August 18, 2009

Back to School : Ten Things Teachers Can Do to Prevent and Address Child Emotional and Physical Abuse

1. Pay attention to the chatter. Bullying is not just "kids will be kids". "Bullying is actually the most common form of violence in our society. It is at the core of domestic violence, child abuse, workplace violence, hate crimes and road rage. Bullying is everywhere and schools are a primary breeding ground” - BK Weinhold. When you see bullying happen in your classroom, intervene. Do not let children think that it is okay.

2. Protect gay youth. Kids have a tendency to use terms like "that's gay" to express negativity. Police homophobic comments as you police all other hate speech in your classroom. Even if your personal belief system is at odds with homosexuality, know that gay teens are six times more likely to commit suicide than straight ones. Stop hate speech and you might save a life.

3. Do not ignore signs of abuse. Be familiar with the signs and symptoms and trust your gut. Don't be afraid to report. If your school has policies against reporting, lobby to change that...and in the meantime report anonymously to your state or local hotline. Keep that hotline number in your cell phone so you always have it ready.

4. Keep a journal of your teaching practice. Being a reflective practitioner is important. Keep a journal of things you think you might be doing that might be either enhancing or detracting from the self esteem of your students. Commit to increasing the positive self esteem of your students this year.

5. Collect resources. Have brochures, numbers, websites for programs for troubled kids and families available. You never know when someone will confide in you. You can't solve everyone's problems but you may be able to refer them out to someone who can. If your school guidance department doesn't have resources like this available, collect them for them as well.

6. Teach your students compassion for others. The best way to do this is to model it in your teaching style. Select activities and readings that teach good character. Reward demonstrations of good character more often than you punish demonstrations of bad character.

7. Educate parents. If you have a PTA, offer to present a program on spotting child abuse and addressing it, or on resources for parents in need of help. Remember, you are an expert. Keep learning and keep sharing.

8. Be gentle with yourself as well. As the stress of the school year heats up, you may feel too burnt out sometimes to have your eyes open to bullying, abuse or the needs of the children in your care. Don't let that happen! Make sure you take time out for you to heal and rejuvenate yourself.

9. Influence other teachers. If you eat in the teachers room, we all know what a toxic environment it can be. Its often whine central, and burned out, cynical teachers take center stage. Gently attempt to provide positive messages about children, and promoting their self esteem. You don't have to be confrontational and hated to change the climate, and changing the climate even a little may help children in these teachers classrooms to have a more positive day.

10. Get to know the parents. Parent teacher night isn't enough. Try to reach out to the parents as much as you can. You will get a sense of things going wrong for a child in the home very clearly if you have a line to what is going on with Mom and Dad.

Have a great, healthy school year!


  1. Bullying is not just "kids will be kids". "Bullying is actually the most common form of violence in our society. It is at the core of domestic violence, child abuse, workplace violence, hate crimes and road rage." I especially like #1 with these wise words. Thank you so much for raising this awareness. Excellent post!

    (Ya know the theme for this month's Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse is "back-to-school.") *hint hint wink wink*

  2. There are schools with policies AGAINST reporting??? What is their rationale?

  3. Carolyn: some schools make it a policy that teachers have to report only to a principal or counselor who then makes the call about whether to report to CPS. The fear is of lawsuits if the teacher reports and is wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes when they report to that principal or counselor they err on the side of caution rather than making the call to CPS.

    Marj: Really? Why, I had no idea!! *wink*

  4. Lynda, good points here. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for letting us use this for the carnival. Perfect!

  6. Lynda, thanks for sharing this list with the blog carnival. They are all valid points for teachers and others to consider.

    The only two times that I was bullied, actually it was my younger brother, but I stepped in and fought back and the bullies turned away. Fighting might not have been the best response but it worked. This was in the 1960's. I think bullying is much more wide spread today for some reason.