at least one level higher. This is due to the “subtractive strategy” cascading downward from one level of “no appeal” to the next one down.

Foster environments that accept appeals and input from “below” – and that promote autonomy on every level. When you notice the parade of “security” talk excuses for erasing autonomy, remember someone who has made no mistakes has also learned no lessons. Judgment can only develop where mistakes are possible – and accepted as part of learning.

Model this by admitting and growing from your own mistakes – and by being tolerant of others’ learning processes.

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