Bullying in our schools is a widely discussed issue. It is a topic that a lot of parents, teachers and principals have difficulty dealing with. Everyone has an opinion or idea for how bullying should be dealt with and there are some that do not wish to deal with it or discuss it.
There are many suggestions on how bullying should be addressed. I came across this powerful story of how an amazing teacher dealt with the issue of bullying in her classroom (reference below).
A Teachers’ Story
I have one student in my class who gets picked on because she looks, talks and acts a little different to everyone else. I’ve picked up a few awful things that have been said to her over this year and tried to stamp it out. But today things really came to light as another student told me all the things kids say about this girl that hasn’t been reported to teachers.
I spoke to the girl being picked on and she started telling me more things that people have done and said to her. It was awful stuff and needed to be addressed urgently as a very serious bullying issue.
So in the afternoon session, I told this girl and her friend that another teacher needed some help with her younger students and would they be willing to help? They jumped at the opportunity and so were out of the classroom for the afternoon while I addressed the bullying with my kids.
How did the teacher handle the bullying?
I started with a very serious tone. And I said to my class. “I need to talk to you about something very serious. It’s about a student in our class and I’m very sad about it.”
They all gasped, not knowing what was going to come out of my mouth. I told them the student’s name and said: “I am going to write on the board every single name that I’ve heard or been told that people have said to her.”
I started writing on the board words like cow, spastic, dumb, stupid, moron.
My kids were in shock seeing these words on the board. I then asked for other kids to put up their hand and tell me other names that this girl has been called.
The list didn’t stop. I wrote all of them on the board. Crazy, mental, f-word (I didn’t write the actual swear word but the first letter), b-word, slow.
Soon the entire board was jam-packed with awful, awful words. I needed my whole class to be confronted by the amount of hurtful words that this girl has been carrying. The whole time there were gasps and whispers of “that’s horrible! That’s so mean!”
I looked at the board then looked at my kids, close to tears, and said, “this makes me want to cry.”
They nodded and some of them had tears in their eyes. I said, “raise your hand if you feel like crying too.” They all raised their hands as a tear or two slipped down some of their cheeks.
I said, “if she’s hearing all those words, how is that making her feel?”
My kids answered and I wrote them down. “Depressed, sad, hurt, broken heart, not wanting to come to school, feeling different to everyone else.”
Then I said, “what do you think these words make her think about herself?” They were confused for a second so I said, “if someone says to her ‘you’re ugly’ does she think well that’s not true.”
“Yes,” my kids nodded.
“No,” I shook my head. “If you hear those words over and over again ‘you’re ugly’ you actually start to think ‘I’m ugly.’ If people are telling you ‘you’re disgusting’ over and over again you’re eventually going to start thinking ‘I’m disgusting.’”
My kids stared at me wide-eyed. I said to them “your words have SO much power that they can actually change the way someone thinks about themselves.”
There was more shocked silence as that sunk in. That was new information to them.
Then I said, “how can we fix this?”
They said, “can we write cards and letters to her?”
“Yes,” I said, “I think that would be a good thing to do. And if you know that you’ve said one or more of these things to her, make sure you say sorry in your card. Let’s write lots and lots of nice and kind words that she can hear instead of the nasty ones.”
My kids jumped at the opportunity to make cards. I brought out multi-coloured paper, they all chose a colour and made THE most beautiful cards I have ever seen kids make. Everyone’s design for their card was different and unique.
And everyone, I’m talking everyone, wrote words of kindness and apologies in their cards. Many of the boys that had been calling her names chose pink paper, drew hearts for her and wrote nice things about her in it. Other kids covered their cards full of their own stickers from their pencil case.
One of my kids showed me a sticker she put on her card and said, “miss I’ve been saving this sticker for Santa since the beginning of last year and I was going to put it on Santa’s card this Christmas. It’s my most special special sticker. But today I decided to put it on this card for [girls name that has been picked on].”
Another tough boy in my class who frequently puts others down said to me sadly, “Miss my brain is crying. Because I said mean things to her.”
That melted my heart. I said to him, “that’s a good thing your brain is crying, it means you feel really sorry.”
Another boy wrote in his card, “if anyone ever bullies you on the playground, just come to me and I’ll help you.”
It hit home for all of them. It completely changed their view of this girl and their attitude toward her. And was a powerful, powerful moment of change. They are now all so eager to encourage her, and they are determined that if they hear anyone bullying her on the playground; that they will stand up for her.
So what did this mean for the little girl?
At the end of the day, I called the teacher to send the girl and her friend back to my class.
I told my class not to make a big deal when she comes back in. Just act as normal and when the bell goes I’ll take her aside and tell her what we talked about. And give her a big envelope with everyone’s cards in it.
So when the bell went I took her aside and said “I have something really cool to show you. Come with me.” She followed me and I showed her the big envelope.
“I had a talk to the class about the mean words they are saying to you. They all are sorry and they feel really bad. And they all wrote you really nice cards. They said it’s going to stop from now on, no more bullying. And [boys name] said if you are bullied on the playground come to him and he will help you.”
I could see she was about to burst into tears. I gave her the envelope and said: “you can take this home with you and when you get home you can read all the lovely things that everyone wrote to you.”
Her face broke into a smile. She skipped and ran excitedly toward her siblings as she went out of the classroom with the envelope in her hands.
Tomorrow is going to be a very different day.
It’s moments like these that I live for in my teaching career. And such a powerful way to address bullying. Sometimes kids need an in your face lesson to truly understand the impact bullying has on others.
This story of how a teacher dealt with bullying in her class is really powerful. I felt that I needed to share. It is important to teach our children how their words can impact on others. And what to do if they see someone else being bullied. To step in and act, whether that is telling a teacher, and asking the bullied child to play. We can all do our bit in dealing with the issue bullying.