October, 2012

October, 2012
October 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012


I like to write.  For me, it is cathartic.  I ramble on and on when something is on my mind and I have to get it out.  Today is one of those days.  A subject matter that I have had battles with for the past several years.  Bullying.  So today, as the saying goes, I have a bee in my bonnet...and it has to come out.  

I slept with the TV on last night.  That happens many nights if I forget to set the sleep timer to turn it off once I have fallen asleep.  So this morning the first thing I heard as I was in between asleep and awake was a story on Good Morning America.  The gist of the story was that a teacher has lost her job over how she decided to handle a bullying situation in her classroom.  She apparently lined her kindergartners up and allowed each of them to hit the bully. I imagine most people would react with disgust at the teacher.  What I am about to say may finally verify that I am crazy, but my first thought was more along the lines of "bless her heart".  Yes, I feel sorry for the teacher. Maybe I should clarify before anyone signs off on my insanity paperwork...

As far back as I can remember in my life, I have known bullies.  I feel fairly certain we can all say that.  Growing up it was the kids who seemed to get pleasure out of doing things that would get another kid laughed at.  Kids who picked on weaker kids until they had them in tears.  Although it is hard for me to say, I can also admit now there were times I was the bully.  Back then we didn't we didn't call it bullying.  In fact, I can't remember it having a specific name at all.  What I do remember though is if you bullied or were a bully and you got in trouble for it, you would REALLY be in trouble for it.  Getting in trouble meant something totally different 35 years ago.  I didn't want to get spanked or grounded and I was afraid of disappointing my parents.  That was the worst...disappointing my parents.  

Now we have given bullying a platform.  We hear about it on the news, there are laws, beautiful anti-bullying posters hanging in schools, school boards and law makers who spend hours developing and debating policies which will deal with the "issue" of bullying.  Yet for all of that does anyone actually know what happens to a child who is found to be a bully to others at school?  What exactly are the consequences?  Are there consequences for repeat offenders?  In fact how do schools define which behaviors are considered bullying behaviors?  As a parent of children who have been bullied and having taught and seen bullying in the classroom and how it was handled by the school, I can tell you it is ambiguous at best.  This is why my first reaction to the story this morning was bless her heart.  As with most things in life, we arrive at the feelings and opinions we have because of our own life experiences.  For me, bullying, and especially how bullying is handled in the schools, touches a chord because of the pain I have watched my own children go through.  

When Ashley was around 2, she had a friend that bit her ALL OF THE TIME. This went on for over a year. There was no reason for it.  In fact, she would smile when she did it.  Now you might think the solution was simple....keep her away from that child. The problem was I was good friends with her mother. We spent a lot of time together. Beyond the biting, the girls actually played together really well. I began to notice that it mostly happened when her mother wasn't watching and one particular day, I had enough.  We were eating outside and her mom went in the house for something and she reached over and bit Ashley.  No reason.  I snapped and told Ashley to bite her back.  Ashley wouldn't do it, so I did.  I didn't bite down hard, but enough that she looked at me with huge eyes. She didn't cry. Of course my next thought was I have probably just lost my friend and Ashley has probably lost hers. Funny thing though...when her mom came back out, the little girl didn't say a thing.  It was as if nothing had happened.  She never bit Ashley again.  Was I right in what I did?  No.  I was a bully. To this day though, I can't tell you what a solution would have been other than severing the friendship and I didn't want that. 

Fast forward about 15 years and Ashley is a senior at Danville High School.  We had moved here halfway through Ashley's junior year.  Not the best time to move a teenager.  Can be difficult to fit into a new school at any age, but doing the move during the turbulent teenage years and at this particular school proved to be really emotionally difficult for Ashley.  It wasn't that Ashley was picked on, it just that ever lingering feeling that she didn't fit into this group of kids who for the most part had been together all of their school years.  The time for prom came and Ashley didn't have a date yet.  One day, a couple of boys got a really brilliant idea.  They would make a flyer to get her a prom date.  The flyer stated something to the effect of "Ashley Arms will put out for a date to the prom".  As I said, brilliant idea.  These boys then, with the permission of the teacher, went to make copies.  I would like to think the teacher didn't look at what was being copied, instead just trusted that these fine young men weren't up to no good and gave them the code to use the copier.  After the copies were made, they distributed them by throwing them over the balcony into the lobby of the school at about the time school was letting out.  

Ashley came home in tears.  I went to the school and talked to the assistant principal.  Here is the point in the story where I formed my opinion that there are no clear cut rules on how to deal with bullying behaviors in the schools no matter how much lip service they give to the anti-bullying platforms.  He actually said to me "Oh, that is what those flyers were.  I saw them on the floor but didn't read them."  I knew who had done this but when I told him his response was "Really.  I can't believe those boys would do that.  They are good kids."  He said he would TALK to them about it.  Nothing ever happened.  No consequence. What happened that day was the very heart of why bullying is wrong.  No one should ever feel the way she did that day. As parents we are falsely led to believe that sending our child to a school with an anti-bullying platform provides some form of protection.  I thought that.  I walked out that day thinking the boys would have a consequence.  What I actually ended up feeling was that they are providing lip service to a cause for which they have no plan of action.  My daughter was humiliated in a way that no child should be humiliated.  My heart broke with hers.  To this day, it hurts me to think about it and I know it still bothers her. The one positive that may have come from that day actually came from the boy who did the deed.  He called Ashley before I even knew what had happened and apologized.  He did that on his own when he realized, a little to late to take it back, how much he had hurt her. I believe that what the assistant principal said about him was correct.  He probably was a good kid.  That didn't mean there shouldn't have been a consequence for his actions.  

