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Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving ContextsCulture, Organization, and Time$

Ron Avi Astor and Rami Benbenisthty

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190663049

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190663049.001.0001

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Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization and their Interrelationship

Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization and their Interrelationship

Chapter:
(p.132) Chapter 8 Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization and their Interrelationship
Source:
Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts
Author(s):

Ron Avi Astor

Rami Benbenishty

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190663049.003.0008

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the victimization of teachers by students and victimization of students by teachers and explores their interrelationships. The chapter reviews the literature on these issues and notes the paucity of research in education on the prevalence and consequences of victimization of students by teachers—this, in contrast to a recent worldwide interest in the victimization of teachers by students. The chapter examines cultural beliefs and shifting norms with regards to corporal punishment of students. A study of student–teacher mutual victimization as reported by Israeli students from several cultural groups. The chapter suggests that students’ reports of being victimized by their teachers are associated with their reports of victimizing teachers, both on the student and school level (especially with regard to more physical and sexual types of victimization) and for all three cultural groups. The chapter explores the role of teacher unions in teacher perpetration and victimization.

Keywords:   student–teacher victimization, corporal punishment, norms, school level, teacher union

I was a “good child” and a “model student.” I still remember to this date how humiliated I felt when my kindergarten teacher squeezed and pulled my ear to reprimand me. It happened once, but that was enough. It hurt in more than one way.

—Rami Benbenishty

Once again, as was common during my elementary school years, I was called into the principal’s office for “instigating” a fight between two other students. My third-grade teacher sent me to the office just after I came back from recess on the playground.

The principal was on a first-name basis with me. I was one of the dozen or so students in the school who had a parental signed letter allowing the principal and teachers to “paddle” me when I “acted out.” About a year earlier, all students in my elementary school were potentially eligible to be spanked or paddled, but California passed a law requiring that the school receive parental permission in writing first. The principal subsequently had a meeting with me and my mother explaining that corporal punishment was a critical educational tool necessary for classroom management and my development. My mother signed the document, convinced by the educators that corporal punishment was critical to my education.

“Ron, so what are we going to do with you?” My principal would always start the conversation with those words. On this occasion, she was frustrated and said, “This is the third time this week you’ve been sent to my office for instigating. I’m beginning to think that you may like being paddled.” The principal tried to get me to “show remorse” for what I had done on the playground with my peers. I did not feel remorseful. When I refused her requests to confess remorsefulness, she said, “Well, you leave me no option but to paddle you again—this time three paddles, because this is the third you’ve been sent to my office this week.” She pulled out the rather large wooden paddle, had me bend over a chair in her office, and paddled me on the buttocks hard three times. I held back my tears as an act of defiance and did not cry or make a sound—at least not in front of her. She added, “I have to do this because your father is not here to do it. I’m doing this for him and for you—this is what he would have wanted.” My father was a kind, nonviolent person who would not swat a fly. (p.133) But I remained silent and took my punishment. I left her office, facing the stares of all the students waiting in line to be “talked to or paddled,” some of whom asked, “Did it hurt? We didn’t hear you cry.” Leaving the office, I walked briskly to the bathroom, fighting in vain against the release of a runaway tear that trickled down my cheek, looking down to make sure no one would see it. When I got back to class, the other students all knew I had been paddled, and the teacher used my reentry as an example, stating, “Some people just don’t learn,” and suggesting hopefully that others in the class would learn—even if I did not—not to be instigators.

—Ron Avi Astor

Changing Global Norms on Student-to-Teacher and Teacher-to-Student Violence

The scenarios described here were common only a half century ago. We lived through that era. Corporal punishment in many Western countries throughout the world was and is still seen as a tool to help students succeed in school. This is less true in the academic world. Today, it would be difficult to find a modern-day textbook or a teacher preparation program that allows or advocates for any type of physical or psychological harm to be used as an educational tool. Our norms as a society, especially in university settings preparing future educators, have changed surrounding the issue of spanking and corporal punishment as a sanctioned method.

Yet in schools around the world, physical and psychological harmful behaviors involving teachers and students do occur and are sometimes codified in policy. Sometimes attitudes toward teacher–student harm are part of changing norms associated with these behaviors. In fact, even now in 2017, 19 states in the United States and more than 60 countries around the world allow corporal punishment in schools (Gershoff, 2017). Some of these states and countries have distinct policies, like the process and procedures described in the latter scenario opening this chapter, allowing corporal punishment as a form of school discipline.

Ironically, the modern school safety and bullying empirical literatures rarely include any form of physical violence stemming from the staff toward students—either as part of policy, school discipline, or abuse—even in states in which they are sanctioned by law. Even during discussions surrounding the school-to-prison pipeline that involve harsh discipline and zero tolerance, calls for research on corporal punishment as a sanctioned form of discipline are rare. This is perplexing because many of the researchers who study bullying and school safety are aware of the many news media reports of victimization by teachers of students, including multiple position statements against corporal punishment in schools. Only limited research has specifically explored teachers who victimize students out of anger or frustration (rather than based on a corporal punishment policy).

Most of the interest in school violence has focused on student-to-student bullying and victimization. Although peer victimization at school is important, it is only one component of the more complete picture of violence experienced in (p.134) the school community. These experiences include victimization of students by educational staff members, victimization of school staff members by students, and even victimization involving parents. All these sources of victimization may interrelate and interact to affect the well-being and performance of all school community members. The research literature is so lopsided in focusing on teachers as victims that it raises questions about the influential role of teachers’ unions in suppressing this line of research and why researchers are willing to document students’ victimization of teachers but not how some teachers are emotionally, physically, and sexually victimizing students. In this chapter, we place both student-to-teacher and teacher-to-student victimization in the school context and examine how they interrelate.

