Got criminally stupid teachers?
…Dear reader, as you are scrolling the testimony of children, before you angrily throw your tablet across the room, rest assured I offer a new constructive idea that teachers have NOT tried…
“What do you have to lose by trying something new…? What the hell do you have to lose?”
Presidential candidate Donald Trump, 2016 in Michigan.
A testimonial from the book below, page 106:
“… The bullying went on all through school. Even some of the teachers would bully me. But in grade eight, one teacher recognized how bad things were. She even hid me in her classroom so I could escape from the kids who were attacking me…
…Mom practically lived at the school, in the principal’s office. Eventually the school apologized to us for something, but an apology doesn’t mean very much. What about handing out real punishments to the kids who bully?…
Because of all these attacks, my old injuries from other bullying never healed properly. My arm is still messed up so bad. I can’t play my guitar or my violin. I wear a brace on my back. I get terrible headaches from the neck injuries. Even now, since leaving school, I’m sick probably once a week from the stress.”
Katie, age 16
Before me is an excellent Canadian book We Want You to Know subtitled Kids Talk About Bullying. First person stories, usually with a photo, each followed by a short question list of What do you think? The book is divided into sections to allow easier digestion of the material.—but the reading is bad for physical digestion: I found myself gritting my teeth at the stupid teachers.
The writer is Deborah Ellis, an internationally acclaimed author who has won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award.
As a library denizen, I had merely flipped through random pages—and was shocked. Both as a blogger and as a citizen, I knew I would have to return to the library and do a statistical analysis. So I did, although my survey is more rough than proper.
Teacher (and principal) was useless: 9
Teacher tried, but wasn’t effective: 3
Teacher didn’t believe a victim, even a victim with a black eye: 4
This count includes a story where teachers would NOT disbelieve a bully’s rumour that a student had AIDS, even though they called the student into the office twice to ask, and even though the student (straight and clean) resorted to being tested.
I should have tallied “teacher blamed the victim” because that actually happened several times.
At last, some good news, Teacher succeeded: 2
That’s right, the bullying was stopped a grand total of twice.
Teacher in denial or would not “see”: 8 at least!
Deny, deny, deny there is any Denial
It’s this last tally that has me curling my lip in contempt. Call me an idealist, but I think every teacher is responsible for attaining a minimal standard of mental strength and morality. (Yes, I know teachers often need stress leave)
William Blake wrote:
… I shall not cease
From mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep
In my hand…
Here’s some quotes on teachers and principals “in denial”:
(page 83) The whole time this was happening, a teacher was close by, watching the whole thing….So when Mom got out of me what had happened and saw the damage done to my back, she called the teacher up. The teacher said she thought we were all just fooling around. A group of kids, all of them twice as big as me, surrounding me, and I’m yelling and trying to get away—and she thought I was having fun? She just didn’t want to deal with it.
…One time, the principal called me into her office and made me go over every detail. She questioned me as though I was lying, as though she was a cop trying to get me to confess something.
Nothing happened to the kids who attacked me. Maybe she talked to them, but that’s it. They bullied me worse afterward.”
From another student, (page 86) “One day in math class some guys behind me were calling me names. I could tell that the teacher heard it, but he didn’t do anything, so I grabbed my math book and threw it at the kid’s head… I was made to apologize…That’s when it really took off. This guy got all his friends to make fun of me and throw things… I told many teachers this was going on. I failed most of my classes because I never went. I’d go to school and read and look at magazines and wait for the day to end…
None of those teachers would walk into a workplace day after day, month after month, with people calling them names and throwing things at them. But they’d tell me again and again, “Oh, just ignore it…”
My mom wanted me to switch schools, instead of doing correspondence, and I’d like to go to a school and have friends, but I just can’t be around people anymore.”
(page 63) “…but they don’t step in. They’ll see this and that happening, but they won’t stop it.”
Another student’s story, (page 65): “Sometimes I’d tell the teachers. The teachers barely do anything. I’d get pushed right beside the teacher, and the teacher would quickly turn and look the other way.”
(page 99) “I have a mild form of cerebral palsy… Except for in Mrs. Gillespie’s class, kids would attack each other right in front of the teacher, and the teacher would pretend not to notice. If you don’t see, you don’t have to do anything, right? I remember being in class one day, kids throwing things at me and hitting me—So I just walked out.
