This is not a new issue for schools. Bullies have been around for years and I'm positive that everyone at some point in their life has had to deal with a bully. However, this topic has been all over the news the past year. Between the rash of teen suicides and the new documentary, Bully, people are really talking about this topic and taking it seriously and forcing schools do develop policies to handle this problem. What is the best way for schools to address this issue and is it possible to solve this problem?
I had my own issues when I was younger with bullying. It was hard growing up feeling unloved and unwanted and different from everyone else around me. I was picked on, made fun of and laughed at on what I felt was a daily basis. I did not see any hope from my situation. Being young, I felt like my problem was insurmountable and I made three suicide attempts by the time I was fifteen. Because of this, I have deep empathy for kids who are dealing with bullies as well. I became a teacher because I wanted to help children have a better, happier life and in the process redeem my own childhood.
Over the years of my teaching career, many parents have come to me with complaints that their child was being bullied. After listening to them, I learned that everyone has a different definition of bullying. Most cases turned out to be isolated incidents. I knew that I needed to work with parents so they understand exactly what bullying is. One child calling another child 'stupid' during a disagreement is not bullying. It is a conflict. Bullying occurs more than once. It is often continuous and it seeks to hurt one person and make them feel inferior. It is also a way for one person to force their will on another person or a group of people. It can take many forms from punching, kicking, name calling, or being singled out of the group. The cases where the complaints were legit, parents rightly wanted immediate action and they wanted to know what was going to happen. They want to know how you are going to protect their child and what is going to happen to the bully. This is where it gets really hard for teachers and administrators.
There is a scene in the movie, Bully, where a boy is talking to the principal. She is asking him why he doesn't tell anyone about what is happening to him. He says that he came to her in the past and she didn't do anything. She answers, "How do you know I didn't do anything?" We are not just teachers for the victims but we are also teachers for the bullies as well. Both parties fall under our umbrella of protection. It is unethical and in most places illegal for us to reveal sanctions or consequences given to a student to anyone who is not that student's parent. This makes it really hard to satisfy another parent's call for justice. I know what the bully did is wrong and in some cases reprehensible but doesn't that child deserve a right to privacy? Should we remove that layer of protection and make some things public? Maybe if we made more severe examples of a few bullies, would that stop other students from becoming bullies? Exactly how should bullies be punished?
To be continued….