Recently, international awareness of the victimization of educators by students has increased. The American Psychological Association commissioned a Task Force on Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers, chaired by Dorothy Espelage. The task force published recommendations for a national research, practice, and policy agenda to address this problem. The work of this committee also led to a nationwide survey of teachers (McMahon et al., 2014). In Israel, at the time of writing this book, a committee is addressing issues of victimization of teachers by students and their parents. Based in part on recommendations made by this committee, the Israeli Parliament is considering a law proposal that would punish severely parents who attack teachers and principals. Far fewer studies exist on the victimization of students by their teachers. The education-related literature, especially in the United States and Europe, rarely addresses this issue. In fact, except for the early work of Hyman and associates on corporal punishment in schools (Hyman & Perone, 1998; Hyman & Snook, 2000), we found few studies focused on teachers victimizing students (see Twemlow, Fonagy, Sacco, & Brethour, 2006, a small-scale study, as a rare example), and we could find only one recent US-based study that asked students about victimization by educational staff members (Datta, Cornell, & Huang, 2017). This is surprising given how popular the issue of bullying has become in so many research disciplines. The paucity of US studies in this area may reflect political and systemic factors and theoretical gaps in the literature.

International Studies on Students’ Victimization of Teachers

The importance of studying issues of student–teacher victimization derives from both their prevalence and impact on victims and schools. A review of the literature (Espelage et al., 2013) and several recent studies indicated that the prevalence of teachers being victimized by students is not negligible. Given the wide range of definitions, methodologies, and samples used, it is not surprising that estimates of the prevalence of teacher victimization by students vary, but they all indicate that this is a significant issue. In the United States, Dinkes, Cataldi, Lin-Kelly, and (p.135) Snyder (2007) reported that 7% of the teaching force reported experiencing student threats or assaults, and 6 to 8% (depending on school level) reported being attacked at school. In a more recent school crime and safety report, 4% of teachers reported being physically attacked at school (Robers, Zhang, Truman, & Snyder, 2010). In a recent national online survey of K-12 teachers conducted by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers (McMahon et al., 2014), about 77% of participants reported being victimized by students at least once during the current or prior year, including 44% who reported being physically attacked. Finally, Zhang and associates (2016) reported that the 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey indicated that 9 to 10% of teachers reported being threatened with injury by a student at their school. Eight percent of elementary school teachers and 3% of secondary school teachers reported being physically attacked by a student.

Reports on teachers’ victimization by students are not limited to the United States. In a nationally representative sample of 1,521 Israeli homeroom teachers from 232 schools, 17.0% reported verbal attacks by students, 5.9% were threatened with harm by a student, and 3.6% reported that students destroyed or damaged their personal belongings. Relatedly, in a nationally representative sample of Israeli secondary school students, 14.0% reported that during the prior month they had cursed or a humiliated a teacher, 6.9% had destroyed or damaged a teacher’s personal belongings, and nearly 4% said that they threatened to hurt a teacher or shoved or hit a teacher (Benbenishty, 2002).

In an Asia-based study, one-third of respondents in a nationally representative sample of 996 teachers in South Korea reported experiencing at least one type of victimization during the past two years; most were victims of verbal threats or abuse and aggressive behaviors by students (Moon & McCluskey, 2016). A study involving a nationally representative sample of students in Taiwan found that 52% of students reported victimizing teachers in at least one form, about 37% reported emotional or harassment, and 3% reported physically attacking a teacher (Chen & Astor, 2012).

In a different cultural context, we studied the prevalence of student–teacher victimization among several cultural groups of students in Israel. As in other parts of this book, we examine issues of prevalence at the student and school levels. Specifically, what proportions of students and teachers report victimization, and how do schools differ in the proportions of students and teachers who report victimization? Although some studies have reported student and teacher prevalence of reporting mutual victimization, we could not find studies that reported school-level prevalence of such behaviors.

Much of the research on teachers being victimized by students has been based on reports made by victimized teachers. This source of information is very important given that they are the victims and can describe the effect of such behaviors. It is important, however, to examine this issue from another perspective—that of the students who are perpetrating this victimization. This perspective may help (p.136) cross-validate teacher reports and add important information regarding the characteristics of these students who victimized teachers, potentially informing prevention strategies.

International Studies on Teachers Victimizing Students

In a study in Israel (Benbenishty, Zeira, & Astor, 2002; Benbenishty, Zeira, Astor, & Khoury-Kassabri, 2002), researchers distinguished between corporal punishment and other forms of teachers’ maltreatment of students. That is, some behaviors may be seen by teachers (and often students and their parents) as an educational response, similar to the scenario described at the start of the chapter, that is intended to correct the student’s behavior. Other teacher-to-student behaviors may be reactions that reflect anger, frustration, or disrespect for the students. These behavioral responses are not part of a discipline policy and sometimes fall into the category of abuse or inappropriate emotional and physical responses to situations presented by students. A third alternative is that a social breakdown occurs in which students and teachers victimize each other as a form of self-defense or part of disciplinary breakdowns. This possibility has not been explored by the extant literatures. We think this is an important topic to explore at the school level, because some schools might have high rates of victimization due to a lack of structure, organization, and discipline in both directions. These distinctions between the underlying reasons for and contexts of teacher-to-student victimization types are not always clear, and current research has not empirically explored these distinctions.

For instance, some forms of physical maltreatment may be regarded as intentional and accepted corporal punishment. Hyman (1990) defined corporal punishment in school as “the infliction of pain or confinement as a penalty for an offense committed by a student” (p. 10), whereas the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) defined corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light” (para. 11).

Gershoff’s (2017) comprehensive review of school corporal punishment around the world portrayed a very grim picture. In 69 countries (including some states in Australia and the United States, but no other Western country), school corporal punishment is legal. Legally sanctioned corporal punishment is expected to follow certain rules as to when and how it should be used. Yet students across the globe, from Alabama to Swaziland, report that they were punished for rather minor infractions (such as not obeying a teacher’s request), not necessarily for serious disciplinary breaches.

Corporal punishment and teacher-to-student victimization include a range of transgressions against students, such as the use of objects, including sticks, straps, and wooden boards, on virtually every part of their bodies. Pinching, pulling ears (p.137) and hair, slapping the face, and throwing objects also occurs. Punishments include making students stand in painful positions or in the sun for long periods, crouch as if sitting in a chair for long periods, hold or carry heavy objects, dig holes, kneel on small objects such as stones or rice, exercise excessively without rest or water, and ingest noxious substances, such as cigarettes (Gershoff, 2017). Sadly, international data suggest that even where corporal punishment is prohibited (or restricted) by law, teachers victimize students in multiple ways (e.g., Breen, Daniels, & Tomlinson, 2015).

