Professional Practice

Dealing with Adult Bullies (Ep. 014)

We talk to our students all the time about how to deal with bullies. But do we ever think about how to deal with them as adults? Bullying never really goes away when you get older, and you need strategies on how to deal with it. Join Cassie as she talks about how to reclaim your time, your talents, and your art supplies (8:00), how to stand up for yourself when you are in a bullying situation (13:15), and why you should picture bullies as annoying little yappy dogs (15:45). Full episode transcript below.






Like many of you, middle school was not very kind to me, growing up. Granted, I was a very tall, very scrawny, mouth full of braces, very thick glasses and I might have had an unfortunate perm, and so maybe some frosted highlights. But, hey, it was the ’80s, I’m just a product of my environment, that part couldn’t be helped. But that set up was definitely a recipe for some bullying. I mean, I was like a John Hughes stereotype for all things nerdy. So, as you can imagine, middle school, like many of us, was not exactly my favorite. It wasn’t so kind to me. The good thing about being a teacher now, is that we now know how to spot bullies a lot better. We know how to spot students who are being bullied, and we often know how to handle those types of situations and how to diffuse that in our art rooms.

But what I feel like is this little hidden secret, something that we don’t talk about, our adult bullies. You know, when you’re being bullied in middle school, I remember adults saying, “Oh, but when you’re older, it gets so much better. Everything will change, there’s no bullies when you’re an adult.” That’s baloney. We we were all hoodwinked and fibbed too. There are adult bullies. They’re all around us. They just take on a different form. There’s no name calling and shoving and pushing, like in middle school, but there’s definitely bullying of a different type. What do you do when you find yourself in a situation where you are being bullied as an adult? We’re going to talk about it today. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Before we can chat about dealing with bullies, I think it’s important to talk about, what does bullying look like and feel like as an adult? Because it’s totally different than what it was like, at least for me, in middle school. I mean, bullying, for me in middle school meant I was called names. I remember walking with armfuls of books down the hallway, and there would be many a times when those books were smacked out of my hands or I was bumped up against the locker. To me, that’s like the typical middle school bullying kind of stuff. But, as an adult, that’s not happening. I mean, let’s hope you’re not getting books smacked out of your hands or bumped up against lockers. But that doesn’t mean simply because it now takes on a different form that it isn’t bullying.

If you’re not sure if you’re being bullied or not, think of it this way. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re being manipulated, when you’re feeling coerced into doing something that you don’t quite … It doesn’t quite sit well with you. You feel like maybe this isn’t the best move for you or for your students, but yet you feel like you have to do it because somebody is pressuring you, then you’re being bullied. For example, I’ll give you my little tale of being bullied. When I first came to the school district that I am in currently, and this is many a moon ago, the other art teachers in the district were working on a grant. A photography unit grant. This would entail me teaching photography to my young students, 1st to 4th grade, for about a month and a half.

For me, I, at the time, did not feel like that was a wise investment of my student’s art education. My time was too short with them and there were so many other things I could be teaching them. This didn’t feel like a good fit for me and for my students. So, I casually bowed out of the grant writing committee and just that was it, for me, or so I thought. Behind my back, as most bullying situations do occur as an adult, those teachers went to my administrator and told her the situation. And, of course, it was painted in a slightly different light. Which made me, as a new teacher in my district, look as though I were somebody who did not, “play well with others.” I got labeled real quick as not being a team player.

This then trickled down to my administrator coming to me and saying, “No, this is something that I want you to do. This is something that you will do.” And that was my first taste of being bullied. An administrator who is basically telling me, “This is something that you have to do. Even though you don’t believe, as an art educator, that this is accurate, I’m telling you, not as an art educator, that you need to do it.” Basically, so my school could save face. Believe it or not, because I’m a little bit of a pushover, I actually stood my ground, which only seemed to make the situation worse. Especially with the other art teachers within my district.

