1. Assure them that this isn’t their fault.
As a past victim of bullying, this was extremely important to hear because I was convinced that it was something I did or that I deserved this form of behavior from my fellow classmates. But it wasn’t my fault, and it is never the student’s fault that they are bullied. It is easy for a student to assume that it was something they did, but we, as teachers, need to let them know that it isn’t their fault. They are not to blame for being bullied, instead they need to know that they are valued and known. They also need to know that they aren’t who the other student called them or did to them. Plus, I think it is important to also value the student that is doing the bullying because, often, they are neglected in some way and their emotions come out via bullying another student. It’s crucial to get at their level and understand the situation, but also affirm that their behavior isn’t okay and that it won’t be tolerated.
I read this article from the National Writing Project where a teacher explains their process with their students. Her students would play a game called 21 where the students would go into their respective bathrooms and fight without rules for 21 seconds, sometimes longer since no one wanted the fight to stop. On one occasion, a student fell on the bathroom sink and went into several seizures. A few students were suspended, other reprimanded, and the student went to the hospital. Thankfully, the student fully recovered, but the impact on the teacher still remained. So, she decided to talk to her class about the game and equated its brutality with a story and then movie called, “The Lottery” which depicted a town that would frequently stone people to death. Her students quickly realized the consequences of their actions and the physical and emotional harm that they were causing by participating in 21.
In this story, I think it is significant that she addressed everyone in the classroom: both those who participated and those that didn’t. Every student had a part in the game, even if they didn’t directly hit another student. In this way, the teacher was able to explain why it isn’t okay, but also give the students a value to hold: to value one another.
2. Be persistent.
“Bullying may not end overnight. Commit to making it stop and consistently support the bullied child” (StopBullying.gov). This is also true. Bullying often occurs frequently and can last for long periods of time. Students need to feel like you are on their side and that you are committed to them and are willing to protect them, but also that you will discipline the student bullying them. Once again, I do feel like the student that is bullying other students also needs to be addressed. One, disciplined in some way, but two, understood as to why they are acting out against their classmates.
Personally, I didn’t know this at the time, but one individual that bullied me when I was younger actually had serious problems at home. She didn’t know how to cope, so it came out in frustration against me because her position of dominance over me made her feel better. This student, and students like her, also needs to be known in that moment because they always act out for some reason. We need to be looking out for all of our students, and be consistently aware of what is going on, both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. Students need us to be their allies, but they also need direction, and we have a clear position to be able to do that.
3. Make it a conversation.
Just like the example in the article, it is important to have a conversation about bullying. Maybe do this in the beginning of the year, or when you recognize it, and bring the conversation to the classroom as a whole. This way, the students don’t feel isolated or singled-out; instead, everyone has a learning opportunity to know what is expected behavior and what is bad behavior. Plus, students can learn to value one another instead of demean one another.