The public discourse on victimization of students by their teachers is almost always restricted to the child abuse and neglect and children’s rights literatures (for a rare example, see Datta et al., 2017). Overlooking this type of victimization in Western countries in the educational and bullying research literatures is unfortunate. How students are being treated by their educators is central to issues of school climate. Invariably, in the United States and Europe, studies of school climate and teacher–student relations focus on questions of teachers’ respect for and emotional support of the child. Only rare examples exist of climate questionnaires that ask whether teachers emotionally, physically, or sexually victimize students. If items such as “my teacher respects me” are relevant to school climate and students’ academic performance, others such as “my teacher humiliated me” or “my teacher pushed and shoved me on purpose” also seem relevant. But currently they are almost never asked as part of existing climate questionnaires.

It may be the case that schools are reluctant to incorporate such questions into surveys they conduct regularly because of legal and other concerns (such as teachers’ union objections). Consequently, an important component of the school context is missing in our understanding of school climate, victimization, and bullying. We strongly recommend finding ways to integrate both manifestations of student–teacher victimization in theory, research, and practice aimed at improving schools.

As to the prevalence of teachers victimizing students, studies from diverse places such as Australia (Delfabbro et al., 2006), Israel (Benbenishty, Zeira, & Astor., 2002; Benbenishty, Zeira, Astor, et al., 2002), Greece (Theoklitou, Kabitsis, & Kabitsi, 2012), Egypt (Youssef, Attia, & Kamel, 1998), Kurdistan Province in Iran (Stephenson et al., 2006), Yemen (Ba-Saddik & Hattab, 2012), Zimbabwe (Shumba, 2002), and Taiwan (Chen & Wei, 2011) demonstrate that a significant number of students are being victimized by their teachers, mostly verbally and emotionally, but many are also victims of teachers’ physical and sexual aggression. For instance, in a nationally representative study of primary school children in Israel, 29.1% reported being emotionally maltreated by a staff member and more than a fifth (22.2%) reported being a victim of at least one type of physical maltreatment during the last month (Benbenishty, Zeira, Astor, et al., 2002). In Taiwan, physical victimization was more prevalent than emotional maltreatment—21.6% reported physical victimization, 11.6% emotional victimization, and 5.1% sexual victimization by teachers (Chen & Wei, 2011). The prevalence of teacher-inflicted physical (p.138) abuse in primary schools in Selangor, a state in Malaysia, was even higher, at 34.7% (Ahmed et al., 2015).

Cross-Cultural Aspects of Student–Teacher and Teacher–Student Victimization

Differences exist between and within cultures in these two types of victimization. We believe that to build a robust theoretical framework, the variations between and within cultures should be accounted for at the student and school levels. These commonalities and differences within and between cultures are the building blocks of a robust theory on teacher–student and student–teacher victimization, as part of a larger theory on school violence and bullying in evolving school contexts.

How the role of teachers vis-à-vis their students is perceived in society and how power and gender relationships are framed in a particular cultural context can affect teacher–student mutual victimization. To illustrate, several authors have pointed out that in some Asian Confucian societies (such as Taiwan and South Korea), teachers are respected and have high prestige (Fwu & Wang, 2002). The Korean expression “Don’t even tread on the shadow of your teacher” reflects the level of respect for teachers (Lee, 2015). Victimization of these teachers by their students seems less likely than in other cultural contexts that view teachers less favorably or in more egalitarian cultural contexts that do not support giving teachers more power over their students.

International data suggest that teachers’ victimization of students may be associated with cultural values more so than students’ victimization of peers and their teachers. These values underlie the frequency of violence perpetrated by teachers and the degree to which these behaviors are normalized. Adult-to-child victimization is a direct reflection of deeply rooted values regarding age- and gender-related power relations and beliefs regarding appropriate ways to instill discipline in children. The impact of cultural values is especially salient when the victimization of female students in the developing world by male teachers is examined.

An extensive review of the literature on gender violence in schools in multiple places in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, indicated that sexual victimization of female students by their teachers is prevalent and often normalized and accepted (Dunne, Hymphreys, & Leach, 2006). Examples of such behaviors include sexual violence as a punishment for something the female student has done wrong, forced sex (rape), or sex with the teacher as a way of ensuring good grades.

Le Mat (2016) conducted a qualitative study of Ethiopian adolescent students and cited as one of the causes of gendered school violence the patriarchal history and structures of Ethiopian society and sub-Saharan African societies in general that support male dominance and sexual entitlement. Interestingly, the study indicated (p.139) similarities between male students and male teachers’ patterns of victimizing female students. Some of the male students did not acknowledge that these sexual behaviors were actually sexual violence and described them as misunderstandings. In contrast, in other cultures, teacher violence may not be explained away. Such behaviors may have more negative effects in societies that have high expectations that their teachers will protect students (Chen & Wei, 2011).

Clearly, aggressive teacher behaviors go against the values of many researchers who espouse Western values related to nonviolence and especially as they pertain to sexual relationships between school staff members and students. Nevertheless, it is important that scholars continually remind themselves that these types of behaviors and norms exist in many cultures around the world, and they need to be included in developing comprehensive theories.

What makes the prevalence of student–teacher mutual victimization of special concern is strong evidence that these types of victimization have a significant impact not only on the victims but also for the school community at large. Espelage and associates (2013) presented evidence that victimization of teachers by their students is associated with negative reactions among the victimized teachers, such as fears at school, anxiety, depression, and somatic symptoms. In a more recent small-scale study in Sweden, qualitative interviews illustrated the effects of being victimized by students, especially when other teachers do not provide support. The author addressed issues related to both the individual self and professional self. Analysis of 14 interviews with victimized teachers identified three subthemes: the threatened self, the weakened self, and the disrupted self (Skåland, 2016). Negative emotional reactions of teachers to victimization by students also have been reported among victimized teachers in South Korea (Moon, Morash, Jang, & Jeong, 2015). These negative emotional reactions might be especially pronounced if, as indicated earlier, teachers in South Korea are respected.