It got to the point when I would attend meetings, no matter what I opened my mouth to say, there would be a lot of eye-rolling, sighing, and side glances. It became so uncomfortable for me to be in these kind of bullying situations that I just stopped going to the meetings. Which, of course, led to me being a further labeled as a non team player. It got pretty ugly for a while, I’m not going to lie. But the entire time, I just had to make sure to remove myself from the situation. I was so confused. This was my first taste of bullying and what it felt like to be bullied, and I just thought, “Gosh, what happened to being in middle school when the adults would tell us, ‘There’s no bullying as an adult. Don’t worry, one of these days, all of this will be behind you and you’ll never have to experience bullying again.'” Y’all, I’m here to tell you, that’s baloney.

Bullying still exist, even as an adult. Because I firmly believe Junior High never ends. It’s quite unfortunate, but bullying just takes on a different life when you’re an adult. Ultimately, the situation was resolved. But not after I did receive an email from one of those teachers telling me that if I just spent half as much time on my lesson plans as I did sewing up my wardrobe, I might be a decent enough teacher to teach in my school district. Yeah. I guess the name calling really doesn’t end, because that’s pretty much what that was. That was, like I said, my first real taste of bullying. I’m proud to say that I, more or less, stood my ground. But that’s, like I said, very much not my nature. I do tend to be a little bit of a pushover.

So, I’m basically going to share with you some things that I aspire to do as a person who doesn’t want to be bullied. It’s a struggle for me, because like I said, it’s not in … And I don’t think it’s in any of our nature to be that person who says, “No.” We all want to be an agreeable, polite, helpful, and kind teacher, but we all want that same respect in return. Let’s talk, now, about how to avoid those bullying situations and how to weasel our way out of them. How to deal with bullies.

Now that we’ve talked about what bullying looks and feels like as an adult, let’s talk about, what does a bully usually want? In my situation as an art teacher, and I’m assuming this is the same for you, a bully, I feel like usually wants one or more of these three things. They usually want your time, your talents, and or your art supplies. The word no is like kryptonite to bullies. When it comes to your time, your talents, and your art supplies, I feel like that’s a word that we’ve all got to get better at saying, “No.” There’s so much power behind it. Let’s talk about those three things that I feel like bullies want to zap.

Let’s go with supplies first. I’m starting with supplies because I’m in the midst of my supply order, sidebar conversation here. I usually kind of do my supply order a bits and pieces throughout the year. One part because I like to see how much money I spend and knowing how much money I’ll have left for certain projects. Thing number two, because I’m usually coming up with my projects throughout the course of the year. I never like to lock myself into a certain unit with my students. Because I like to see where their interests are as well as mine, let’s be honest. Okay, sidebar convo over. That being said, I am nickeling-and-diming my art supply budget. Because every last bit counts, as well as every last drop of paint in every slip of construction paper.

So, when those teachers waltz into the room, and let’s be honest, they usually come in, in the middle of your teaching. Like, what is up with that? Either they come in asking for 25 paint brushes or five cups of blue paint, or they send a student down with a note, while you’re in the middle of teaching. Y’all, I have no problemo saying, “Oh, no,” to that. Especially if you’re going to interrupt my teaching. However, the reason saying no to your art supplies is so important is because when you open the door just a little bit to even just that one teacher who you love, the next thing you know, you’re going to have 30 teachers coming to your room for small little bits of things. Just one piece of construction paper or just a little bit of paint, and the next thing you know, you don’t have the tools you need to do to your job. Your job is an art teacher and you need every last supply in your room to do your job.

Now, that being said, it’s very hard to say no. Because, let’s be honest, we’re all going to need to have our back scratched every now and then. So, just a little tip, have some separate supplies set aside for teachers. For example, that paint, I happen to have a huge supply of paint that’s not very good, stuff that I wouldn’t use with my students. That’s the paint that I lend out to teachers. Or those paint brushes that are not especially my favorite, that maybe have one more year of life in them before they hit the trash can, those, instead of hitting the trash can, go in my teacher supply. That way, you don’t have to say no. But don’t be afraid to say no. Like I said, these are our tools to doing our job, which is art educating our students.

