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Bullying of teachers in their place of work is considered to be a matter of serious concern by the ASTI. In any workplace there can be interpersonal and industrial relations difficulties and conflicts which should be resolved using appropriate procedures. Bullying, however, is normally defined as the systematic and persistent targeting of an individual. This booklet is designed to advise and guide teachers who have experienced such bullying.
"Bullying in the workplace is repeated aggression, verbal, psychological or physical, conducted by an individual or group against another person or persons. Bullying is where aggression or cruelty, viciousness, intimidation or a need to humiliate dominates the relationship. Isolated incidents of aggressive behaviour, while to be condemned, should not be described as bullying. In the workplace environment there can be conflicts and interpersonal difficulties. Many of these are legitimate industrial relations difficulties which should be dealt with through the appropriate industrial relations channels. Only aggressive behaviour which is systematic and ongoing should be regarded as bullying." (Health and Safety Authority)
Persistent bullying can be extremely damaging to the health and well-being of the recipient. Bullying can have malicious intent, however it is possible that the perpetrators may not even realise the harmful effects of their actions. Bullying can take the form of actual physical contact although this is rare. It may involve shouting, ridicule, public humiliation, exclusion of an individual, interference with property, the undermining of a person's sense of dignity or the marginalizing of a colleague. Bullying is usually systematic and ongoing. "The focus here is on pressure persistently applied on a single individual who frequently has no peer support". (ICTU Guidelines)
Bullying can affect the emotional and physical health of its victims. These effects can be serious if the exposure is sustained. Symptoms can include loss of confidence, low self-esteem, severe anxiety, etc. There can also be physical manifestations of illness, e.g. heart disease, raised blood pressure. Personal and family life can be disrupted and livelihood could ultimately be affected through enforced resignation from employment. It should also be noted that where bullying exists, the whole school atmosphere can be affected resulting in a climate of fear and intimidation and low morale.
An ASTI survey (1999) revealed the following most common effects amongst those who had experienced bullying:
A range of physical symptoms were also identified by respondents.
The ASTI survey on bullying of teachers revealed that teachers can be bullied by those in authority, by colleagues, by students and by parents.
The ASTI recognises that the bullying of teachers in their place of work is a matter of great concern. The survey of members conducted by the ASTI graphically illustrated the distress experienced by teachers who experience bullying. Apart from the hurt of the victims there is also consequential loss of morale and damage to the fabric of the whole school community.
It is essential that the ASTI and its members, management bodies and individual school managers identify school workplace bullying where it exists. The behaviour of bullies must be challenged and appropriate steps taken to ensure that a school culture of bullying is never allowed to develop either by action or omission.
The ASTI will continue to heighten awareness of the problem of workplace bullying. It will, where appropriate, take action to stop bullying where it occurs. The ASTI will seek to encourage open and collegiate forms of workplace organisation which foster the skills and talents of all staff members to the exclusion of none.
The bullying of teachers is an issue which must be given a high priority by the management and staff of each school. School authorities should make it clear that bullying behaviour directed against teachers or students will not be tolerated regardless of the source. This should be specifically set out in the school's Safety Statement. Schools should promote a culture of respect and should encourage those teachers who experience bullying behaviour to bring this to the attention of the appropriate authorities so that action can be taken. A suitable confidential complaints procedure should be in place to deal with such incidents. It may well be appropriate for school authorities to provide support and access to counselling for those who have been bullied in their place of work.
In May 2002 the Health and Safety Authority announced details of a new Code of Practice on the Prevention of Workplace Bullying which provides practical advice and guidance on how to reduce the risk of workplace bullying and on how to create efficient and effective procedures for dealing with complaints.
The Code outlines some of the more common behaviours which can be associated with bullying and a checklist of situations where bullying commonly occurs.
The second part of the Code outlines the practical steps which can be taken to prevent bullying and describes the issues to be addressed in a good anti-bullying policy. The Health and Safety Authority's Code was launched in conjunction with two parallel Codes which have been produced by the Equality Authority and the Labour Relations Commission.
The Codes have been developed on the recommendation of the Task Force on the Prevention of Workplace Bullying.
There is no excuse for bullying. The person who is the target of such behaviour should realise that the problem must be confronted and cannot be ignored. Simply ignoring bullying behaviour could encourage the bully to believe that the behaviour is in some way acceptable. Those who experience bullying often feel isolated and uncertain of either the appropriate remedy or to whom to turn. How best to proceed will depend on the seriousness of the situation and an evaluation of the assistance needed to resolve the problem. The following steps may assist a teacher experiencing bullying:
ASTI Head Office, Winetavern Street, Dublin 8. 01-6040160
The Equality Authority, 2 Clonmel Street, Dublin 2. 01- 4173333
Health and Safety Authority, 10 Hogan Place, Dublin 2. 01-6147000.