These emotional and behavioral responses have clear consequences for the victimized teachers’ commitment to the profession, burnout and turnover, lower professional self-efficacy, and teaching performance. As such, teachers’ reactions have a direct impact on their students and the whole school community. Teachers who fear their students, are burnt out, and are looking for ways to leave the school are not the most effective educators. Schools in which students need the most committed and motivated teachers to overcome the challenges they face might be the schools in which students discourage and intimidate their teachers, their most important allies.

Conversely, students who are being victimized by their teachers may react with various emotional and behavioral responses common to maltreated children. A vast literature describes the impact of parental maltreatment on children. Less attention has been devoted to the effects of maltreatment perpetrated by teachers, adults who are expected to create a safe environment for children. Gershoff’s (2017) review of the international literature on the impact of corporal punishment provides ample evidence that students victimized by their teachers experience multiple negative (p.140) consequences, including lower levels of academic achievement, mental health difficulties, and many risk behaviors. A longitudinal study, Young Lives, carried out for UNICEF in four countries—Ethiopia, Vietnam, Peru, and two states in India—showed that the degree of exposure to corporal punishment at age 8 predicted lower academic achievement and lower self-efficacy four years later (Portela & Pells, 2015). A recent study in the United States reported that being victimized by teachers and peers or by teachers only had significant associations with lower academic achievement, whereas students who experienced both peer and teacher victimization had higher levels of psychological distress compared to students who were victimized only by their teachers. Students who are victims of both peer and teacher bullying have lower academic adjustment and higher distress compared to their classmates. (Datta et al., 2017).

Developing a Model of Student–Teacher and Teacher–Student Victimization

Factors Associated with Mutual Victimization

Several studies have identified factors associated with teachers’ school victimization and lack of safety. These factors can broadly be categorized as teacher, student, school, and community characteristics. With regard to teacher characteristics associated with victimization, victimized female teachers tended to report more verbal types of victimization compared to their male peers (Berg & Cornell, 2016; McMahon et al., 2014), and more experienced teachers reported less victimization (Berg & Cornell, 2016). Teachers in elementary schools tended to report higher levels of victimization compared to teachers in middle schools and especially high schools.

In terms of school and community factors, teachers tended to report more victimization when they worked in schools that had more African American and poor students, negative school climate, disorganized school structures, and lack of administrative and collegial social supports (G. D. Gottfredson, Gottfredson, Payne, & Gottfredson, 2005). Teachers in urban schools reported more victimization than their peers in other communities (Berg & Cornell, 2016).

Regarding teachers victimizing students, studies have indicated that male students are more vulnerable to being victimized by teachers (see a review in Chen & Wei, 2011; although Datta et al., 2017 presented an opposite trend). The relationships between age and this type of victimization are not consistent. A comparison between findings regarding Taiwanese (Chen & Wei, 2011), Israeli, and Chilean students (Benbenishty, Astor, Lopez, Bilbao, & Ascorra, in press) indicated that whereas older Chilean students were victimized less than their younger peers, the pattern was the opposite for students in the other two countries. Evidence suggests that minority students and those in poor schools report more victimization by teachers (e.g., Benbenishty, Zeira, Astor, et al., 2002; Chen & Wei, 2011; (p.141) Khoury-Kassabri, 2006). Also, data on legal corporal punishment indicate that minority students are receiving such punishments in disproportion to their size in the population (Franklin, 2017).

Relations between Student–Teacher and Teacher–Student Victimization Types

So far, the literature has not examined teachers as perpetrators and victims in the same study. This is unfortunate as these two phenomena may be connected in more than one way. It is possible that students who have been victimized by teachers tend to fight back or vice versa; that is, teachers who were victimized may respond by lashing out at students. It is also possible other intervening factors are associated with or responsible for these two phenomena. For instance, a breakdown of discipline and school rules or a very negative climate characterized by open hostility among various school community members may result in mutual victimization of teachers and students. As a first step to exploring such possibilities, it is important to address these two types of victimization in the same study and explore whether they are correlated. Our empirical case study from Israel presented later in the chapter will examine these questions.

This association may be causal—victimized students retaliate by victimizing their teachers or teachers victimized by student respond with their own aggressive behaviors toward their students. It is also possible that such negative interactions reflect the underlying negative school climate, in which students are not being supported by their teachers and the school does not provide a consistent and fair disciplinary environment to help contain and deal with these negative interactions (Berg & Cornell, 2016).

Staff Victimization of Students in Evolving Contexts

A model that addresses staff victimization of students needs to include an historical perspective, accounting for the way a particular society deals with this issue at a certain point in time. Attitudes and policies related to school corporal punishment and adults’ victimization of children depend on the cultural context in which the school is embedded. The situation in sub-Saharan Africa is very different than in Europe. This context dependence is true even in the same country. In the United States, clear differences persist today between schools in Alabama and Mississippi and schools in most other states and between public schools and Christian schools regarding attitudes and practices.

The historical context is especially important with regard to social norms concerning the rights of children. Research that addresses teachers’ victimization of (p.142) students needs to acknowledge that this is an historically evolving context. The banning of corporal punishment in California took place in 1986, whereas in New Mexico it happened only in 2011, and if attempts to ban corporal punishment in Texas or reintroduce corporal punishment in Montana are successful, the context that affects this type of student victimization in school will continue to change (Farrell, 2017).

An Empirical Case Study

The United States does not collect systematic data on student victimization of teachers and teacher victimization of students. Therefore, we relied on international data from schools in Israel to see if and how the two separate phenomena work separately or in the same schools (details about the Israeli database are provided in Appendix 1).

Table 8.1 reports on the prevalence of multiple types of teacher–student victimization as reported by students in a nationally representative sample of three cultural groups in Israel—students in secular Jewish, religious Jewish, and Arab schools (additional technical details about the analyses presented in this chapter are provided in Appendix 2, Note 5). The table provides both student- and school-level information.

