Fifty percent of teachers in Ontario public and Catholic schools have been bullied by students, parents or their superiors at some point in their career, a new study concludes.
The study found that teachers are subjected to a range of bullying tactics, including unfair criticism, malicious lies and assault. It defined bullying as ‘persistent or repeated verbal abuse, threats, insults or humiliation that has the specific intent of hurting others’.
The study was prepared on behalf of three teachers’ unions: the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation; the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association ("the Unions"). It is the first comprehensive review of its kind documenting the incidence of bullying of teachers and educational workers.
The study, which concluded that bullying is a workplace hazard in the province’s public and Catholic school systems, is based on telephone interviews conducted in April, 2005 with 1,217 teachers and support staff who were chosen at random.
Bullying by Parents or Guardians
The study found that bullying of teachers by parents or guardians is widespread. It reports that bullying by parents or guardians is more likely to effect elementary than secondary school teachers.
While over one-third of elementary teachers (36%) have been bullied by parents or guardians, the incidence drops to one out of five secondary school teachers (22%).
In addition, the study found that 32% of women teachers are bullied by parents or guardians as compared with 27% of male teachers.
The study reported that the incidence of bullying by parents or guardians is relatively uniform across Ontario. The incidence of bullying is somewhat higher in Central Ontario (35%) and in the Greater Toronto Area (34%) and somewhat lower in Northern Ontario (26%). The largest difference in bullying by parents or guardians is associated with community size. Thirty-seven percent of teachers who work in schools located in suburban communities have been bullied by parents. This is seven to nine percent above the incidence of bullying found in urban or rural communities.
The bullying by parents typically takes the form of threatening to report teachers to a school administrator or the school board. The study found that 46% of parents who bully teachers have resorted to the tactic of repeatedly disrupting classes or showing disrespectful behaviour. Kindergarten teachers are more likely than any others to have encountered this type of bullying.
The study reported that 30% of teachers who have been bullied by parents have been subjected to repeated attempts of intimidation and 20% have encountered persistent verbal abuse. Eleven percent have been threatened physically or assaulted. Eleven percent of teachers have been subject to malicious lies spread by parents or guardians.
Addressing the Problem
In response to the study, the Unions have called on the Ontario Government to address the problem of bullying that is affecting the health and well being of many teachers. The Unions assert that Ontario workplaces should be free of any form of psychological harassment. Accordingly, the Unions have requested that the Ontario Government amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to protect all workers against bullying.
On June 1, 2004, the Province of Quebec amended its Labour Standards Act to specifically address psychological harassment at work. Under this amended legislation, every employee is entitled to a workplace free from psychological harassment. "Psychological harassment" is defined as any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures. It remains to be seen whether Ontario (or other provinces) will adopt similar legislation.
Robin Squires, Student-at-Law
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