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The news today brought yet another tragic story of a teen suicide related to bullying. The world lost a promising young man who had seen his share of teasing—like the time he’d dyed his hair pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But this time, he was on the other side of the equation. He was the bully. Along with two other boys, he stood accused by his elite prep school of harassing a fellow student because of that student’s sexual orientation. The school sent the boy home and pressured him to withdraw rather than face expulsion.
It was a whirlwind day, and yet it was entirely typical of what happens at our high school—in most high schools, probably. I just thought it was worthwhile to put this day down as an official mark that this is what regularly happens.
First thing in the morning my secretary called me on the radio to tell me that I had a visitor. This could be anybody: former students, current students, teachers in other buildings who are visiting and wanted to drop by to say hello. It was Janelle. Janelle graduated early this year, so I never get to see her much anymore. She brought her month-old daughter and wanted to show me that she had all ten fingers and all ten toes. Of course, I said, “You know I’m going to hold her, right? And smell her? And kiss her? And then I’ll steal her.” She laughed and looked at me sideways because I’m always joking with her. If I keep it light enough, I sometimes think I can force her to stay in school.
It was meet-the-teacher night at my elementary school. The room was ready for a new class of second-graders. The rubric for grading paragraphs and stories was on the wall around the writing center. A scientific method poster hung on the wall in the science corner. Essential questions for numbers and operations were on the chalkboard in the math area. And a picture commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education was on the social studies wall. I was ready to help my children become successful students.
Kudos to the U.S. Department of Education for making such a strong case in this week's Dear Colleague Letter that bullying is a matter of civil rights.
The DOE rightly reframed the issue of bullying in schools as one of institutional responsibility—one that can get schools into serious legal trouble if ignored. Among other things, the letter says “some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal antidiscrimination laws.”
On the rare occasion that I spend time with people who are not educators, it’s inevitable that someone will drop the word “retarded.” The “R-word” has been used colloquially for decades to describe and degrade anyone or anything out of the ordinary, inferior, or somehow slow. I can still hear the snickers from my own classmates back in 10th-grade health class when we read the words “fire retardant” in our textbook.
During the first week of school, we received a note from Margot’s parents. Margot was battling an eating disorder than had left her hospitalized for much of the summer. She had medical and counseling appointments scheduled several times a week, and she was very uncomfortable talking about or being around food.
I am ashamed to confess that I hadn’t noticed Margot. My classes are large, and she had chosen a seat near the back. She hadn’t spoken to me or anyone else. She was a small, quiet girl. Nothing about her stood out or drew attention.
I am still thinking about Sam Childs.
And I cannot wait to introduce him to my eighth-graders.
Sam is the 13-year-old narrator of Kekla Magoon’s novel The Rock and the River which this year won the John Steptoe New Talent Award, part of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards.
This will be the 10th year of participating in Mix It Up for Kirbyville Middle School. We have decided to hold a Mix It Up Day each quarter of the school year, rather than just once a year. We held our first one this school year on Friday, Sept. 17. Students picked a playing card from a deck of cards and sat at the corresponding table. I had placed several conversation starter questions at each table.