The other thing that I really noticed teachers love to zap and bullied me into, especially my first couple of years teaching, was my talents. Like I said, doing a favor from one teacher leads to a domino effect. I, during my first year teaching, became the school wide poster maker. It all started with me making one sign for one teacher, who then let the cat out of the bag. Then, I just had multitudes of posters and things, that I was making so many, that I barely had any time during my plan time to do my actual planning. I had to start saying no. Your talents need to be channeled to doing your job. Whether that means you’re making posters for your room or for your displays. Be really careful about letting people take advantage of you, because that’s a form of bullying.

Of course, that’s also your time. Time, for me, is a very precious gift. We have such a limited amount of it, both with our students and for ourselves to unwind. For me, what that means is spending time creating on my own. Spending time after school doing what I want to do. So, being bullied into being on different committees or being bullied into helping somebody else with their curriculum or their lesson planning, that’s just something that I feel firmly about saying no to. So, now that we know what bullying looks and feels like as an adult, and we’ve talked about what bullies are usually after, which is our time, our talents, and our supplies, let’s dig a little deeper into talking about how to really stand up for yourself when you’re in those situations.

The first thing that I like to do is, because being a visual person, I like to use a lot of visuals. When I’m in a situation when I feel like I’m being coerced into something, I usually am in those situations where I’ve given that person, in my mind, some sort of power. So, when I’m in that situation and that person, for whatever reason, I feel like has power, I try to visually remove that power from them. That allows me to feel more comfortable about saying, “No, I’m sorry, that won’t work for me.” Or, “Shoo ..” Why am I even apologizing? Don’t say sorry, just stand up for yourself and just say, “Thank you, for your kind offer, but I’m going to politely decline.” I learned that from my husband.

It’s great when responding to emails. If you get one from somebody and they’re asking you for anything that you know you don’t want to do, I’ll say it again so you can write it down, “Thank you, for your kind offer, I’m going to politely decline.” You could even practice that, rehearse that. Stand in front of a mirror, get really comfortable with that saying. And if even it’s brought up again, you can simply use the phrase one more time. Because maybe their ears aren’t a working. It seems to me, usually, bullies, their ears don’t work so well. But let’s get back to those visual cues.

So, usually, if I’m in a situation where I feel like I’m being bullied or coerced, it’s because, like I said, I’ve given that person a little bit of power. As a visual, I like to imagine that person who I’ve given that, “power” to on a stool. Usually, a step stool. I have these bright green step tools in my room, and I like to imagine them on one of those. And then me taking my foot and just kicking that stool out from underneath them. So, now, we’re level. Now, we’re eye to eye. This works great, especially, it worked great when I was in the situation with an administrator, who obviously didn’t have a lot of respect for what I believed was best for my students. So, having that visual of being able to just kick that stool out from underneath that person really helps me.

It also helps me, sometimes, to imagine that person who’s bossing me around or telling me what to do as a yappy dog. One who’s just demanding and annoying and really wants to have their way. When I imagine somebody as like a little yapping dog, it is not hard at all for me to say, “No.” Your time, your talents and, of course, your supplies are important. You are important. Don’t let anybody make you feel as if you are anything but important. Bullies, why didn’t anybody teach us, when we were in middle school, that they are everywhere? They never go away, but that you always need to stand your ground. Stand firm, do what’s best for you and your students, and stick up to those bullies.

Thank you so much for letting me share this very long winded and often quite divergent chat about bullying. But I feel like it’s so important. We talk about it so much with our students and yet it’s like this little dirty secret that we don’t speak about as adults. Thanks for letting me share that with you all today.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz, from Art Ed Radio. Thank you for tuning in to Everyday Art Room. We appreciate everyone that has listened, left positive comments, and contacted us with your feedback. If you want even more information from Cassie, check out the Podcast tab on, and get signed up for the Everyday Art Room weekly mailing list, if you haven’t done so already. Now, we’ve been talking a lot about Art Ed PRO, the subscription service that provides on demand professional development for our teachers. You can check it out at

