How Bad is Bullying at Your School? Ask Students

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Today I went to an individualized educational plan (IEP) meeting for one of my middle school students. The parent reported that her son “is constantly being bullied at school." She said he is being harassed by other students because of his disability. It happens before and after school. Once, students stole his hat and put it in the trash. Another time, they took his water bottle and put sand in it.

Now I consider myself to be an involved administrator, so I’m stunned by this news. I ask the staff if they have witnessed any bullying. No. The teachers have not witnessed anything. They report that the student has friends and participates in social activities at lunch. They say he appears happy at school.

Then how do we explain this discrepancy?
 
I think back to when I was in junior high school (that’s what we called it back then) in the 1980's. I know what it's like to be bullied. I was a thin, effeminate, gay boy back then. There were few staff members who either "saw" the bullying or stood up for me. I remember what it's like to be picked on constantly. You want it to be over. You just want to be left alone. Some days, it seems like the end is the only way out.

I hope we're clear as a profession that turning a blind eye to bullying has dire consequences that can be lethal. We've all seen the headlines over the past few years. Education can no longer allow for overt bullying to occur in our schools. We cannot chalk up bullying as "character building" or say that the victims are somehow to blame. Sadly, I've heard both thoughts from fellow educators.

We've all been working to stop the tired scenario of the bully-taking-the-lunch-money as a profession, but what about the subtle and covert forms of bullying? Waiting for just the right moment–when the teacher's head is turned or the duty officer is around the corner—the bully attacks. At least when I went home from junior high, the harassment ended for a few hours. Today, students have access to cell phones and Internet. Opportunities for harassment and bullying are any time and any place, 24 hours a day.

We cannot assume that just because we don't see bullying it's not happening. I resolve to ask my students from now on directly if they are being harassed on an active basis. I will make it part of my daily conversations with students and their families.

Dorman is a middle school psychologist and project facilitator in California.

Comments

Up until October 2010 I

Submitted by Maureen Sorrell on 26 July 2011 - 1:43pm.

Up until October 2010 I worked as a substitute for the Dixon Unified School District in Dixon CA. The Asst. Superintendent left me a vm in May 2010 telling me how inappropriate my remarks were in the sixth grade class room to discuss gays. Yes, how dare I? Well we had been talking about Jackie Robinson and the discrimination of African Americans in baseball several years back and I had the nerve to use it as a springboard to ask the kids if they thought other groups suffered discrimination. We, as a class mostly agreed that gays suffered--except for one girl who asked us to keep the discussion limited to blacks.

I called his office twice and he never returned my call. So in October 2010, I had a different class I talked to about the importance of discretion. It was shortly after the 13 year old girl in Florida took her own life after pics of her topless were distributed by cell phone, so I shared a short story with the kids I had written about a time when I was privy to gossip and I did not share it. It was a writing prompt for them. I thought things had gone well until later.

I received a letter in the mail telling me I was no longer needed as a sub from Mr. Brian Dolan.

As a teacher I teach

Submitted by Kate Livingston on 8 October 2012 - 5:07pm.

As a teacher I teach tolerance a lot, but when I have a sub I leave very generic plans that deal with the traditional subjects. If you were following the teacher's instructions then you have a case. If you were not following the plans left by the teacher and striking out on your own then they have the case. You said you were warned once, that should have been enough. While I believe in teaching tolerance I also believe that school rules should be followed and if you were let known that they didn't not want you teaching away from the classroom teacher's plans, then you should have respected that. I suggest getting your teaching degree if you are really passionate about it, then you can incorporate into your lessons what you feel is appropriate.