Some of the stuff that happens in really dumb and unnecessary. When I got to high school, I was assigned a locker right in between the two boys that bullied me the most in grade school. What are the chances? It took a lot of phone calls from my parents to get that changed.”
This is not in a “big bad city.” Deborah Ellis:
“All the kids interviewed in this book come from my little corner of Southern Ontario. This is a lovely part of a lovely country, and if bullying is happening here, then it’s happening everywhere.”
My lip is getting sore from curling. Sometimes the teachers can be quite creative with their denial:
(page 58) “My mom and dad went to the school a few times to talk to the vice principal and the principal. They were sort of supportive, but they never called it bullying. They have a zero tolerance for bullying, but it happens. And when it happens, they don’t call it bullying so they can say that bullying does’t happen.”
From the Beginning
To paraphrase the Buddha: “When a society is ready, the knowledge that something exists will appear.” Perhaps we weren’t quite ready yet when two Columbine high school students massacred their tormentors. But suddenly, perhaps grudgingly at first, all across the continent we admitted bullying could happen, and have consequences. In the US, a few isolated voices even called for a “war on bullying.” Good thing the US didn’t go so far as to declare war, as it would have been one more chance for the US people to be losers…
(I am old enough to remember when failure was not an option once Americans declared war)
… Perhaps we still aren’t ready, even after years of anti-bullying efforts, since the book before me has to explicitly state, “Bullying is not inevitable. It doesn’t have to be a normal part of childhood… We can find ways to support each other, learn from each other, and create…”
Since my day, according to reports by kids in the book, there are now anti-bullying assemblies, sometime complete with skits. I doubt they are any more effective than those assemblies in my day that pleaded with us to intervene if we saw someone vandalizing.
(Incidentally, at my school, vandalism included the main girls “smokers” washroom having every steel stall door ripped away)
Of course we all thought our teachers were crazy to suggest we intervene. Today the assemblies are probably as useless as ever: Obviously they didn’t help any of the kids testifying.
I wonder how many boys and girls, bullied and sexually assaulted, end up losing their innocence … growing up to be well groomed, well employed, socially skilled adults moving among us, adults who are social isolates because they have lost something along the way… A kid above says, “I just can’t be around people anymore.”
From Hopeless to Hope
I remember a feature documentary on bullying I saw at a repertory cinema (the Garneau) in Edmonton where afterwards teens came out on stage to talk to their peers, not to us grownups, as they had little hope in us. What struck me from the movie, besides a teacher “trying” but being useless, was how the teachers were so ignorant. At the time I didn’t think to say, “in denial,” I merely would have said that, statistically, one or more teachers in the school would have been a victim of bullies in childhood, but somehow nobody was about to tell the other staff. Hence no experienced teachers shown on camera, and hence the “trying.”
“Physician, heal thyself.” Before teachers mind-read bullies and ignore victims they need enough integrity to do some prolonged work teacher-to-teacher… After all, an effective army always trains the leaders before training the rank and file. And more: At leadership school the army has the trainees go through the same group punishment that they might have to later inflict on their troops. Like an officer returning every salute. It’s an integrity thing. Like teachers having integrity to surmount their denial before preaching to others.
Integrity means when the provincial government was starting to do unbelievably degrading home inspections on people with disabilities, (Word of mouth in the disabled community quickly spread) I said to the government: The inspectors should first have their own homes equally inspected—by government strangers, not by their known government colleagues.
…I shall not cease
From mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep
In my hand
‘till we have built
(the key word is “we”)
An “Outside the Box” Idea
Obviously at schools there would be lots of “concurrent” anti-bully activity, but nevertheless I suggest that figuratively “before” the teachers do assemblies and wall posters they engage in a full year of meetings, separate from the students, to “support and learn from each other, and create…”
Hint: to build trust, teachers should be advised they need not self-disclose having survived bullying… but such honest sharing may spring out naturally after, say, at least six months, when support has given each teacher the emotional energy to NOT have the denial of a Bob Dylan song, “How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see.”
