HIGH SCHOOL BULLYING: A Teacher's perspective
bY A STOP A BULLY STAFF
High School Bullying
For me, as a teacher of today's adolescents, I am conscious of the fact that bullying in my classroom can too easily occur right under my nose, with the casual text under the desk on a cell phone, or the pointed glances and whispers directed at one or more students trying to ignore the unwanted attention. For me the key to managing and addressing such negative behaviour in the classroom is finding that delicate balance between letting the aggressors know that such behaviour is unacceptable and not tolerated in my room, while also letting the victim feel supported but not singled out. For many vulnerable students a teacher's efforts to assist them only causes them more anxiety, which is why I believe so many will suffer in silence rather than report to a teacher or administrator the difficulties they are experiencing with their peers.The word bullying for most conjures up images of students calling names, pointing fingers and laughing at a lone individual sitting in the far corner of the room, or hovering around the edges of the gym and the hallway, trying desperately to either be acknowledged or simply blend in. Bullying today in high schools is a fact of life, and while it may be that many of us have accepted that it is part and parcel with the high school experience, it should not be ignored or underestimated in its far-reaching effects.
High School Boys Bullying
Boys and girls have very different bullying tactics. As with other noted gender differences, boys' behaviour when bullying is most often out in the open and easy to recognize. I have seen grade twelve boys gang up on one or more singled out males in the room; teasing them relentlessly with loud, obnoxious comments, kicking the back of their desks, pushing or knocking into them on purpose as they walk by, even going back to the tactics of days gone by: the messy, irritating spit ball. What surprises me time and time again, is not that the bullies behave this way, or even that they are so brazen about it with no fear or remorse when caught by an adult, but rather the common reaction of the victim: "Would you like to move seats?" "Are these boys bothering you?" "Is there anything I can do for you?" The answer to these questions is a resounding "NO" - and the message I am given with the silence and head down on the desk is one of resignation and hopelessness, as if nothing I, or any other adult in the building, can do to help will actually be of any help. The message from this kind of acceptance of bullying is what most adults may like to choose to ignore: the bullying I have witnessed in the classroom is nothing compared to what is happening out of the classroom, in the hallway, on the sidewalk, in the student parking lot. This student would rather try to endure what is happening in my room, in hopes that his tormentors will get their fill for the day, and leave him alone and in peace elsewhere.
High School Girls Bullying
Girls are the masters of bullying under the radar. The appearance of innocence and the fake smiles on a group of girls' faces in class can make a teacher easily overlook the fact that the student sitting only one or two chairs away is fighting back tears or is visibly agitated, though attempting to remain calm. The girls who are intent on bullying do so, it seems, primarily with hurtful words: words meant to destroy reputations and friendships and boy-girl relationships, ultimately to cast doubt upon the character and value of their peers. The gossip that spreads like wildfire can begin in conversation in the hallway but is easily spread from class to class via texts, Facebook and other social media. As a teacher it is very difficult to isolate these incidents or to accuse the aggressors without "hard" evidence; what I am often left with is a strong gut feeling that something is not right, that a situation is indeed going on, though even if I can identify who I believe is involved, where do I begin to right the wrongs or offer discipline as a solution? A girl who is being bullied seems to be just as likely to refuse help from me, though they do take me up more often on the offer of escape from the room and refuge at the counsellor's office. There, some will discuss their concerns with less fear of retribution, but many will remain silent. A brief respite from the intense scrutiny they feel in the classroom may be welcome but again I come back to, what happens next?
Schools have numerous policies and action plans for dealing with bullying incidents in their buildings. Teachers are looking to protect and educate all their students on the harmful effects of such behaviour; we can only hope that we address all those who need help through our own daily vigilance in the classroom, particularly if students continue to feel the risks are too high to come forward on their own.