We all want to protect our students from bullying. We read blogs on e-bullying, we send students to courses to improve their self esteem, and we encourage students to report any bullying to an adult. |
But what if an adult is the bully? After a number of ugly scandals and exposes, parents and educators are finally realizing the truth: anyone can be a bully. Teachers, counselors, coaches, and principals are no exception.
One of the biggest problems is figuring out what is really going on. Parents who work full time cannot always take a week off and prowl around the school, trying to overhear inappropriate or mean comments. Use the following steps to begin the problem solving process.
1. Get the whole story from your student.
The first step is to have an honest talk with your student and get the whole story. Be open to listening to your child, even if you have your doubts. However, do not take everything your child says purely at face value. Children often tell stories with emotional truth (“Something hurtful happened.”) but take liberties with factual truths (“This, this, and that happened.”) Be honest with yourself about whether your child is giving an accurate account or an emotionally accurate account.
2. Evaluate the story.
Once you have the story, consider what your child is telling you. Is there an actual bully, meaning a person who is actively attempting to harm your child’s physical, mental, or emotional well being through malicious words or actions? Or is your child reacting to something or someone due to special circumstances? A child may take a comment out of context and think the teacher is being mean. Be absolutely sure of what was said, by whom, and when.
3. Document EVERYTHING.
From this point forward, keep a log of every incident of bullying. Note who said what, when, and what was happening at the time. Be as impartial as possible and do not make assumptions about the feelings or intentions of anyone other than your student.
For example, if your child reports that a teacher made an unkind remark, a documentation might look like this: “Oct 21, approx. 2 pm, Science Classroom: Mr. Name held Student back after class. After all other students left the room, Mr. Name told Student that Student should not apply for Honors classes next year because Student is, ‘too stupid to keep up with the work’ and ‘that’s the class for smart kids.’”
This is different from saying, “Mr. Name cornered Student after class and insulted him, trying to scare Student out of his Honors application. Mr. Name was extremely rude and out of line.” The first record shows that you sorted through the facts. It gives direct quotes or phrases and does not make assumptions about the bully’s behaviors. The second example is impassioned and biased. While it may be true, it is easy for a principal or administrator to dismiss an indignant parent; it is far harder to dismiss a list of impartially described events, complete with dates and times. It also shows that you are reporting a long term problem, rather than overreacting to a single event.
This is where your judgment of the situation comes into play. If you believe the teacher or administrator may have inadvertently hurt your child’s feelings, schedule a one on one conference to discuss things. Bring your records, but use them as notes rather than accusations. “Billy was upset because you said X and Y, so he felt that you were insulting his intelligence.” If the offense was accidental, you and your student can work with the teacher/administrator to fix the situation. Make a note of the conference in your documentation list, just in case, and hold on to the list.
If you begin to believe that the offense was not inadvertent (the teacher is overly defensive, the teacher tries to place the blame on the student, OR the teacher completely dismisses the claim), add the conference and an objective description of the teacher’s response to your list of documented events. You will need this if you have to escalate the situation and bring it to the principal or a district official.
5. Ask Around
See what other children and parents think. Avoid loaded questions (“Has Mr Name finally stopped beating up on my child?”) and try to ask open ended questions (“How is your child enjoying class with Mr. Name?”). You are not trying to muster a posse and start a witch hunt, but if you do find other parents with similar concerns, it will be helpful to ask them to begin documenting as well. A group of concerned, prepared parents is more compelling than just one parent.
6. Form a Plan and Escalate
If the conference does not stop the bullying, come up with an ideal plan for solving the situation. Center the plan around your student, not the teacher; “I want my child transferred to another class and for my child to see the counselor once per week,” not “I want this awful person fired immediately.” The school often cannot simply fire or remove a teacher, so there is no point insisting on it.
Schedule a conference with the next level of school or district officials. If a teacher is the problem, see the principal. If the principal is the problem, talk to the superintendent. Bring your notes and remain calm; you want to come across as rational.
7. Follow Up with Your Student
Remind your student that you are there to help and support him/her and that the bullying is not his/her fault. Encourage your student to get back into school activities or activities that keep him/her enthused and engaged. Your child may benefit from seeing the school counselor or a private counselor.
Above all, keep reminding your student that you care and want to help. While your student may be very upset, s/he will remember that you helped and stood up for him or her. When confronted by a bully, a good ally is a great gift; your child will be extremely grateful that you stood by him or her, whether or not s/he expresses it.
By Elaine Sigal, Founder of MindLaunch Education MindLaunch.com connects students with experienced U.S. licensed teachers for the most effective online tutoring experience.
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