Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bullying in schools

I was trying to make a new page labeled "Parenting" and was hoping to post this under that title but I have not figured out how to do that yet. So everyone is treated to the same post.

I wanted to talk about the bullying I refered to before. Partially because someone commented on it on Google + and because it deserves closer examination.

I mentioned in a previous post that I ultimately left the Arctic because my daughter had been bullied in the small village we lived in for two years. It's true and it was one of the worst things I have had to experience. The feeling of helplessness that a parent experiences when her child is bullied is profound.  As a result of that experience one of the first things I do as a teacher now is make clear that bullying will not be acceptable in my classroom in any form. I outline what bullying looks like in a classroom and what the consequences will be if it occurs in my own class.  Every year. With every student. Because I believe talking about it will help. I even go into why it is so important to me and why it can never be 'okay' to bully.  So now I will tell you:

I do not think there is a great deal of difference between bullying in a regular mainstream class and bullying for racial reasons in a Northern classroom against a 'quallunaat' child.  Both are done to children who are a minority in some way and both are done to children who cannot change the 'way they are' in order to suit some vague ideal of normal that the children have decided is acceptable. That being said, I am trying to say that racism and cultural misunderstandings were the reason my daughter was bullied but she could not change being a Quallunaat any more than a child can change being overweight, weird,  different, an outsider, or the other million justifications that people use to feel better about what they are doing/allowing. The end result is the same: feelings of helplessness and worthlessness on the part of the bullied child. Feelings of power over the bullied by the bullies and the bystanders. And a feeling of helplessness by absolutely everyone else who is involved; including administrators who rarely know what to do, teachers who feel powerless to stop it and parents who are heartbroken over it when their child is the one that is being victimized.

I know what happens at this point in the conversation. Since we all don't quite know what to do about bullying in the classroom and at school, we start to shut it out and say 'Well she turned out alright in the end' and "things turned around eventually so it's alright."  It is NOT alright. My daughter was suicidal when she left that small village. I had to fly her out in an emergency flight in order to save her life because the kids up there had managed to erode her self worth so much that she didnt think she deserved to live anymore. She was nine years old. She was still in counselling and therapy at 13 years old for depression caused by low self worth issues.  It is NEVER alright to allow children to bully one another!

When it was happening, one of the teachers who had been on supervision told me that my daughter should 'get tougher if she wants to stay in the north'.  The principal told me that it was her own fault because she 'refused' to change. (Being a Quallunaat child, she should have changed her own cultural glasses in order to fit in, I suppose)  I only share this with you because it's what parents come up against sometimes when their child is being bullied. Denial and pointing blame at the victim. My daughter was afraid to tell me for months while it was happening because she thought it would get worse if she told. And she was right, it did get worse.

My daughter left to live with her father from November to June while I stayed in the Arctic to finish out my contract with the school board.  In that 6 heart-breaking months without her, I decided to make good use of my time. I quit smoking (a personal goal I had not been able to reach before this time) and I started a committee to inform and educate everyone on what to DO when a child is being bullied. I got federal funding for the committee, filled out a million papers, got teachers, the principal, th e youth center, social workers, and police involved and we talked about how to build a more positive atmosphere in the school and community. We created a 'bully court' where the kids were the judges and juries and bullies were brought before the court to defend themselves. We talked about creating projects where people had to work together in order to learn to get along.  I really hope my work there on the Aragutaq (meaning Rainbow) Committee did some good. I know it helped me understand what to do when the bully was in my classroom.

Share your thoughts on bullying if you wish.


  1. Victoria WooldridgeNovember 20, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    You did a thousand times more than an average person to address the issue and try to find solutions, Golda. Your model should be examined by other schools. I really like how you taught a lesson on bullying, and showed what it looks like -- that is so valuable. Do you still have your notes? It's something worth doing in my classes.

    I can recall being bullied so much in my grade 2 and 3 classes, I wished there was a camera in the room so my mom could see how the other kids treated me. And it kept going through grade 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... In three different schools! The bullying reduced in high school, as I was able to find a supportive group of friends, but even they got to me sometimes. We need to not only give our kids the tools to recognize and stop bullying, we also need to address the kids doing the bullying and help them to realize the impact of their behaviour, which some of them won't know.

  2. I don't have a lesson plan for the bullying speech I give the first day to all my classes. I just model both types of bullying behaviour (emotional and physical) by pretending to do it to a kid who has volunteered. Then I tell them the story about my daughter (because the bullying was so bad, it is a shocking story that they all sit up and listen to.) Then I tell them that this class is a safe one to everyone and if I see any type of bullying, there will be no excuses and the consequences will be...
    The consequences, by the way, are a roundtable discussion where the bully has to sit and listen to the 'impact statement' of the victim. Then the victim leaves and I talk to the bully. I dont usually 'make them apologize' but they do have to own up to their behaviour before they leave. If this isn't effective then it goes to admin and parents because we have a zero tolerance at our school and the child will be suspended immediately. Some types of bullying are small and if you get it while it's small, maybe we as teachers can prevent it from getting bigger. (Like a kid calling another kid 'stupid' or making everyone else laugh at them for something).
    As for what I did in the north, it was perhaps above and beyond what most people would do but I wanted losing my daughter for the rest of the year to, at least, mean something. It was one of the hardest things I have done to date, getting on that plane after sending her off with her father. She was just little and I had never been away from her before. It tore me up inside everyday. I was a complete mess and I wanted to DO something so that noone else would have to go through it again.

  3. Hm bullying is such a complex thing. We (those of us who are reasonable and rational) would like to believe that every parent can take a mature attitude when it comes to the behaviour of their child, unfortunately this seems to rarely be the case.

    Both of my stepkids have dealt with bullying on some level or another and I understand what you mean by feeling helpless. We've spoken with the school and teachers and they do what they can but because of legislature and blind fool parents there isn't much they can do. I also blame a lot of the households some of these kids are being raised in. The house is either one where the little hellion is allowed to be as bratty as he/she wants because either the parents fear hurting his feelings or they feel like they're being "mean" if they obstruct his behavior or the polar opposite a household of tiered abuse (dad abuses mom, mom abuses the kids and the kids abuse pets and school mates).

    To me it's extremely difficult to find the perfect pathway for a child when they are exposed to a world that encourages either rampant anti-social behaviour OR absolute cowardice and fear driven reactions. But then that's what being a parent is about guiding them as best you can with what tools you have at your disposal.

    Kudos on the program you got started. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond and it usually takes that sort of spark for someone to finally take the will for change as far as it can go.