Bullying is a community issue: It affects not only victims, but also their families, their friends and bystanders, and if left unchecked, can poison an entire school culture. It can also make a workplace so toxic that productivity slumps and staff leave jobs that they might otherwise find fulfilling.
The American Federation of Teachers believes in standing up to bullying wherever it occurs, recognizing that its members have a particular responsibility to address the problem in our public schools and public workplaces. To that end, the AFT is committed to giving educators and working people the tools they need to create healthy learning and working environments.
Most studies show that 15-25 percent of American students are bullied with some frequency. This percentage jumps to 40-50 percent for cyberbullying. Children and youth who are bullied are more likely than other children to be depressed, lonely and anxious; have low self-esteem; feel unwell; and think about suicide. And the health implications for both children and adults who are bullied are clear: The stress of being bullied can produce organic brain changes that limit productivity and threaten mental health.
Since bullying often goes unrecognized—sometimes even by those victimized by bullying as well as those who engage in bullying behavior—identifying the behavior is essential. Intimidation, exclusion, manipulation, threats, rumors and physical aggression can all be part of the negative behavior that defines the problem. In addition to encouraging individuals to intervene when they are made aware of a bullying incident, the AFT calls for institutionalizing schoolwide and districtwide anti-bullying policies; creating safe and accessible methods to report and address bullying when it occurs; and using educational resources, such as information fairs, fliers, posters, films and presentations, to shine a bright light on bullying to make it clear that it will not be tolerated, and to help those who have encountered this destructive behavior. Also important is an expanded framework for state and federal legislation to protect bullied workers.
Just as important is the development of a positive culture at school and work, with policies and attitudes that create warm, inviting environments where students and staff feel safe and supported. Teachers and support staff play a critical role in creating that environment; they interact closely with students and can intervene most effectively, setting an example and guiding students to be supportive and caring friends in their learning environment.
The AFT supports professional development training to combat bullying, so educators can recognize bullying and learn how best to prevent it and address it if and when it occurs in their school or workplace. Routine training for administrators and supervisors in the workplace is another essential tool to address bullying on the job.