By Bernita Bradley, Director of NPU Center
How a student responds to bullying varies.
A lot of the students don’t respond with retaliation tactics (rather mild or extreme) until they see the teacher “not see” the bully’s initial actions.
Example: John has constantly antagonized Paul.
Paul has told the teacher or some staff every time. Paul even yells out a few times “so what, leave me alone.”
Teacher hears other students laughing. Or sees incidents and tell students ”this is my classroom and there will be no rough housing, yelling out or disruptive behavior this year” or they can both spend two days at home.
Note to teachers: You think you are setting a tone in your classroom when actually you have not addressed the elephant in the room, the hallway, the bathroom, gymnasium, or lunchroom.
BTW Opening circles at the beginning of class doesn’t stop or prevent bullying.
John: now find ways of getting to Paul. Including other students. Notes on back (yes that does still exist). Mocking students for any number of reasons. Even physical contact.
Paul: Tells parents.
Parents: Report to the teacher and asks for meeting.
Teacher: Jumps to the defense of her ability to run her class. Instantly lets their admin know that both students have been picking on one another. (Excludes the fact that this issue started with John. Exclude the fact that they know of three other occurrences Paul has complained.)
Note to school Staff:
Youth don’t just start disagreeing with one another one day. It escalates from somewhere. Y’all gonna get mad at me for this one. Every bully has had something going on with them and the adults around them missed it. That includes you. Does not excuse behavior but all facts. That could be death in family. (Y’all know Covid took kids siblings, parents and grandparents. Even classmates.)
Incarceration of parents/siblings. Violence somewhere around them. Bullying others to avoid being bullied. And those issues trickle over into other students lives. Paul is now feeling the impact of another student’s unchecked trauma.
Your opening circles don’t get to this. First, they aren’t trying to tell the entire class that they are homeless or don’t eat regularly.
Real restorative circles are trusted spaces and most of these youth don’t trust y’all because they see how you handle their friends who they know are going through. Or when they asked you for an extension on a book report you immediately said no, even when they told you they had issue and couldn’t get it finished. (You never thought to ask what the issues were? Nope your class rules are more important because you made them to keep order.)
Yeah, so now they are supposed to trust you with their hurt places.
Back to John and Paul.
Both John and Paul are talked to by the Dean of students who gracefully listens to what the issue is but keeps stuck in their head that “Both students are at odds with one another according to your conversations with their teacher who told only her view”
Ends meeting with restating the school’s disciplinary policies and a warning of next timeeeee……
Calls Paul’s parents and lets them know it shouldn’t happen anymore. Also gives a subtle hint at you know, ask Paul to do his best to stay away from students he knows could get him in trouble. I gave them both a warning and I think they will be fine.
Note: Why are you warning both children.
Now Paul feels unprotected. He told everyone who he hoped would handle it at the school. He even told parents and the school turned it on him.
Paul goes on daily trying to ignore but who can ignore students’ antagonist behavior?
You as an adult can’t even ignore your neighbor’s car in front of your home. And the street is a public space. Why then do you expect children to ignore bullying?
John is dealing with his issues by lashing out. He sees that it gets to Paul.
Outcomes of this situation can be so broad:
-Paul asks parents to put him in a new school.
-Bullying continues and they fight….. (The response from Paul may be very hurtful to John and Paul. Paul never even wanted to fight. He just wanted to go to school.)
-Paul becomes withdrawn and depressed.
-Both of their class work decline.
-Suspensions happen which means instructional time is lost.
-John is seen as the school bully or tough guy (Depends on the person. He’s getting attention though that keeps his mind off of other issues.)
-Paul plans an exit strategy. (This can make you scared, but it is true) Plans to hurt or prevent himself from being hurt.
-He may join in to stop John from bullying others or may bully someone else with John.
-Plans to hurt John could be at play in Paul’s mind.
-Never trusts educators again. This is big because thousands of you look to educators as friendly advisors.
Ask yourself something as an educator or school administrator.
If you are mad right now about what I just wrote, why are you?
Ask yourself how many other school leaders regret not addressing these issues before hand after they’ve attended funerals?
Ask yourself are you mad because you feel you are not a psychologist and shouldn’t have to play one as an educator?
Are you mad because “schools are social work agencies and teachers shouldn’t have to engage as such.” We do know that Social Emotional Learning needs to be a part of your training and assuming switching seats or taking free time from student changes behaviors is redundant. Students need you, who have them in their care for roughly 8 hours daily to seriously reconsider your profession if you don’t expect to deal with their social emotional needs. BTW, again a restorative Circle in a class of youth who don’t trust you or like one another is not restorative!
Well why aren’t you pushing for more preventative measures to address these behaviors and hire professionals?
Why aren’t you learning from the students on what they need to be okay?
Why aren’t you pushing back on Deans and Administration to stop just suspending students and get to the root cause? BTW In school suspension is STILL SUSPENSION.
Why aren’t you holding teachers accountable who don’t REPORT BULLYING BEHAVIOR?
Why not create a space for teachers to share what is working in those classrooms that have less disciplinary issues?
Ohhhh don’t think I’ve forgotten about the parents.
Yes we do need to do more to make sure students like John show up ready.
But that doesn’t excuse the school having simple “No tolerance, makeshift restorative practice circles or get out my classroom” sessions with youth. Hire the appropriate staff. Not a dean who tells kids “pull your pants up, young man why is your hair all over your head? Young lady, that’s not lady like behavior. And then believes only what the teachers say when it comes down to issues.
They are Deans of Students. They are lowkey rule enforcement officers with the power to send you home.
Yeah y’all talking about mental health issues with children. Some of y’all helping to make things worse by simply Doing Nothing. Or Doing exactly what students don’t need you to do.