Why don't teachers recognize bullies?
Bullies, the next mythological creature
Studies have shown these days that bullies are not your typical Gooch, trolling for lunch money, nor are they the overgrown thugs wanting dominance. No, they’re the cool kids with stylish clothes, trendy hair, and internet connections. They charm the teacher, earn decent grades, and terrorize their dorky classmates.
The dorky classmates are sometimes the whiners, the annoying boy with the nasal voice or the girl who coughs on everything, the stinky girl in the middle row or the greasy haired, pimple faced boy in math class, the complainers or the nervously impulsive random interjectors. These outcasts sometimes secretly annoy the teacher, and bewitched by the charm of the popular kid, the teacher believes the bullied child is just creating a new complaint or making it up, or even bringing it on himself.
While a long-term substitute at a rural school, a homosexual young man asked to be switched from one period to another because of constant teasing from his peers. His request was granted, but in his new class, the teasing continued. One of the baseball jocks suggested with a leer, “let’s all have boyfriends.” His comment was met by snickers. I intervened each time one of the baseball players would start this line of contempt, and I went to the principal. But, I was told that the principal would talk to his ball players and “that’s just how athletes bond.” I didn’t realize bullying was a male bonding moment.
The assistant principal informed me that “he brings it on himself by acting so gay!” He IS gay, he’s confident, secure in who he is, and he’s BEING who he is. Why can’t we celebrate him and teach acceptance?
And a liberal guidance counselor has said those same words: “she brings it on herself.” How do we get teachers and adults to believe the victim and deal with the bully?
In a 2012 workshop I attended, I participated in an exercise. The speaker set a crayon-drawn picture on each table and had each person pick up the picture, say something rude to the girl or boy pictured there, and crumple up the paper before passing it to the right. Some of my conference colleagues had no problem with the assignment, but I found it hard being mean to my little crayon girl. Yes, she was badly drawn, but I didn’t seen any need to be unkind. It’s not her fault she’s not beautiful and has purple skin and green hair. I actually got teary eyed in my empathy, earning me a few scoffing glances and remarks. Once our girl made her rotation around the table, our speaker asked us to un-crumple the paper, pass it around and say something encouraging. After this was accomplished, we were asked to make an observation about our pictured victim. Even when we say something nice, she is still crumpled, still damaged from the hurtful words previously said. This exercise made such an impact on me. In the two years since attending, I have tried to incorporate this into two different schools during anti-bullying week. I was told it seemed silly, it was a waste of time, our students just won’t get it, and bullying really isn’t a problem.
This past year, a colleague showed the Bullying Project movie and had the students write letters to bullies, victims, and the adults who handled accusations of bullying. My students did a Socratic symposium and had several intense discussions in my classroom after seeing the movie in another class. These students were bothered by what they had seen on the screen, but also in the hallways. They came up with solutions, but they’re “just kids.” Until we grown-ups recognize and address the problem, the bullies will keep on bullying.