The No Bully Zone
I am opposed to bullying – let me put that right out there. Are you are impressed by my courageous stand?
OK, so it’s not really an act of courage to oppose bullying; but let me further elucidate. I am particularly opposed to bullying by grownups, and particularly the kind of bullying that is done to students under the guise of ‘teaching’ and classroom management.
Politeness, kindness and courtesy in the classroom should be exemplified by the teacher so that it can be expected of students. The no bullying zone applies to the staff as well as the kids.
Here is an example of just this kind of ‘bullying’ under the guise of motivation. A teacher from a parochial school, requiring an essay of a particular length, thought very highly of the fact that she papered the doorway with a student’s (admittedly somewhat modest) writing submission that had the requisite number of pages but with huge spacing and exceptionally wide margins. She took great store in the fact that his humiliation engendered a more serious revision. Bully for her, literally.
It was no better when an assistant superintendent in a full high school auditorium called out a student in the audience for quietly chatting with his neighbor while she read from her carefully prepared lecture given to meet the district’s anti-bullying education requirements. She stopped mid-sentence and demanded the student rise and share what was so important that he had to speak while she was speaking.
‘Nothing,’ he replied, ‘it was nothing. Sorry.’
She insisted he rise and speak but the student, clearly embarrassed already, demurred. When the Assistant Superintendent redoubled her efforts to force the student to humiliate himself, another student rose instead and sarcastically challenged the speaker – ‘Isn’t this an example of the bullying which we’re not supposed to do?’
As an educational leader, certainly she must have taken great pride in the fact that these students understood the message she was trying to promote.
Wilber Dungy, a teacher and the father of football coach Tony said, ‘The sign of a great teacher is someone who brings out the best in every one of his students, someone who can do it without tricking them, or bullying them or wanting credit for their achievements.’
Take any ideal from lifelong learning to persistence to organization to time management and there is a pretty good chance that if parents and teachers are not exemplifying it, the kids are not learning it either. It’s really quite simple: students learn their teachers better than they learn the lessons they teach. If you don’t want students to learn how to be bullies, simply don’t do so yourself! If you screw someone up, apologize, and make a sincere effort to do better. Screw up in public, apologize in public, and make a sincere effort to do better.
Honestly, this is all there is to it. Before you speak to a student, really to anyone, before you say that sarcastic thing that you think will be so funny to say you only need to answer this question: whom does such a rejoinder serve? If it’s for your entertainment, and especially if it is at the expense of the student, just don’t do it. Say something helpful instead, say something hopeful, say something kind.
At the end of the day, our children look to us not for perfection. Rather what they need from us is something tangible on the higher scale of positive human behaviour that gives them the ability within themselves, as Abraham Lincoln said, to seek their ‘better angels.’
Steve Heisler is the author of The Missing Link: Teaching and Learning Critical Success Skills. Steve is a speaker and professional development consultant with a focus on teaching and instructional development, building student success skills and parenting. He is an experienced teacher and school administrator having worked K-12 in schools in New York City and New Jersey. His blog and contact information are available at www.sheisler.com.