Table 8.1 Distribution of Student-to-Teacher and Teacher-to-Student Victimization by Cultural Group

Secular Jewish

Religious Jewish

Arab

Stu

(n = 4,753)

Sch

(n = 115)

Stu

(n = 5,884)

Sch

(n = 112)

Stu

(n = 3,606)

Sch

(n = 247)

%

%a

%b

SD

%

%a

%b

SD

%

%a

%b

SD

Student-to-teacher

Cursed or insulted openly

5.1

72.9

5.6

5.8

6.0

82.6

7.2

8.6

7.8

86.3

7.74

6.7

Threatened to hurt

0.8

25.3

1.0

3.0

0.9

20.9

1.1

2.7

4.7

74.7

4.8

5.7

Hit or pushed on purpose

0.9

28.1

1.02

2.5

1.2

20.1

1.3

4.2

3.9

69.8

4.0

4.9

Kicked or slapped

0.8

25.3

0.9

2.5

0.6

13.3

0.7

2.1

3.5

63.0

3.6

5.4

Damaged personal belongings or work materials

0.8

29.3

1.0

1.9

0.8

19.9

1.0

2.3

3.7

68.5

3.8

4.6

Stole personal belongings or work material

0.9

25.9

1.2

2.8

0.7

20.2

0.8

2.2

3.2

57.9

3.2

4.5

Any victimization

5.7

85.8

5.4

5.7

7.0

83.6

7.2

8.3

12.0

95.1

14.9

9.3

Teacher-to-student

Mocked, insulted, or humiliated

15.3

97.4

15.3

10.5

16.0

94.4

15.7

9.4

11.5

95.4

11.6

7.1

Grabbed or shoved

3.7

68.9

3.9

4.7

4.6

70.2

5.0

6.3

9.2

94.1

9.6

7.2

Pinched or slapped

2.0

52.7

2.2

2.9

3.0

53.0

3.5

6.5

8.8

92.8

9.0

6.8

Touched or tried to touch (in a sexual manner)

1.5

44.0

1.8

3.0

1.7

38.0

2.7

10.3

4.3

73.5

4.4

5.0

Any physical or sexual victimization

5.1

88.8

6.3

6.5

6.7

88.3

8.2

9.7

14.6

86.4

11.9

8.8

Note. sch = school; stu = student.

(a) At least one report.

(b) Mean percentage per school.

The findings indicate that students reported being victimized by their teachers more than they reported being the perpetrator of violence against their teachers. Students reported experiencing much more verbal and social victimization than physical and sexual victimization and that they victimize teachers emotionally and verbally more than physically. These patterns of the relative prevalence of various victimization types were quite similar across the three cultural groups. Arab students reported more victimization compared to the two Jewish groups. On a national and cultural level, this suggests that different cultures may need different interventions or policies to reduce both teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher victimization types.

At the school level, in almost all the schools in this study, at least one student (and, in most schools, many more) reporting that a teacher mocked, insulted, or humiliated them. Further, although in about half of the Jewish schools, there were no reports of teachers physically victimizing students, less than 8% of the Arab schools had no such reports.

Correlations between Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization at Individual and School Levels

In addition to the aforementioned descriptive statistics, the correlations between students being victimized by teachers and teachers being victimized by students (p.143) (p.144) are critical pieces of evidence in understanding the associations between these two phenomena. Because secular Jewish, religious Jewish, and Arab schools are different school systems and have different cultures, we could test the hypothesis that these variables are connected across cultures. Table 8.2 shows the correlations at the student and school levels, separately, for these cultures. This table suggests the association between students victimizing teachers and teachers victimizing students is happening at both the individual and school level across all three cultures. The school-level correlations were consistently higher than the individual levels. The types of victimization seem to matter at the school level. Physical and sexual victimization were more highly correlated than emotional types of victimization at both levels.

Table 8.2 Student- and School-Level Correlations of Students Victimizing Teachers and Having Been Victimized by Teachers Emotionally, Physically, and Sexually by Cultural Group

Secular Jewish

Religious Jewish

Arab

Victimization by Teachers

Student

(n = 4,753)

School

(n = 115)

Student

(n = 5,884)

School

(n = 112)

Student

(n = 3,606)

School

(n = 247)

Emotional

.23*

.32*

.22*

.36*

.24*

.48*

Physical or sexual

.44*

.61*

.43*

.71*

.49*

.53*

(*) p < .01.

These patterns raise questions about the directionality and prompt further hypotheses about the context of these types of schools. The literature on victimization of teachers by students assumes that the teachers have not victimized the students first. However, this table raises serious doubts about the hypothesis that teachers only react to students’ behaviors.

To explore this important issue in more detail, see Table 8.3, which features correlations between teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher victimization at the item level by type of victimization for all cultural groups combined.

Table 8.3 Correlations between Specific Types of Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization

Teacher-to-Student

Student-to-Teacher

Cursed or Insulted Openly

Threatened to Hurt

Hit or Pushed on Purpose

Kicked or Slapped

Damaged Personal Belongings or Work Materials

Stole Personal Belongings or Work Materials

Mean

Mocked, insulted, or humiliated

.32*

.17*

.17*

.16*

.14*

.17*

.23*

Grabbed or shoved

.51*

.65*

.63*

.63*

.62*

.61*

.69*

Pinched or slapped

.43*

.53*

.53*

.51*

.52*

.48*

.57*

Touched or tried to touch (in a sexual manner)

.29*

.41*

.40*

.42*

.43*

.42*

.44*

Any physical or sexual victimization

.32*

.51*

.48*

.53*

.48*

.50*

.52*

All types of victimization

.58*

.65*

.63*

.63*

.62*

.62*

.71*

All physical and sexual victimization

.58*

.74*

.72*

.72*

.72*

.70*

.79*

(*) p < .01.

