What to Do When Your Child is Bullied by a Teacher

a boy wears a blue backpack and sits on a ledge

I am the product of public school, and cannot say enough how much I loved my experiences growing up. Yes, I stumbled across a few bad apples during my 13 years as a public school student—one overtly racist teacher, one teacher who made no attempts to hide his very pleased gaze, one teacher who cursed like a sailor, and more. But overall I knew that these teachers were not representative of the profession as a whole, and I truly loved school. 

When it came time for my own children to start school, it was a no-brainer. Public school was the only option. I’d loved it, my husband had loved it, and our kids were going to love it. 

And they did… for a while

My oldest child is a people-pleaser and brilliant—exactly the kind of student every teacher would want in their class. He makes their jobs easier and never makes waves. My middle child, however… well, if you have more than one child, you’re aware of how very different that second born child tends to be from the first! 

When My Child Became a Target

My middle child is not an easy student. He is profoundly gifted, sarcastic. He questions everything he learns, which is an admirable quality in an adult but not one that is so warmly embraced in a classroom of over 20 children. He was already several years ahead of where his classroom curriculum was teaching, and he is not the kind of child to sit quietly and wait patiently to be challenged. 

Eventually this middle child of mine became a target. Not by his peers nor by the parents of the other children. No, instead he found himself in the crosshairs of members of the school administration. Actual adults who showed up to work every day at a school, supposedly dedicated to the care and advancement of children, went out of their way to chastise, dismiss, constrain, and persecute an 8-year-old child. 

His hard-fought IEP paperwork was never filed legally; his accommodations were intentionally dismissed. One staff member in particular made it her mission to knock my son from his presumed pedestal and jeopardized his mental health in alarming ways. When he was intentionally placed in a classroom his IEP strictly forbade him from entering, she said, “He should be able to handle it.” When his extensive IQ testing hinted at possible dysgraphia, she said, “If he’s this smart, he’ll be able to figure it out.” The real doozy, though, the jewel in the cruel crown this adult bully wore, was when she filed a bullying report against my son because of his high IQ. “He can run circles around the other students with his vocabulary, and there’s no way they could keep up.” You read that right. Because my son has an extensive vocabulary, she had him formally declared a bully. 

Are you mad yet? Because I sure was.

In fact, I spent most of his few years in public school seething with rage. I had other children at this school, and they definitely never encountered these issues. My youngest had several years ahead of him at this school, so I didn’t want to rock the boat too much. Teachers are often protected by layers of bureaucracy and paperwork. What exactly could I do? 

I could do anything my child needed, and I’ll tell you how to do the same. Here are my angry-mom tips on what to do when your child is being bullied by a teacher.

1. Document Everything

This is the most important step and the first thing you should start doing. Every story that your child comes home with, immediately record it in any way you can. Type the details into emails, record with your phone, make note of the date, names of any other children who may have witnessed what happened, your child’s emotional state… all of it. Any emails that you receive from the bullying teacher, save them. If your class has a Facebook group or an app where photos of daily activitiesare shared, look carefully to see what your child is doing in them. Is he placed in a corner, away from the fun? Is he being left out? Is he unhappy and to the side? Save these, date them, and document everything. 

What to Do When Your Child is Bullied by a Teacher2. Work Up the Ladder

Once you have documentation to back up your complaints, start by sending an email to the principal, outlining your issues. Be sure to copy any vice principals, the grade level chair, and possibly even the superintendent’s office. Don’t start with the superintendent, but don’t be afraid to include them either. Every level of leadership in your school district has a higher level they’re accountable to, and sometimes it takes seeing their boss’s name on an email to get your complaint taken seriously.

Request an in-person meeting with the principal. If you still are not satisfied or if you feel dismissed, then proceed up the ladder. And remember to keep documenting everything along the way, copying the next person up the leadership ladder on every email you send. 

3. Stay Squeaky

I am a non-confrontational person by nature. I don’t like rocking the boat, ruffling feathers, or calling people out. But when it became apparent that my discomfort with confrontation was costing my child in mental wellness (and allowing an adult to bully a child), I had to get loud.

You’ve heard the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? The same is true when advocating for your child. You will have to get loud, frequently. You will have to send emails, lots of them.

You will have to tackle the feeling that your requested meetings are inconvenient to administrators, stop hoping that everyone in the room likes you, and get squeaky. Squeak all over that office. Squeak in every meeting. Don’t let your concerns be quieted with charm and half-attempts at justice. Don’t let your child pay the price for being uncomfortable calling out people in power.

Squeak for your child.

Squeak and squeak and squeak until someone finally realizes your wheel really does need the grease. 

4. Consider Your Alternatives

Sometimes, despite the most meticulous documentation, running appropriately up the ladder, and squeaking non-stop, nothing gets changed. Sometimes a teacher’s bullying behaviors may be dismissed, allowed, or even defended. Sometimes the one-size-fits-all model of public education just doesn’t fit all, and you have to consider your options.  

  • Keep your child in the same school. You will have to be a constant presence in the office, advocating and fighting and squeaking, making a full time job out of hoping the school does the right thing. 

  • Consider private schools. These schools are often not within most families’ budgets, and as they are not bound by the same standards and requirements as public schools, you could very well find yourself in a similar situation with fewer avenues of accountability.

  • Look into homeschooling. It’s not what you think it is, and it’s not what it used to be. Use this guide as a starting point. There are near-countless opportunities for the ever-important socialization worry, co-ops, parental support groups, and freedoms. Programs like BookShark empower a parent to lead their child in academics with a flexible 4-day week that eases the transition from working parent to a homeschooling parent. 

  • Run for a seat on your city’s school board. If being a squeaky wheel hasn’t afforded you the opportunity to see change, then perhaps becoming a part of the wheel will allow you the influence to begin steering it. 

Should you ever find yourself in a situation where your child has become the target of a bullying adult, where your child’s mental health and educational well-being are jeopardized because someone in power cannot control their own biased feelings and actions, you are not alone, and you are not helpless. You can fight for your child. You don’t need to make friends with everyone on staff. You walk your child through those front doors as a pathway to their future, not your own popularity. Risk your reputation for your child. Squeak for your child. Do whatever you need, whatever is best, whatever will rescue your child and put them in an educational option with an adult who truly cares for them. Your hard work may end up saving future children from the same abuse.

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About the Author

Jennifer VailJennifer Vail proudly lives in the great state of Texas with her very handsome husband and three very funny children. All three kids are educated in three very different ways according to their very different needs, which is exhausting but fulfilling. Jen's hobbies include naps, 90's pop culture, Netflix binges, buying books with the best of intentions to read them all, photography, and extroverting. She holds a degree in counseling but has found her calling by writing for and spending time with families of differently-wired, outlier kids—the square pegs of the round world.

She stays up way too late and drinks way too much caffeine, but has no intention of changing either. She is the community manager and contributing author at Raising Lifelong Learners where she writes about homeschooling gifted, anxious, and otherwise different kiddos, but also rambles at This Undeserved Life from time to time. She feels compelled to mention that she still very much loves the Backstreet Boys and rarely folds her laundry.