I also want to tell you that a lot of administrators are supporting the service and a lot of schools have funds to pay for your professional development. You just need to ask. You can send your administrator to, where they can click on pro for schools, to see if it will work for your school. It doesn’t hurt to try. And who doesn’t want to have control of their own PD? Please make sure your admin checks out PRO for Schools, at

Cassie Stephens: Well, things got a little deep here today, didn’t they? Talking all about bullies. But, it’s now time to lighten things up a little bit and take a dip into the mail bag. This question is, I have a couple of very high energy students and I’m not sure what to do with them. Do you have any suggestions? Oh, yes, the high energy student. You know what? I’m just going to say it, they are my favorites, because they remind me a lot of my brother. I have a brother who’s 10 years younger than me. His name is Chris, he’s actually a teacher also. He’s English teacher. Teaches on a Navajo Reservation. I remember, growing up, being 10 years younger than me, he wore me out, because he was so stinking high energy. At the time, being a big sister, all I ever wanted to do was bully him, essentially. And bark at him and tell him to stop and leave me alone, and there might have been some door slamming.

But, we can’t exactly do that to our students. What I have found with my high energy students is that they are busy and they like to be kept busy. What I usually do is, I usually have specific jobs that I know that they are capable of doing that I let them do. Usually, my high energy kids are very antsy. So, when I’m giving directions, they have a hard time sitting and listening to those directions. So, oftentimes, if I’ve covered the basics of the directions, so I know they’ve gotten the gist of it, I will ask, say a busy friend, to, “Hey, such and such, do you mind putting all the water cups on the table?” Or, “Hey, Jimmy, do you mind collecting all the papers that I see on the floor? Can you walk around and pick up pencils.” I usually keep them moving.

Because, for me, that’s easier than having the battle of, “Stop, quit, don’t. Stop moving, stop wiggling. Sit on your bottom. Stop, quit, don’t.” I try to avoid that because that just sets the tone that it’s negative. That their energy, their excitedness is a negative thing. I try to put a positive spin on it. It can be a little exhausting, but they are really good. I have found my high energy friends are really good when they have a task to do. Because, oftentimes, they get the, “Stop, quit, don’ts,” every where else they go. So, it’s important to channel that energy in a positive way so that they feel like they have an important place in your art room.

I also like for them … They’re usually my early finishers. I also like to give them jobs. They’re great at doing jobs. I have them do jobs like wiping down the front of my counters. So, they’d love to be in charge of cleaning out the dried glue from my glue cups. Believe it or not, that is actually a job they really do enjoy, or simply washing brushes. Keeping your high energy friends busy with tasks that don’t just feel like busy work, is going to really make them feel valued in your art room and save a little bit of your sanity. If you have a question for me, please feel free to send it my way, at

Bullies, yeah, the thing that we thought, after we got out of high school and middle school, we’d never have to deal with. Y’all, it happens to me more often than I even mentioned in this podcast. I mean, that little story I shared is just one snippet. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been bullied in entire Facebook groups, where an entire conversation was had about me. And very unfortunate things were said and lies were told. It was very sad and very disheartening for me to see other art teachers bashing art teachers. I mean, to me, we’re all in this together. We all have our own ways of doing things and finding our own way. It was just sad for me to see that bullying is still, it happens. It happens to all of us, it’s just not something that we all share.

Like I said, it’s a bummer, right? I think it’s something that as adults we need to speak as vocally about it as we do as bullying happening to our students. We would never let students get away with some of the things that I’ve seen adults get away with. So, for that reason, I encourage you to stand up, to find your ground, to know that you are important. So is your time and your talents and your art supplies. Remember that one little phrase that you can practice in front of the mirror, “Thank you for your kind offer, I am going to politely decline.” And then kick that imaginary stool out from underneath that person you’ve placed that power upon, because they don’t have any of that power over you. Stand up for yourself, y’all, for your time your talent and your sheer awesomeness. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. This is Everyday Art Room, and I’m Cassie Stephens.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.