Talk to Them

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Hey there teachers,
Bullying is complicated, so I don’t blame you for not knowing how to stop it. You’re wrapped up in the immense difficulty of being friendly enough to be liked, strict enough to be respected and spectacular enough to be remembered. That is the job of a teacher, and it’s hard enough to teach the material effectively and walk the tightrope of student perception without getting involved in the nitty-gritty of student interpersonal relationships, especially if you have as much chance of doing harm as good.
So here’s what you need to know: students, bullies and bullied alike, need friends and advocates, and to varying degrees, teachers can be both. Students who are being bullied are hurt by far more than the words hurled at them; they are also being harmed by the loneliness of going through the experience alone. If you see students being bullied, reach out to them gently, reminding them that the teacher is always available for talking, comfort and a safe space. Then follow through, listening, giving advice and affirming that bulling is unacceptable and that it is not a reflection of the worth of the bullied. And do the same for bullies. Bullies gain social power by taking it away from others; they could use a friend. As a teacher, as an authority figure but also a kind presence, you can speak firmly against the behavior of a bully, retreating not a bit from your position against the bully’s actions while still reaching out to a student, a child, who might need nothing else than a trusted adult to remind them that they are a worthwhile person and can be popular and respected without doing harm.
The advocate aspect of the your role is important, too. Any time bullying, of any degree, is witnessed, you should make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable. Importantly, it is the behavior that is being attacked, not the bully, and the bullied student is not being made a focus of attention. Rather, the mistreatment of fellow students is simply not to be tolerated at any time. The fact that the bullying can shift to times and places where you are not around is to be addressed by being a resource for any students involved in bullying, even as bystanders, as mentioned above. Students should know that you can be trusted, and that you will go to the administration or parents only when necessary, but then without hesitation, for example if there is any physical violence involved. This fairness and ability to analyze a situation serves you well when they suspect plagiarism or cheating, and it will serve you well here.
Bullying is a problem. It hurts children on either side of conflict as well as those who are not involved, and if it continues to stymie teachers, then children will have to fend for themselves while facing treatment that no person, let alone a teenager, should ever have to endure at the hands of their peers. The job of a teacher already encompasses the roles necessary to stop bullying; you must only appropriately act on them. No more excuses. Start now.





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