How to Handle a Bully?

My friend asked me, “How can you stand him speaking about us like that?!” She was upset because she felt as if Governor Christie wasn’t just speaking to me as president of the National Education Association, but to all the teachers, and all the education support professionals, and all the principals, librarians, and counselors who are members of education unions.

Specifically, in response to a question about who on the national level deserves a “punch in the face,” the New Jersey governor who would like to be the next president of the United States said, “The national teachers’ union.”

Educators recognize the tactics of a playground bully – someone who tries to intimidate with name-calling and threats of violence in order to impress a crowd. I always told my 6th graders not to give bullies power by sinking to their level.

So when this story hit, I took a deep breath and thought long and hard about how to respond to the absurdity of his interview and of the governor’s silly—yet disturbing insults. He seems to desperately need for voters to think that educators are bad people because we tend to speak truth to power; the truth is his education policies have been disastrous. Privatize. De-professionalize. Standardize.

Ignore the fact that parents want to humanize education—not reduce it to a number on a high-stakes test. None of his policies are working, and we’ve not been shy about saying so. If the facts are on your side, you argue the facts. If common sense is on your side, you argue common sense. If nothing is on your side, you call your opponent names.

So he had to call us names.


The facts and common sense are on our side, and he needed to deflect blame for his political decisions. It is why my friend was so upset. She has worked so hard for her students. Our unions have fought for needed textbooks and teaching materials; for class sizes that allow teachers to build a personal relationship with students; for school buildings that are healthy and clean, and support professionals like tutors, librarians and school nurses so kids have all the services essential for success.

We’ve fought against the toxic testing that tells us so little about out students, and yet sucks so much learning from a day. Time that could have been spent organizing a project, or creating a work of art, or collaborating and debating and deciding in small groups the multiple solutions to some real problem—things that defy the standardized A, B, C or All of the Above insanity to which too many politicians and bureaucrats have reduced our classrooms.

The governor is not one of my 12-year-old 6th graders. He is a man. He’s a politician calling teachers—mostly women—who stand up for themselves and their students, insulting names. He doesn’t like us.

We will stand and use the collective power of our union to speak the truth to powerful people, whether they be governors or presidents—or governors who wish they were president. I believe Governor Christie when he says he wants to punch me in the face. But I know the reason is because he thinks a fat lip will silence us.

It won’t.

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Educators know that the best way to handle a bully is to stand up to him. To speak the quiet truth. But as I taught my students, there are always three parties involved in bullying. The bully. The person being bullied. And the bystander. I taught my students that they were likely to be bystanders sometime in their lives. I taught them that bystanders had enormous power to stop bullying—if they were silent, it encouraged the bully. I taught my students to speak up and to take sides. And the right side is never the side of the bully.

Governor Christie, I suppose, will continue calling us names. We will, I assure you, continue standing up for ourselves and for our students. The question now is whether the bystanders, the public and the voters will speak up and take sides. And the right side is never the side of the bully.

12 Responses to “How to Handle a Bully?”

  1. Pat Ashwell

    Christie is a bully, that goes without saying. I have to also take Jake Tapper to task. He asked the question who on the national level should be punched in the face….how ridiculous for a news person.

    • Ruth Daus

      I agree. BUT – a man worthy of the presidency (or, for that matter, of the governorship or any position of power) would not have jumped in so easily. I think the question was directed to Christie because that is exactly his style – to jump in
      punching. There is no getting away from it – he is a BULLY!!!!

    • Beth Savidge

      That was my thought exactly, Pat! How unprofessional for a journalist.

    • J. Griffith

      I also question Jake Tappers line of questioning. He followed up Christie’s response with a question about Bruce or Bon Jovi!! Really? I would hope this was a poor editing choice. This bully wants to be the leader of the free world! This voter was hoping for better journalistic choices.

  2. Teresa Wocken-Linders

    I love you, Lily. Your response to this man’s ignorant remarks are strong and intelligent and true. I feel grateful you are leading us right now. With CCSS there is an emphasis on students using evidence to support their thinking. I wish Governor Christie would do the same.

  3. Nancy Ardis

    Well said! Gov. Christie is a bully and should be ashamed of himself for his juvenile behavior. This governor must go!

  4. Kathryn Haugrud

    When Governor Christie says that the union is for it’s members and not for students, he is partially correct. A union is, after all, an association formed to protect the workers and further their rights. However, his statement about not being for the students is incorrect. Anytime you promote and support the professionalism of a teacher, you promote the student. The problem is that we only talk about what’s good for students because that makes all of us, teachers and politicians alike, sound like we care. And we do. But we have eliminated any talk of what’s good for teachers. That’s where the union comes in. What’s in the best interest of teachers IS in the best interest of students.
    Pay teachers what they are worth and you get a pool of qualified teachers to choose from rather than a shortage of teachers and the option of “professionals in the field” to teach the classes. Give teachers time to work with the latest trend, develop it, create nuances that work for their particular style, go in depth to make sure that the assessments and lessons align, and you get a classroom of excellent learners and a teacher who can tweak the curriculum on a dime for the student who needs it, instead of something that changes every two years. Give teachers supportive administrators, and you have a group WORKING TOGETHER to make the best environment for the students and the parents. Teachers who feel supported are more likely to bring ideas to the table about what would work best for their students.
    Yes, our union represents the teachers and, of course, we want a strong membership. Why is that a negative? Why don’t we ever talk about what is in the best interest of the teachers? I haven’t met a teacher yet who didn’t want what their students needed. And I haven’t met a teacher yet who didn’t get burned out at some point from the changes, rhetoric, double-talk and broken promises. But I have met politicians who think they know what it is to teach. And I have met politicians who think that teachers have it easy. It looks like Governor Christie is one of them.

    • Jeremy

      This is also beautifully said. I’m going to steal it and use it to help promote what I do as a building-level representative of the teachers’ union, if you don’t mind.

    • Linda Kenny

      So well said

  5. Tim Spann

    He will be dismissed from class. It is as if a psychotropic vapor was sprayed over the more extreme Republican candidates at a Koch brothers function. They became foul zombies who lost all self control. None of these people are a threat. We need to patiently wait a few weeks while they self destruct. What remains will need to be dealt with at that time.

  6. Frederika Jenner

    Tim is correct. We need to wait a while to allow the Republican crazies to talk themselves out of the running. The real fight will come when the remaining 2-3 are in focus.

  7. Jeff Isom

    Would it be bullying to say that people who support gun rights are going to hell? Christie just wants to slap someone, he didn’t pompously declare 2nd Amendment supporters as being on the pathway to hell.


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