Passive-Aggressive Bullies in Class


Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

I seem to have more students who are negative in a subtle way. Some procrastinate, turn in failing work and then insist they did a good job, saying, “You know it’s the best in the class, right?” or “You’ve gotta give me an A, right?” “I’m going to do it, okay … but you have to stop pressuring me or I can’t function”

When I call them out on their negativity, they act hurt, shocked, and they feel sorry for themselves.

Now, in this new school year, they’re even worse. One student said to me, “I love your paintings; I wish I could be that good.” But then I overheard her say to her friends, “She is the worst teacher ever, I can’t bother trying because she can’t see how bad of an artist she is.”

It’s relentless and the same pattern of saying one thing and then backstabbing me.


Back-stabbed teacher

Dear Teacher,

Some of your students seem to be passive-aggressive bullies.

People who exhibit this kind of behavior are:

• Masking anger with insincere attempts of agreement

• Pretending their performance or obedience is good by trying to get you to agree

• Resistance to authority figures who question their sincerity

Passive-aggressive bullies typically fear intimacy or competition, may be emotionally unavailable, and wish to be assertive but can’t or won’t try.

Passive-aggressive people can become bullies if they’ve grown up in an environment where it’s not safe to express anger or frustration, or in families in which honest expression of feelings is repressed and denied, so they have to find other means of expression.

And when children don’t feel loved or accepted, they don’t learn to have empathy for others.

How to help your students:

• No debating

• Embrace their compliments as truth and ignore the negative sarcasms

• Do “art therapy” exercises for a short period of time before starting your projects

• Listen to students, but don’t respond negatively or positively

• Give them control over their art project, within reason

• Let them know they are loved but still have strong boundaries

• Don’t take their insults personally; their bullying is a statement of their character

• Try to stay detached from their destructive stories

Hang in there … realize people do things for a reason.

Continue to be a role model of walking the higher road.


Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

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