I’m on a bit of a mission at work. It has long been a point of fact that I have zero tolerance for any type of bullying. This includes any of that mean talk that kids indulge in, including notes passed in class with petty slanders about the girl in the corner. I believe passionately that no child should have to suffer in silence and if more teachers made it their personal mission to stand up and say no then the frightened victims would finally have someone on their side. Too often educators turn a blind eye to the cruelty of children and teens, stating that it is “just a phase”, “I wouldn’t know what to do”, “it will pass”, “it is all part of natural selection” or God only knows what else.
When I was 11 and 12 and one of the only English girls at my predominantly American girl’s school in Japan, I was bullied. Rude things about me were written in soap on the bathroom wall, my pencil case was thrust down the toilet to a chorus of laughing girls and the entire time no one did anything about it. Even my own mother said at one point “ Well did you do anything to provoke them?”
I feel no shame in the fact that I was bullied. Occasionally I search for reasons why it was me that was relentlessly picked on and I come up with the idea that perhaps I was different from the others. I spoke with a different accent, I wasn’t allowed to wear make up or go to see movies like Endless Love or Blue Lagoon. I spoke off the cuff, tried too hard to have friends…. I have no idea what combination of facts led to me being the IT girl for those girl’s nasty behaviour. I do know that while I was pinned down at a sleep over and rubbed all over with lip sticks that stained my pajamas, that there was nothing I could do to stop it.
The other day in PSHE ( personal, social and health education) I combined both Year 7 ( grade 6 ) classes to discuss this very subject. I told them that I would not tolerate any unkindness of any sort and that what they might deem funny could, in fact, be very painful to the person involved. I also told them about the importance of the bystander and witness and how powerful a role that person plays in stopping the meanness. I explained that I knew how hard it was to be a snitch and tell on someone and for that reason they could, at any time, drop a note on my desk explaining anything they had seen.
Bullying is not rife in my school by any means. It is a small school where every one knows each other and I don’t believe that any one of my students is particularly cruel. However, things do happen as I was soon to find out. I handed out sheets of paper to all 40 students and asked them to anonymously write down anything they had seen or done. Reading these notes later made me quite sad. One boy was pushed into the gym shower where three other boys turned the tap on soaking his clothes. One person confessed to breaking into a few lockers. Someone else explained how they had passed mean notes in class. Simply the act of writing these facts down helped to make these 11 year olds realize the little cruelties they were inflicting on their classmates.
Since that PSHE class I now have a reputation for being a fighter for all students who feel excluded. My door is always open to any one who feels slighted and they all know that I will always be on their side. Just the other day I received note from a sweet young girl who is certain that none of the girls in her class like her. She wrote a litany of examples of times that she was excluded or sniggered at. I will invite all the girls involved into my class room for a chat next week. Once they realize that some one is watching, someone who refuses to stand by and allow meanness to exist, maybe they will think twice.
I am not a fool and I know too well that girls between the ages of 11 and 15 can be extremely unkind. I also know that I cannot change this fact, but I can let the victims know that some one has their back. I will not stand by and do nothing, at the very least for those kids who have the bad luck to be the chosen targets.