Kids Are Cyberbullying Their Teachers

A new UK survey found nearly half of teachers were insulted or harassed by students on the web.

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Apr 21 2014, 9:05pm
Image: Shutterstock

When you think of cyberbullying, you probably think of kids teasing and harassing other kids, not throwing insults at adults online. But a new survey of the largest teachers union in the UK is the latest in a series of reports that show that cyberbullying has a major impact on teachers, not just students.

The study, from the National Association of Schoolmaster Union of Women Teachers, revealed some disturbing insights into the extent of the problem. One in four teachers are said they were affected by online bullying, according to the association, and 42 percent experienced being insulted or harassed by students on the web.

Students' favourite outlets for this were Facebook (77 percent) and the website ratemyteachers.com (21 percent), the study found, and about 60 percent of the kids doing the bullying were between 11 and 16 years old.

The problem isn't unique to the UK, of course. Citing a 2006 study by the National School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association reported that 26 percent of teachers and principles in the US have been the victims of cyberbullying by students. More recently, a 2011 study by the American Psychological Association found that 57 percent of the 3,000 K-12 teachers felt victimized by the kids they teach.

The survey also comes on the heels of a particularly disturbing case of teacher cyberbullying in Canada this month. The Alberta Human Rights Commission heard a complaint from Vienna Malko-Monterrosa an educator that was subject to some of the vilest examples of online abuse from a high school junior.

According to the CBC, Malko-Monterrosa was called an "illegal immigrant," "an insult to the human race" and told that "it would be better if you died" by a student. Brian Andrais of the Alberta Teachers Association summed up the growing trend: "It is an issue," he said. "You know our teachers take these things very seriously and when they feel cyberbullied, you know, they're like everyone else. They're hurt by it and harmed by it."

Though the media focus of cyberbullying education tends to be on students and young people, there have been a handful of other high-profile instances of educators being targeted by students online. Last year, Chip Douglas, a former high school teacher in North Carolina, told NPR that he resigned after students in his tenth grade English class created a parody Twitter account in his name which portrayed him as, he says, a "drug addict," a "violent person," and "supersexual."

Teachers unions and other organizations are helping to shed light on the widespread problem. Media literacy and educator resource sites like Scholastic and Common Sense Media are filled with resources to help teachers educate their students on cyberbullying in order to stymie its occurrence, but while these types of toolkits to prevent student-to-student cyberbullying are obviously extremely important, teachers themselves have generally been left out of the picture.

Recently, some states have put legislation in place that aims to protect students from bullying—online or off—by other students or school staff. However, only North Carolina has a law that explicitly protects school staff from cyberbullying by students. The notion of imposing criminal sanctions on a minor for something like posting an unaltered image of a teacher online (which states consider unlawful) is also controversial. If legislation seems like an overly severe preventative measure, then perhaps the answer is education.

The recent UK survey serves as an important reminder that media literacy and education about online etiquette are extremely important to relay to kids who are being thrown onto the internet at increasingly early stages of life. If not for the teachers, who surely get enough trouble from students in schools in the physical world, then for a better and troll-free internet in the future.