My belief is that teachers should be taking anti-bully action in halls and playgrounds, of course, but not through their sheer willpower, not like the Foreign Legion through gritted teeth saying, “March or die” but instead by being inner motivated like the tough Green Berets who emerge from the jungle to gladly give kids candy.
I believe that, despite the testimonies about integrity-challenged teachers in the book, one day all teachers could be acting with the sort of inner professionalism that manifests after an entire faculty comes to be first willing to do the right thing, and then determined to do the right thing, knowing that fellow teachers are alongside, forming the bonds that lift the spirit. And yes, I think this just may take a full year or more if done properly, using research that is decades old. (But still not widely applied)
This could result in teachers manifesting better tools to talk to children—Hey, why aren’t teachers being convincing, in terms even disfigured, awkward children could understand, that bullying isn’t their fault? (Like the tool of three-C’s we teach teens about their parent’s alcoholism: You didn’t Cause it, you can’t Cure it, you can’t Control it… and… As with drinking, here is no reason to insist the victim “have to” figure the bully out: A bully bullies because he bullies)
Without tools, the hapless child may be like the army hero in David Gerrold’s Chtorr Wars: The hero is an adult before he realizes that a bully who shook his self esteem with an accusing story-description, was in fact using a description from a TV comedy routine. Let’s not go into denial by claiming the kids already know all the educational fables and tools. Gerrold’s hero didn’t. There are new babies being born every year who don’t already know every concept, not in terms they can relate to and then internalize.
Nothing Succeeds Like Success
Note on teacher and peer training:
My disabilities agency once brought in a world-class training organization
(created by a former MLA, or, Member of the Legislative Assembly)
to have six local agencies cooperate in training to become“world-class,” training that first trained the peer trainers, (I was one) and would require three years of agency-wide small support meetings and periodic train-the-trainers training, at a proper pace and sustained momentum and hear-things-six-times peer support… —but the provincial government shut us down by “changing their minds” about funding.
This same training is used in big for-profit hospitals in the US where hospital accountants can see that ca-ching! turnover is reduced; ca-ching! absenteeism is reduced; ca-ching! training time is therefore reduced; ca-ching! Quality goes up and Profits are increased.
A possible objection: What if the principals and teachers are too extended (stressed, beaten down) to try anything new? Is teacher training to stop bullies hopeless?
Answers: Secondly, what Yoda said: “There is no “try,” either do or do not.”
Firstly… Consider a “hopeless” big far flung aluminum corporation that was “doomed” to have labour strife, rising costs and loss of marketshare. The brand new CEO appeared at the stockholders meeting. To their surprise, he did not mouth the usual expected platitudes. Instead he announced, and meant, a “focus on safety.” Shareholders and executives alike were mystified at the CEO for his “sideways” effort. It would be a lengthy effort, one that included firing big senior executives who allowed accidents.
Similarly, it might seem downright mystical to help the bullies and victims, “sideways,” through helping teachers first but that is indeed what I am proposing.
Result? The CEO’s strange safety metric somehow helped the metrics for stress, turnover, absenteeism, costs and more. Labour and management, who had been deeply suspicious, came together, and market share increased.
Similarly, I would hope that a lengthy effort focused on teachers, for their anti-bullying and anti-denial, would result in bonds that uplift, with an increase in the school equivalent of market share, whether that be learning, reputation, funding or happiness.
God save the queen.
North of Montana
~Here is Blake’s poem, as simple as singing in a church basement, by Billy Bragg
~Not being qualified to train teachers myself, I could at most serve on an advisory board with teachers who are “on the ground.”
~For suggesting resources for group development and teacher training, I am out of date, sorry, but I can recommend the excellent textbook my college mentor (see January 2019 essay) used: Dynamics of Groups at Work, by Herbert Thelen, University of Chicago Press, 1954, 374 pages, based on empirical research going back to the 1940’s. Q: How excellent? A: I absolutely refuse to loan my copy.
~Saving Tomorrow Land (with bully footnotes) is archived August 2015.
~An essay on moral development, and me at my school where even athletes (jocks) feared to tread is Ex-Convict Bill Sands and Me archived August 2013.
~Did you grow up with the new math? Well, in my province they want to bring in a “new, new math” but of course I’m only John Q. Public: Who am I to snarl Stupid New Math archived March 2014.