The correlations at the school level were not as strong regarding verbal victimization. However, as the behaviors become more physical and severe, the correlations became stronger, suggesting a much stronger relationship between the physical and sexual victimization by teachers and student victimization of their teachers (r = .69) than between emotional and verbal victimization by teachers and student victimization of teachers (r = .23).

These findings are very informative as we try to clarify the sequence of these two types of victimization and directionality of their association. We find it difficult to conceptualize a situation wherein a teacher does something sexual to a student in self-defense or in response to physical or emotional provocation by a student. The findings, therefore, raise doubts about the claim we hear that teachers who victimize students are responding to being victimized by students—especially with (p.145) (p.146) the high correlations involving teachers’ sexual behaviors. Although this finding strongly suggests that teachers’ victimizing behaviors are likely not a direct response to students’ behaviors, it does not necessarily mean that students are only responding to teachers’ victimizing behaviors. Because these are correlations, it is always possible that other variables are causing the high correlations. These types of situations need to be explored further.

To better understand the relationships between victimization of students and teachers at the school level, we present Figure 8.1. In this chart, each dot represents a school. The vertical axis represents the percentage of students reporting victimizing a teacher during the prior month. The horizontal axis is the proportion of students in a school who reported being victimized by teachers at least once during the prior month (any type of victimization).

Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization and their Interrelationship

Figure 8.1. School-Level Percentage of Students Victimized by Teachers and Victimizing Teachers

Current conceptualizations of teacher victimization by students assume that teachers are mainly victims and do not address the co-occurrence of victimization of students by teachers or teachers by students. The previous tables and Figure 8.1 suggest different phenomena at the school level yet to be discussed or researched. Based on the extant literature, we would expect to see large clusters of schools near the vertical axis, indicating many schools in which teachers were being victimized but students were not. The figure indicates, however, that it is rare to find schools in which teachers are victims of students and no teachers are victimizing students (i.e., few schools are on the vertical axis, which indicates no victimization of students). Instead, as indicated by schools along or very near the horizontal line, many schools had high proportions of students reporting being victimized by teachers, whereas many of these schools had no or only a few students reporting victimizing a teacher.

(p.147) As expected based on high school-level correlations, schools with high rates of both students victimizing teachers and teachers victimizing students and schools with lower rates of these two types of victimizations were most common. As the trend line shows, there is a clear relationship: As the victimization of students by teachers becomes more prevalent, so does the victimization of teachers by their students. This is the first time this pattern has been documented. This research needs to be replicated across different cultures to ascertain its universality. What mechanisms explain this type of pattern? Currently, no theories explain this issue of proportionality (e.g., level of teacher–student victimization vs. student–teacher victimization per school).

Furthermore, we think it is important to identify schools that deviate from this pattern. As Figure 8.1 shows, in some schools, teachers tend to victimize students less than in other schools, whereas students in the same schools tend to victimize their teachers more than students in other schools and vice versa. This chart indicates three or four types of schools. For example, schools that are theoretically atypical and show only teacher-to-student victimization with no student-to-teacher victimization (schools on the horizontal line) or vice versa (schools on the vertical line) are both statistical and theoretical outliers that need to be studied further. However, the different levels of proportionality between the two types of victimization in the same school may generate different types of schools. Schools that have both high student and teacher victimization or relatively low levels could represent different kinds of schools. These multiple types of outliers may help us develop better theories and interventions. We may find schools, for instance, in which teachers are able to avoid responding to students in victimizing ways, even though students may be verbally and even physically abusive to their teachers.

As suggested by the item-level data, differences in patterns might emerge when only verbal or physical types of victimization are examined at the school level.

Figure 8.2 shows the percentages of students reporting being verbally victimized by teachers and verbally victimizing teachers, whereas Figure 8.3 shows only physical and sexual victimization between students and teachers. These charts reveal very different patterns between verbal and physical/sexual behaviors.

Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization and their Interrelationship

Figure 8.2. School-Level Percentage of Students Verbally Victimizing Teachers and Teachers Verbally Victimizing Students

Teacher–Student and Student–Teacher Victimization and their Interrelationship

Figure 8.3. School-Level Percentage of Physical and Sexual Victimization of Students by Teachers and Student Victimization of Teachers

Based on our findings, student reports of victimization of teachers seem to partially corroborate teacher reports of being victims of student violence, supporting the concern voiced in the literature regarding the high prevalence of this phenomenon (Espelage et al., 2013; Martinez et al., 2016). Our findings indicate that students reported more verbal victimization of teachers and threats and less perpetration of physical violence against teachers. This distinction is very important. When physical and verbal victimization are included together, they could inflate the scope of the problem, because verbal victimization is high for both students victimizing teachers and teachers victimizing students. Perhaps they should be first explored as separate phenomena and then regarding the relationship between the two types, as shown in Figures 8.2 and 8.3.

(p.148) In fact, this is another plausible hypothesis that parallels teacher reports in multiple places in the world that they were victimized more by verbal abuse, followed by physical threats and attacks (Berg & Cornell, 2016; Moon & McCluskey, 2016; Wilson, Douglas, & Lyon, 2011). Furthermore, the comparison of reports made (p.149) by Israeli homeroom teachers (Zeira, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2004) to reports of Israeli students in the present study indicates that both sources reported similar relative prevalence of the various types of victimization (i.e., more verbal and emotional than physical). Also, the differences between Arab and Jewish teacher reports of being victimized paralleled the differences between Arab and Jewish student reports of victimizing their teachers in this study. Arab teachers reported much more physical victimization and less verbal victimization compared to their Jewish peers, similar to student reports of victimization of their teachers. This adds to the validity of student and teacher reports of students’ victimization of teachers.

It is important to note, however, that it is impossible to estimate the number of teachers being victimized based on the number of students reporting victimizing teachers. One student may victimize many teachers or many students may target very few teachers. Research is needed that examines specifically whether, in the same school, teachers are being victimized by many students while others are not victimized at all. In a parallel manner, it is important to identify whether most of the student victimization is carried out by a few teachers or is a widespread phenomenon in a particular school. This nuanced understanding is important for both theory building and prevention purposes. Having a small group of teachers in school that victimizes students or is being victimized by them suggests different etiologies and intervention approaches than a situation in which most of the teachers at a particular school are both victims and perpetrators.

