A day or so back a few of the girls were having a bit of a chat about girls and bullying. It seemed that when she was a little girl Elouise was sent to school in the wrong dress and this caused her to be a misfit. You can read here. This caused Gwen, Fran and Candice to jump in. I love it when my friends have these little chats. Most of the time.
So I was reminded of one day at school that was at the one time a great day and a bad day. I had been teaching for about forty years and had a few tricks up my sleeve. One trick was how to deal with bullies. Often some of the teachers would come and ask me to deal with a certain problem and I would try to sort it out. They wouldn’t go to the Principal or the vice-Principal because that would often lead to severe repercussions that most of us thought were unwarranted.
We had three year eight home-rooms and the year eight teachers became very concerned that the girls were developing a culture of bullying and teasing and they didn’t know how to deal with it. So they asked me for my ideas.
And this is how things went.
One morning all the year eight girls were put into one room together. The boys were outside having a game of touch football.
The thing to do was to be open and honest. So I talked for a while about bullying and teasing and how destructive it was until finally it became obvious that a few of the girls were feeling a bit worried. I explained what the school policy was; the heavy-handed ‘we don’t tolerate bullying and you might get expelled’ policy. Then I had a few words about victims and bullies. There was a bit of shuffling in seats. So I proceeded to step #next.
“OK girls I don’t want you to worry about answering questions so I will go and stand at the back of the room with the other teachers and I want you to stay looking to the front. When I ask a question I want you to put your hand up to answer. But I want everyone to keep their eyes closed. I will trust you not to open your eyes.
“Put your hand up if you have been a victim this week. OK thanks.”
I asked Teacher A to count.
“Now put your hand up if you have been a bully this week.”
“OK open your eyes.” And I went back to the front.
“Now there is no point of me being here if you aren’t honest. So I will be honest with you. I promise, in capital letters, that no one will be punished for anything I learn today. I don’t intend to punish anyone, I just want the bullying to stop.”
Now none of this would work if the Principal or his Vice had said that, because they didn’t trust them. And you must have been in a school for a while before the kids decide whether to trust you or not. So I’d nailed my colours to the mast. I went back to the back of the room.
“Now again. Put your hand up if you have bullied someone this week.”
I asked Miss B to count. There were four hands up.
“Now hands up if you have been bullied this term.”
One girl waved her hand. She had a question.
“Sir. Do you mean bullied by someone in this class or bullied anywhere?”
“Good point. Hands up if you have been bullied by someone in this class.”
“Now hands up if you have been bullied anywhere this term.”
“Now hands up if you have bullied anytime this term. Anywhere.
Then I explained that in my experience most bullies become bullies because they were initially victims.
Then back to the front.
I knew what the answers were but they didn’t know. And I was actually surprised and the three lady teachers at the back of the class were surprised. Over the last term EVERY girl in the room had felt that she was a victim. Also, over the last term EVERY girl in the room owned up to have been a bully. So I could pick any girl and know how she had answered.
I asked some of the girls who were known to be victims what they wanted to happen and they invariably said they wanted it to stop. “DER”. Of course you do. I asked two of the main perps what they thought should happen. I suppose we should be nicer to each other.
“How many of you do you think answered that they were victims?”
“Three or four. Out of thirty-two. That’s not too bad. One in ten. How many bullies are there in this class. Two! Wow. That’s not many. Now if I hadn’t made a promise that no one was going to be punished then maybe we could solve this by getting the two girls who put their hands up to own up and the Principal would expel them and we would have joy and happiness all through the year eights. But that might be difficult.
“Miss B, how many girls voluntarily put their hand up to say that they had been a bully this term?
“Thirty two. I can’t believe that. Are you sure? There are thirty two girls in this class. OK. Now if that is the case then you all shouldn’t be shy of answering the question openly.”
I turned to one of the best know victims in the class. “Did you say you had bullied someone.” She replied that she had, that she bullied her little sister at home and that she also bullied one of the other most obvious victims. Then I asked the most obvious bully if she had been bullied. And she said that she was bullied every night by her two brothers and that her father strapped her with a leather belt if he saw her talking to the boys next door. At about this time I tried to stop but the gates had opened before I could move.
Something magical happened. The girl who was the main victim in the class walked over to her number one bully – the girl who was strapped by her father – put her arms around her and said how sorry she was.
I walked out and left it to the three lady teachers. I don’t handle girls crying and weeping and arms around hugging all that well.
One more piece of magic happened. I believe that those year eight girls went right through to year twelve as a pretty united group.
What was the bad thing? The next year the Principal employed a young graduate who had completed his studies in “Family Well-being” and he became the school’s Well-being expert and nothing I had done was ever recorded. That was my fault because I never wrote things down. But some of the other teachers kept asking me to drop into their classes now and then.