Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What it Feels Like to be Bullied

In order to better understand my take on cyberbullying and bullying in general, I need to provide you with some personal background information.

I was always a small shy child and as a result, I know what it's like to be bullied. How small was I? Well in the 9th grade I was 4'9" and 89 pounds soaking wet. However, I was athletic enough that kids my own size didn't bother me. On the other hand, I suffered at the hand of bullies who outweighed me 2 to 1 and towered over me.

Bullying was never really a problem until the 6th grade and that year there were two bullies who for some reason made it their personal quest to make my life miserable. One was the biggest kid in the school, who had been shaving for two years and I think was probably as old as some of the teachers.

I would wake up in the morning with my stomach in knots and spend recess trying to hide and avoid any contact with John. I spent as much time as I could in the lunch room making sure I was the last to leave. I wouldn't play in games, but would be a shadow to the teacher.

Three days a week, I had to wait after school for my mother to pick me up. That time alone was terrifying. One day, the message came through the grapevine that John was going to get me after school. I didn't know what to do. I'll confess that I never told my parents or my teachers about the problem. John's bullying was well known through out the school and I was hardly a his only victim, but he seemed to get away with it with impunity. I felt that I would have to deal with it myself and decided that the best defense was a good offense.

The cafeteria was in the basement of the building and we exited to the playground by going up a short flight of five steps through a wooden door that opened to the outside. On this particular day, rather than being the last one out of the cafeteria, I was the first one and John was not far behind me.

As soon as I got outside, I hid behind the door and looked in through the crack. When I saw John reach the top step, I swung the door shut as hard as I could. All I heard was a thud. John had a broken nose and was out of school for a few days. I have absolutely no idea I was not caught, but that doesn't mean that I didn't suffer any consequences.

I don't know which was worse, the fear that I lived with from day to day or the remorse over the action I took and what might have happened if John had fallen back onto the concrete instead of a dozen of my classmates.

I often dreamed of being able to bottle the fear that I felt each day and simply pour a quart of it over the head of any bully I encountered so that they would understand the implications of their actions.

As years went by, I realized that in many cases that would do no good. I realized the all too often these bullies knew that fear, because they were experiencing the exact same feeling when they went home. For me, my safe haven was home. For them, their safe haven was school and their terror was at home.

We are discussing the Megan Meir incident and bullying in general on the WWWEdu mailing list. There I made the point that the only way to stop the cycle of bullying is through a systemic approach. Bullying can be from peers or adults. As teachers we are required by law to report any signs of parental or sexual abuse. In NJ, all schools are required to have a bullying policy in place, but often it is not enforced . Many teachers aren't even aware that the policy exist.

I can't help but wonder how much bullying is tied to problems at home. My sense is that it is more than we want to admit. I think that stopping the cycle of parental abuse is integral to dealing with the bullying problem. It's not an easy fix!

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posted by Art @ 11:01 AM   0 comments links to this post

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