Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bullying sucks

No, I'm not talking about these monkeys... yet.

It's my first year teaching dance, and I am sitting in the gym at my school, ostensibly to supervise kids as they wait to get assigned a locker. In reality, this means I am babysitting about 200 kids at the same time with four other teachers... only the other three teachers are suddenly nowhere to be found.

I can see her, and I can tell already that she's scanning the crowd for someone to help. I can see her eyes frantically darting side to side in search of anyone who will stop what she's enduring. I see students near her, behind her, in front of her, everywhere, but she's alone in her fight. She has the quiet resignation to this as her plight that I see in many kids that are repeatedly picked on. She's scared, but she knows this is how life is for her. She's a special ed inclusion student in a 10th grade PE class, and she's being bullied. I step in immediately, but I'm shocked at the lack of general disgust with the situation. Students, all within hearing and seeing distance, sit and twiddle thumbs. Or whatever the 2005 equivalent is. Three sophomore boys have seized upon her and are making fun of her clothes, her hair, her mannerisms. It hurts me so badly, and then it hurts me even more because it's happening to someone who doesn't have a fighting chance.

What's wrong with people?

After it happens, I talk to one of the other female PE teachers and she, agreeing, lets me know that it is just a part of the job. PE has more mainstreamed students than other subjects, and there's way more "down time" or time where kids are left to their own social interaction (I teach mostly English at that point, so I hadn't encountered many issues like this) and it can be brutal. It breaks my heart.

I had many pet peeves before teaching . I've long since had to let go of almost all of those, or at least adopt a more realistic attitude about many of them. I won't do that for this though. I can't take it when kids bully anyone. It particularly ices my stomach and burns my chest when it happens to a kid who already struggles with a disability.

It happened again yesterday in my dance class. Dance, like PE, has a higher than average rate of students who are for the most part in special ed classes, but who are able to (and encouraged to) take electives. I love it, actually. I think it brings variety to my class, and it's also often a good class for kids who don't see a lot of progress or instant gratification in their normal academic classes. I see them enjoying what we do and achieving at their own level, which is all that matters to me--for anyone. Try. That's it.

There's a very sweet girl this dance class who takes a little longer to learn combinations, is a little bit socially immature, and is more emotional than the other girls in the class. She is a valued an accepted member of my classroom, just like all other students. You can imagine, then, how it really chapped my hide yesterday that a group of three girls decided to play the mean girl games with her and exclude her from their group activity. She ended up in tears, and then I ended up having to step in. To me, this always seems like it draws attention to the entire situation and makes it even more uncomfortable.

Here's what I need to say to the youth of America (not that they were asking, and not that they were listening): What the H is wrong with you? How is it possible that you don't understand that there are certain people in life that need a little more patience, a little more help, and a little more love? How is that not possible? If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

I just don't get it. There's nothing more common sense to me than helping out those who need a little bit more help. Ugh. But you see, it shouldn't surprise me that the bullying extends that far. Just the "normal" bullying is pretty bad too. Only nobody calls it bullying, by the way. That's one of those terms that people over 30 use that isn't really what the kids are sayin' these days... like "thongs" (meaning flip flops), or "going steady", or (thanks to Tyra Banks and Dr. Phil) "sexting." Kids don't use those words. Anyway.

I don't really see it from guys as much at the high school level. All girl bullying, all the time. I'm sure my perspective is skewed by my three all-girl classes. It's so bad. Technology has just made the bathroom wall of yesteryear available to anyone, anywhere, and once you put something out there on the internet, it's there forevah. They have no sense of that.

Oprah's show today was about bullying, and she had on a young boy who talked about dealing with bullies and how he didn't feel confident standing up for himself. I identified with this boy and what the psychologist said just after his interview really hit home. Bullies sense the kids that will be really hurt by being picked on. Ouch, that stung. Bullies sense the kids that won't be able to fight back because they're afraid of letting adults down. Ouch again. I'm not saying I got bullied, but I was that kid. I was afraid that by standing up for myself, I'd be letting someone down. I couldn't have told someone to stop saying things to me that were hurtful. When I was a junior, a girl called me a "slut" while I was getting my books out of my locker. Slut is just about the last thing that I was. But I never used that locker again, simply out of fear I'd see her. Cut to me at 30 years old, still afraid to tell people what I really feel, and then having guilt about telling people after I do so. My point is that confidence is a good thing to build in kids, and I want to try to do instill this in my own.

Confidence, ability to read a social situation, and appropriate reaction to conflict. Jeez, that list could have been written about all the things I need to work on in my marriage. But that's for another day. The psychologist on Oprah talked about how we do kids a disservice by telling them to "ignore it." The old sticks and stones mantra sounds good, but words really do hurt us. To a verbivore like me, words sting just as bad as a slap on the face. And we replay the tape, over and over.

I don't have any answers as far as how I'm going to raise these little super-humans who neither bully nor get bullied, but it's on my mind. One of my own toughest struggles is with confidence in the face of conflict. I already see Ad shrinking to meet the needs of others. While geniality is a wonderful quality, I don't want her to get squashed under someone else's heel. I see how Henry reacts in response to kids who push and shove. I see him mimicking the behaviors of the stronger ones. It's on my mind.

One of the best discussions I've read on the subject is also the inspiration for and provided much of the material for the hilariously relevant movie, Mean Girls. I originally read an excerpt from the book as a teaching credential student. It's an honest look at what girls can do to each other in high school, and talks about what to look for. It's dead on. The article is called "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman. Surprisingly, the movie ended up being nothing like I would have pictured from the book, but then I don't have Tina Fey's gift for humor. It's all there, wrapped up in marabou and glitter and lip balm. God, that movie is funny.

Bullying sucks. End of story. Also, I'll "stop trying to make fetch happen."

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  1. First of all, I can't believe someone actually called you a slut!? That's crazy!
    Second, I was bullied in HS, too. Only my bully was a teacher. Talk about humiliating! I will remember it for the rest of my life!!!
    I completely agree bullying is out of control! I only hope T and L will use diplomacy and self-confidence to shield themselves from bullies.

  2. I also got called many things in high school...and surprisingly enough it carried over into college at UCD where several of my high school classmates ended up going. Was that cool? Heck no. Did it hurt my feelings? Of course it did. I know it even happens to me. You have to realize it and try to stop it. As the adult in the school I think you are doing the right thing by stepping in. I wish I had someone like that in HS. -km

  3. Beck--wow. A teacher? I'm afraid to ask, for fear this is someone I work with currently. That sucks.

    Kayda--someone at UCD? Geez. What I liked about college was the anonymity.... getting lost in the crowd. Nobody knew me at college.