Summary and Future Directions

First, both the literature review and case study provided evidence that the phenomena of student-to-teacher and teacher-to-student violence are strongly connected. Both the literature review and case study showed that most schools in three cultures experienced both types of victimization. They also showed cultural variations between and within countries at the school and individual levels with regard to reports of victimization. Within-culture school-level variations are perhaps just as important to study and understand as between-culture variations, given wide variations within the cultures explored here and in the research literature.

Further, studying only one type of violence without including the other may create a distorted picture and inadequate theory. The reasons both behaviors may be happening may be very much connected with each other. As such, the current literature and our case study did not explain why students victimize teachers and why teachers victimize students in the same schools. Multiple hypotheses and multiple types of schools might exist with regard to the relative proportions of students and teachers being victimized. In some schools, teacher–student and student–teacher violence may be a chicken-and-egg question. Perhaps teachers and students are responding in self- defense or in response to humiliation. Perhaps some schools feature an overall culture of disorder, as G. D. Gottfredson and colleagues (2005) (p.150) described. Perhaps regional subcultures, socioeconomic status (SES) groups, or gender beliefs drive certain patterns in some schools. It is also possible that states and countries in which corporal punishment is allowed feature higher rates of both teacher and student victimization. Knowing if a teacher or staff member is engaging in victimizing behaviors due to a sense of frustration or as part of disciplinary policy makes a big difference in our understanding of why the phenomenon is happening. It is also possible that some schools have an overall community crime or gang problem contributing to overall disorder in the school. These types of questions need to be explored in greater detail.

The context of the school, types of students (ethnicity, age, and gender), and role of teachers (homeroom, physical education, special education, etc.) need greater discussion and exploration in the research literature. For example, more teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher victimization might occur in preschools and kindergartens compared to high schools. How we understand and view the role of a preschool teacher and high school teachers is very different and requires a different conceptualization.

Likewise, knowing whether teachers and students being victimized are mainly from special education classrooms or other settings is critical to theoretical models. Often, students with difficult behaviors (verbal and physical) are placed in special education. Special education teachers might be likely to be involved in more verbal and physical exchanges. If true, this could change theories of school safety and bullying. How nonteaching staff members (bus drivers, cafeteria workers, yard aides, security staff members, secretaries, school psychologists, social workers, etc.) interact with students is missing in the research literature. Again, one hypothesis is that closer proximity to high-risk students and more tenuous authority among teachers (e.g., during afterschool social and sport activities, field trips) might lead to higher victimization of staff members. Alternative schools or programs designed for students who are suspended or expelled are another example of these types of students, teacher roles, and settings in which this mutual exchange of victimization might be more prevalent. A clearer empirical understanding of patterns surrounding verbal and physical exchanges in different settings is needed.

The mission, philosophy, and defined tasks of the school (e.g., military, religious oriented, urban public, magnet, charter, etc.) might influence these outcomes at the school level. Similarly, how victimization of teachers and students relates to bullying outcomes between students, school climate, zero-tolerance measures, the school-to-prison pipeline, school dropout, and the achievement gap are examples of topics that need to be studied and connected to the school safety body of knowledge.

We reiterate that the literature review suggested that a robust theory on teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher victimization needs to be international and explore patterns of variations and universalities within and among cultures. These studies should not rely only on base rates when comparing different cultures. Analyses should be conducted at the individual and school levels to search for patterns rather than base rates alone. Some examples of potential topics include exploring the relative prevalence of physical versus emotional victimization, gender (p.151) effects across cultures, and associations between student-to-teacher and teacher-to-student victimization in different contexts.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Although interest is growing in policies that protect teachers, it is also important to address issues of teachers victimizing students. Teacher training needs to acknowledge that teachers may feel ill equipped and frustrated when facing disruptive student behavior and help teachers acquire nonviolent ways of managing conflicts with students. Policy should also include professional and peer support for teachers who feel threatened and victimized. The literature indicates that victimized teachers may be hurt most when their victimization is not acknowledged and they feel isolated.

The combination of student- and school-level reports in our case study of teacher victimization of students has some implications for policy and practice. As in other studies, our findings indicate that victimization of teachers is an issue of significant prevalence that needs to be addressed (Espelage et al., 2013). At the same time, the findings suggest a differentiated approach. First, major differences exist in the prevalence of emotional versus physical types of victimization. This may also suggest that their etiology is different, and each type of victimization may require a different mix of interventions. For instance, although emotional victimization of teachers may reflect negative student–teacher relationships and negative school climate that need to be addressed, physical victimization of teachers may reflect a breakdown of structure and discipline (Berg & Cornell, 2016) that may require more structural changes in school practices.

Furthermore, as our school-level analyses indicate, although emotional victimization of teachers exists in most schools, other types of victimization may be concentrated in a smaller number of schools. Hence, prevention and intervention efforts may be more cost-effective if they focus on these more vulnerable schools.

Research and Policy Focus on Corporal Punishment in Schools

The issue of corporal punishment has both theoretical and policy implications. First, the vast majority of academic organizations summarizing the negative outcomes of parent–child corporal punishment have come out clearly against the practice. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child has unequivocally opposed this practice. The school bullying, school climate, and school violence literatures have either ignored or avoided this policy issue. It is very rare to find any recent research article or policy brief on this topic. Even with research focusing on the school-to-prison pipeline, zero tolerance, authoritative climate, or discipline practices, a discussion or focus on corporal punishment in schools is rare. (p.152) As mentioned earlier in this chapter, it is hard to find any academic book or university course teaching corporal punishment in schools as a form of classroom management or discipline. Yet, as reported, more than 60 countries (all non-Western countries, except the United States and Australia) and 19 states in the United States allow for corporal punishment. Yet we know very little about what is happening in these states regarding the issue of teacher-to-student violence and how these laws are used or not used. Consequently, research is needed to clarify how corporal punishment is used as part of discipline or formal policy. We need a careful description of how policies are implemented or not. Further, studies should examine how corporal punishment by teachers is associated with victimization of teachers by their students.

