Disrespect and Abuse

January 4, 2022

According to many teachers, harassment and disrespect are big reasons behind the increase in educators leaving the profession.

“Burnout for teachers is always feeling that we have too much to do, a feeling of being tired, of being overburdened, and not being afforded the dignity to come with the job,” Tremaine said.

Trends like “Devious Licks” on TikTok spark the majority of this disrespect and allow it to become more normalized. This normalization of harassment impacts the quality of teaching, which influences the student’s attitude towards their education.

“I think the issue that we have to first address is the overall culture and experience of teaching in general. Our young people need to see their teachers thriving,” Dr.  Liggins said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, teachers say that they haven’t felt as if they are thriving at all.

“It was very scary when people treated us like we didn’t matter,” Crovo said. “Like, you have to watch all these kids all day…like a babysitter.”

Parents, and those outside of the classroom, often turn on teachers when something goes wrong within education, and this excessive stress to the workday because they are being criticized for matters outside of their control.

“It seems like no matter what we do, we get backlash and we get blamed for everything,” Crovo said. “We can’t fix everything.”

Teachers feel the pressure to assist their students with whatever they need, but challenges like the disrespect they receive can hinder their ability to do so. 

“It’s hard to perform at the top of your game if you are dealing with all of these other hurdles and don’t feel supported in doing that,” Murphy said.

Receiving disrespect and harassment from students can lead to consequences for the teachers in terms of their social and emotional health. Oftentimes an educator’s mental health is reflected in their teaching abilities and their attitude toward the profession. 

“[Teachers] feel pulled in all kinds of different directions and they need support to get the resources they need in order to support student learning,” Murphy said. “We talk about the social and emotional health of our students but we need to talk about it for our educators as well.”

In order to combat this issue, the state of Kentucky has implemented a mental health initiative for public schools.

A “Student Mental Health Action Summit” took place in October, and it allowed for peer-led discussions on the topic of student mental health.

“We started with the student mental health initiative and we are going to follow up with the teacher mental health initiative,” Lt. Gov. Coleman said.

Although the summit focused only on student mental health issues, Lt. Gov. Coleman said that she felt that teachers are also in need.

“Those are not two different issues,” she said. “What we hear from students, we often hear the same from teachers,” she said.

Included in this initiative are roundtables and discussions that involve educators and students. They aim to promote dialogue surrounding mental health and the improvement of it. 

“We held 10 roundtable discussions with middle school and high school students,” Lt. Gov. Coleman said, and according to her, teacher roundtables are next on the agenda. The initiative will tackle the mental health of educators which is directly impacted by the harassment and abuse they face each day.

Representative Timoney said that, as a former classroom teacher and principal, he is also concerned about what teachers are facing, and he said that teachers should be shown more respect.

“The more that we can do to help the public and help other people understand how difficult things are, truly, and how skilled a teacher needs to be, I think that will benefit us.”

Teachers say that they are also negatively impacted by various levels of their own administration ranging from a lack of resources, inadequate compensation, and the expectation to work after contract hours or to supplement their classroom materials out of their own pockets.

“It’s one thing to give educators directives, but it’s another thing to actually give them the tools to carry out those directives,” Murphy said.

Aside from facing day-to-day harassment, there are more serious life or death situations of abuse at hand. Since the pandemic, groups of parents have gathered across the country to protest mask mandates. Some of these efforts have turned violent, making it hard for educators to want to put their lives at risk. 

“Communities across the nation have seen a disturbing spike in threats against educators and school board members over COVID safety measures…” the National Education Association said in a press release.

Beyond COVID-induced instances of harassment, there are also recent headlines about deadly school shootings. Teachers say that coming to work each day can prove difficult when there are fears and anxieties in the back of their minds.

Has the toll on mental health during the pandemic made students even less stable and more likely to commit acts of violence? An analysis by Education Week found that there have been 31 school shootings in 2021, and 89 school shootings since 2018 with the most recent one in Oxford, Michigan, being the deadliest since May 2018. 

For many teachers, it starts to pile up.

“When you add hall duty, checking the bathrooms, and metal detector duty, that makes us feel taken advantage of and it creates a toxic culture and environment,” Crovo said. “People aren’t excited to come and do their job.”

This harassment and disrespect, along with increased work demands and lack of compensation, contributes to the recent spike in teacher burnout and diminished retention rates. It is vital that educators feel excited to come to work and share their passions with students.

“I can see teachers bearing the burden of the difficult times we’re going through,” said Representative Killian Timoney (R-KY). “I always hear ‘I’m at my breaking point’ and I ask what I can do. How can we fix this?”

He said that in the legislative session, he is taking steps to educate his own party about what being a teacher is like. “I’m going to protect public education as I said I would,” he said.

The session will start on Jan. 4 and must end by midnight on April 14.

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