Same school system...different child.  When Brooke was in the 3rd grade there was a girl who picked on Brooke.  I think I should preface this story with a little info about Brooke herself.  My tender hearted girl, whom I love more than life, can't take a joke.  A little teasing between sisters or friends can send her into a tantrum.  I believe this is how the problem began.  Another girl, who was picking at her because she knew that she could get Brooke going.  There was this back and forth of her picking and Brooke reacting.  Frustrating to me and to her teacher.  I also spoke to the principal about it and I believe her teacher did as well. Still though, Brooke would come home crying and as usual I would ask her what she was doing to exasperate the problem.  I would talk to her about not reacting.  I was in a sense, discounting her feelings....blaming the victim basically. I now, several years later, realize that this is one of the cores of bullying that make it so hard to clearly define for many people. The "she's asking for it" way of thinking. Nothing changed and I was feeling the frustration of wanting the school to stop the girl from picking on Brooke.  Problem was, I was a teacher in the school.  I couldn't say with 100% certainty that was the reason nothing was done, but it sure felt that way.  So, in my usual not thinking sort of way, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Brooke came up to me in the lunchroom one day crying.  Same story different day.  I walked over to the girl who was standing in line with her class and told her that I had had enough.  That I wanted her to stop picking on Brooke.  Although I was acting like a parent, I didn't say anything to her I wouldn't have said to my own students if they were picking on a classmate.  I wasn't yelling or even being any louder than usual. I am sure you can guess what happened next.  I got reprimanded.  Even though this had gone on for a couple of months with no resolution, I was in trouble for acting like a parent during school hours.  Did I make the wrong decision, and again, like with the biting story, was I being a bully?  Probably.  Did the behavior stop.  Yes.  I didn't hear about any problems from Brooke and the little girl for the rest of the year. Why though, was nothing done at the school level?  Why did I feel the need to wear the parent hat that day?  Well, that takes me back to school policy.  Do they clearly know what constitutes bullying? Yes, maybe I have a child who seems to ask for it with some of her behaviors but isn't the essence of bullying based on how the person being bullied feels and not our perception of how they feel? Again,consequences. Are they applied across the board no matter who you are or who your parents are?  Very similar to Ashley's situation in that who the child was played a role in how it was handled.  Who I was played a role in how it was handled for Brooke.  I should also add in an interesting twist that just last year Brooke came to me and said that the girl had "friended" her on Facebook and she had accepted.  I had a split second of "that's probably not a good idea" run through my head, and then dismissed it.  Well, it was only a few days later that Brooke came back to me and said the girl was being mean on Facebook for no reason.  I looked at what had been posted and checked Brooke's messages to make sure she hadn't provoked or anything and she hadn't.  I felt a bit vindicated....the girl is a bully plain and simple.  She always was.  This time I could act like a parent with no repercussions.  I made Brooke delete her.

I had other bad experiences in the classroom where I realized sending them to the office was getting me nowhere.  I had a known bully push a child that was standing at the urinal.  It scared him and he soaked the front of his pants.  He didn't come out of the bathroom but my bully was already out and back in line.  I called in for him and when he got to where I could see him he was crying and completely embarrassed.  I asked him if he had an accident and that is when he told me his version of what happened.  I got the kids back in the classroom and then talked to my bully.  By now he had figured out that being truthful with me was his best bet and he gave me the same version of the story.  When I asked him why he said he thought it was funny.  I sent him to the office thinking he would have a consequence....he was a repeat, repeat, repeat offender after all.  When he came back I asked him what the principal wanted him to do.  Nothing he said.  He didn't have a consequence.  Surprising?  Not really.  It wasn't even recorded in the electronic system where behavior problems are recorded. My own children have lost recess for things less offensive.

This brings me back to the teacher in Texas who has now lost her job and possibly her teaching career over a bad decision.  Of course there is always more to a story than what we know. I said "bless her heart" because I wonder how much support the school had given her with the bully in her classroom.  Had she experienced what I had?  You ask for and expect help but don't get it. I think you don't have to think too hard to realize this came at the end of the school year and she had probably dealt with it all year.  Did the school have a CLEAR policy.  Had they implemented that policy?  How did she end up in a situation where she made such a disastrous choice? The article mentioned that she was a young teacher.  As a young teacher was she given the support and CLEAR answers on how to deal with the situation?  I feel for her. I hope it is an opportunity for the school to reflect on what they could have done differently as well and not pretend it was solely her fault.  

I want to make one more point before I go.  I am not putting this all on the schools exactly.  Parents play a role as well.    In fact, parents may just be the roadblock to solving the problem.  I know having taught, that teachers often fear parents.  We don't quite know how to tell them like it really is without fear of getting our heads bitten off.  I have to wonder in the case of Ashley's prom incident if they were afraid of the boy's parents. Maybe we as parents stand in the way of schools implementing clearer consequences for student's actions. It is just as important for parents to have a clear understanding of bullying as it is for schools to have better ways of handling it. I want to be able to teach my children what bullying really is and the correct way to handle it and how to make sure they don't become bullies themselves.  How they treat others will be just as important to the development of their moral character as how they are treated.  I have started calling it out in my own home and even with their friends.  We aren't going to pick at people for our own satisfaction without consequences.    

The bee is out of my bonnet now!