Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More of My Idealism

I read a post about bullying this week from Tricia's site and thought I'd continue the conversation here.

First of all, it bothers me that so much of bullying education is about how to avoid bullies or deal with bullies but I never hear about bullying education directed at the bullies themselves. Do we think getting them to stop is a useless cause? Have we given up?

I think a lot of bullies are kids who feel like they don't have any real control over their lives and are just looking for a release for their anger and frustration. Maybe they just need someone to reach out to them.

One fall, I had a big, bullying 8th grade student in my mixed-grades class. I'd heard about "Steve," his mean ways, and his power to poison a classroom with his attitude, and I had a plan. In my very first day in class, I gave Steve a position of power and leadership; I asked him if he could help with a tiny, vulnerable little 6th grade girl, who needed help finding her locker and getting it open. He looked suspicious at first and complained a little ("I have to take her all the way downstairs??") but he grudging left with the little girl.

That big, mean boy took that little girl under his wing and returned with her glowing over his attention and confident in finally getting her locker open. Seizing the moment, I publicly praised Steve for being someone I could count on, and I continued over the next few weeks and months to let Steve know that I saw his best qualities and his potential for leadership. In no time, Steve had my sixth graders idolizing him for his big, teddy-bear tendencies and strength. He became like a big brother to that little girl (and a 6th grade boy) the rest of the year. I'm proud to say that other than one or two tiny mean comments directed at a peer, I never saw the bully in Steve that year (I like to think he was "melted.")

Yes, the world is full of bullies, kid and adult versions. Learning to deal with them is a part of life, but I know that bullies in middle school are kids who are hurting, who may be bullied themselves at home (by parents or older siblings), and who maybe need someone to reach out to them. I liken bullies to neglected dogs chained outside; they bark and sound scary, but they are often just really hungry and lonely and can often be coaxed into friendship with some TLC.

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