Given today’s norms, it is hard to imagine a school climate or bullying researcher advocating that corporal punishment and positive school climate are compatible concepts. Yet again, these ideas are not integrated with the school safety or bullying literature. Nor is there a massive outcry from US bullying researchers to strike down corporal punishment in school laws and policy in the 19 states and in other countries.

For school climate, safety policy, and school discipline researchers, the inclusion of corporal punishment policy and practice is critical to explicating these teacher-to-student violence issues, especially if most researchers from across the globe agree that corporal punishment and a positive school climate cannot coexist in the same school. It is important to integrate the role of religion, SES, and patriarchy regarding issues of corporal punishment into school bullying theory and research.

Multiple Perspectives

Similarly, most reports on students’ victimization by teachers are made by students. It is important to include in this line of studies reports of teachers who have victimized students or witnessed other teachers victimizing students (Twemlow et al., 2006). This could help us understand which teachers are more likely to maltreat their students and the personal and interpersonal dynamics that lead to such behaviors, at least from the perspective of teachers. Having this perspective may be helpful in designing interventions and strategies that teachers could accept and integrate into their work.

Student and School Levels

Research in this area has focused on individual teachers and students as perpetrators or victims. There is a need, however, to add another dimension by including the school as a unit of investigation. This school-level perspective is (p.153) important in several ways. First, some schools may exhibit much higher levels of these types of victimization than others. For example, in our study of Israeli student reports of being physically or sexually victimized by their teachers, we found that although 11.0% of schools had no reports of such victimization, in other schools at least 10% of the students reported such victimization, including about 10% of the schools with more than a quarter of the students making such reports. Schools may have created internal contexts that either encourage or protect against student–teacher victimization. Identifying school-level characteristics and dynamics associated with such contexts may lead to improved prevention and intervention.

Unions and Their Role in Protecting Teachers

Both the news media and educators in the field have implicated unions as an important reason for the lack of strong research on teachers victimizing students. Perhaps most reported instances involve teachers perpetrating inappropriate sexual behaviors against students. We could not identify any studies that shed light on the role of unions, even though the defense and protection of teachers against allegations of sexual abuse or any misconduct is an important primary function of unions. We highly recommend studies that explore union practices regarding sharing data, conducting studies, and self-policing reports of teachers victimizing students and vice versa.

Summary

Student-to-Teacher and Teacher-to-Student School Violence

  1. 1. In recent years, awareness of the victimization of staff members by students is growing. Studies have indicated that the prevalence of verbal and physical victimization is not negligible and has a significant negative impact on teachers, students, and schools.

  2. 2. The school safety literature has overlooked the victimization of students by staff members, despite numerous studies in the child welfare literature that documented significant levels of such victimization with many negative consequences.

  3. 3. Norms regarding victimization of children by parents and teachers have changed in many countries. Nonetheless, corporal punishment, still legal in 19 states in the United States and 69 countries around the world, is a sanctioned form of student victimization. This is but one reflection of the strong association between culture and the victimization of students by school staff members.

(p.154) Relations between Student–Teacher and Teacher–Student Victimization Types

  1. 1. The literature has not examined teachers as perpetrators and as victims within the same study. It is possible that students who have been victimized by teachers tend to fight back, and teachers who were victimized may respond by lashing at students.

  2. 2. It is also possible that a breakdown of discipline and school rules or a very negative climate, characterized by open hostility among various school community members, may result in mutual victimization of teachers and students.

A Case Study from Israel

  1. 1. Prevalence

    1. a. In a national study, we examined student reports of being victimized by teachers and their victimization of teachers.

    2. b. Students reported being victimized by their teachers more than they reported being the perpetrator of violence against their teachers. They reported experiencing much more verbal and social victimization than physical and sexual victimization. Similarly, they reported that they victimized teachers emotionally and verbally more than physically.

    3. c. These patterns of the relative prevalence of various victimization types were quite similar across three diverse cultural groups in separate schools (secular Jewish, religious Jewish, and Arab).

    4. d. At the school level, in almost all schools in this study, at least one student (and, in most schools, many more) reported that a teacher mocked, insulted, or humiliated them.

  2. 2. Student- and school-level correlations between teachers victimizing students and students victimizing teachers

    1. a. These two kinds of victimization are correlated. School-level correlations were consistently higher than individual correlations.

    2. b. The types of victimization (e.g., verbal vs. physical) seem to matter. Physical and sexual victimization were more highly correlated than emotional types of victimization at both levels.

    3. c. As the behaviors become more physical and severe, the correlations became stronger. A much stronger relationship existed between the sexual victimization of students and student victimization of their teachers than between emotional and verbal victimization on both sides.

    4. (p.155) d. We interpret these findings as strongly suggesting that teacher victimizing behaviors are likely not a direct response to student behaviors. We do not know what causal mechanisms connect the two kinds of victimization.

    5. e. Some schools are outliers that do not show this pattern of relationships (either having high levels of teachers victimizing students and low levels of students victimizing teachers or vice versa).

Future Directions in Research and Policy

  1. 1. Studying only one kind of victimization without including the other may not be productive in understanding the school context. Reasons why both behaviors occur may be very much connected with each other and therefore need to be studied together.

  2. 2. A clearer empirical understanding of patterns surrounding verbal and physical exchanges in different settings, such as special education and alternative schools, is needed.

  3. 3. The mission, philosophy, and defined task of the school (e.g., military, religious oriented, urban public, magnet, charter, etc.) may affect these outcomes at the school level.

  4. 4. Although interest is growing in policies that protect teachers, it is also important to address issues of teachers victimizing students. For example, teacher training needs to acknowledge that teachers may feel ill equipped and frustrated when facing disruptive student behavior and help teachers acquire nonviolent ways of managing conflicts with students.

  5. 5. The inclusion of corporal punishment policy and practice in research is critical to understanding school contexts that may be contributing to victimization of students.

  6. 6. More research is needed on the role of teacher unions in protecting teachers and preventing research and policy change in this area.