Bullying Classroom Mental Health

When an Instructor is the Bully — 3 Key Tips to Successfully Handle the Situation

Kay Hall - January 05, 2024

64% of young adults report being bullied by a teacher at least once over the course of their lifetime, while 93% of high school and college students identified at least one teacher as a bully in their school. These statistics highlight a scary reality that many students face — while most teachers have good intentions in making a positive impact in their students’ lives, it’s imperative to realize that bullying can come from an adult in the classroom.  From how bullying presents in the classroom to tactfully addressing the matter (and taking preventative measures for the future), successfully navigating the situation will help create a better classroom experience for your child while fostering a healthy student-teacher relationship. 

How a teacher becomes the bully

Typically seen as something that only transpires between children, bullying that originates from a teacher themselves isn’t unheard of — in fact, one survey found that 45% of teachers admitted to bullying their students. It’s important to note that this type of bullying can present in a variety of different ways. Singling out a child, making an example of the child in front of the class, or even ‘punishing’ a student by giving bad remarks or isolating them from their peers are just a few examples. Verbal abuse may also be a way in which bullying presents itself when coming from a teacher, whether it be discouraging and mean spirited remarks in relation to their academic performance or otherwise.

While some students may experience psychological bullying (such as being made fun of in front of their peers, or name calling), others may even experience physical bullying at the hands of their instructor. Together with colleagues at the Norwegian Center for Learning Environment, Kari Gusfre’s study that reviewed prior research looked at adults who bully children in a global school context, ultimately finding that the issue is a global problem, concluding that students from many different countries are affected — and in different contexts. If left unaddressed, a student who is bullied by their teacher can potentially experience long-term mental health consequences — including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. 

Proactively addressing the matter 

Should your child express that their teacher is bullying them, engaging in a conversation regarding the matter is necessary. Supporting your child by taking their concerns seriously and allowing them to share their experiences without fear will give you more insight into the situation and help in deciding what to do next. VerywellFamily recommends considering the arrangement of a meeting with your child’s teacher. “Many times, a teacher meeting will resolve the problem if you take a cooperative approach when discussing the situation.” Keeping an open mind and listening to the teacher’s perspective are noted to be important during such a meeting, allowing the teacher to talk without blaming, screaming, or accusing.

If an issue isn’t addressed after a parent/teacher meeting, taking your complaint higher (a school principal, or even a superintendent) is essential — especially if the bullying is becoming worse. In some cases, you may also choose to go straight to the principal if the bullying is severe to begin with, skipping a talk with the teacher altogether. Talking with an individual of higher authority can work to formally file a complaint and consider a variety of options, such as removing your child from a specific teacher’s class. However, if things get worse for your child following such steps, options like transferring to a different school or even homeschooling may present viable solutions for both their mental health and school experience.

Taking preventative measures

Thankfully, there are a variety of ways in which parents can help ensure a healthy teacher-student relationship. In instances where a child is in need of a tutor, for example, carrying out a bit of due diligence is just one way to help make sure that the individual has your child’s best interest in mind. In addition to considering factors such as a tutor’s experience, qualifications (including proof of certification), doing a simple online search can help greatly in discovering reviews. Performing a criminal background check and having at least one sit-down interview with a potential candidate can all help in finding the right tutor for your child. Including your child in the process will further help ensure they’re comfortable, and can work to create a healthy teacher-student relationship right from the start.

While you’re unlikely to be able to gain insight on how a teacher is running the classroom first hand, regularly having conversations with your child about their classes can be a great way to gauge how things are, and can further add to a healthy back to school routine. Regular conversations about classwork, their teachers, and how they like school in general can give you an idea as to how your child feels while encouraging them to share about their day. For example, if your child expresses frustration regarding a subject, asking why can help in determining whether the matter is related to subject difficulty and the potential need for a tutor, or a deeper issue regarding the teacher themselves.

Many parents may be under the impression that bullying occurs strictly among students, though it’s imperative to realize that teachers can become a bully as well.  By listening to your child and taking proactive measures to address the matter, parents can effectively navigate the unconventional bullying situation.


Kay spent several years working as an e-safety officer, dedicated to educating both children and adults on enjoying cyberspace in safety. Since starting a family of her own, she has returned to her first love of writing, and contributes to a number of websites on the topics that matter to her.