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Updated 10 April 2014

Teachers work in toxic environments

South African teachers are disgruntled, overworked and stressed, and work in toxic environments. They are furthermore being bullied by colleagues and school management.

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Bullying of teachers by other teachers is a serious problem, a study by the University of the Free State's education faculty has found.

"South African teachers are working in toxic environments characterised by disgruntled, overworked and stressed teachers," school of education studies lecturer Dr Lynette Jacobs said in a statement on Tuesday 8 April (2014).

Read: Bye to bullies

The research is based on the replies of some 1000 teachers who were asked to fill in questionnaires.

Originally some 2700 teachers, at all school levels in urban, township, informal settlements, rural and farm schools, were asked to complete a 43-question survey.

Bullying by colleagues

The study found about 90% of the respondents were victims of workplace bullying (WPB) by school colleagues and school management during the 12 months prior to the study.

The bullying acts included direct shunning, untrue things said about them, verbal abuse, threats and ridicule, insults and teasing, damaging of possessions, as well as physical violence.

UFS school for open learning researcher Professor Corene de Wet said research on WPB in occupations identified teaching as a high-risk job.

Lack of research

"Yet, there is a lack of research on WPB among teachers."

WPB in the study was identified as colleague behaviour causing isolation, teacher behaviour undermining the professional status of another teacher, behaviour undermining the person, and direct negative behaviour.

The report found nearly 84% of teachers were subject to behaviour undermining their professional status, followed by acts aimed at causing isolation (80.3 percent).

Jacobs said WPB seemed to be a very serious problem in South African schools, compared to Croatia, Lithuania, Turkey, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

Read: Bullies are everywhere

Toxic environments


She said teachers worked in "toxic" environments characterised by high levels of pupil-on-pupil and pupil-on-teacher violence and bullying.

Some school communities were also fraught with moral degradation, racial conflict, violence, lawlessness and economic despair.

"In schools where despair and disrespect prevail, teachers often turn on one another," she said.

The report concluded that teachers were key roleplayers in rescuing the country's failing education system.

It suggested teachers were emotionally destroying one another, rather than collaborating for the greater good.

The study was recently published in The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa.


Read more:

How kids respond to bullying
Teens’ take on bullying

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