Chapter 11: You bully me
Bullying happens at schools, we all know it. We all know it because we also know that kids are really, really horrible to each other and it’s the Law of the Jungle out on the playground. I wish it wasn’t the case, but we all know that for the time being, that’s just how it is. Schools can claim that there isn’t any bullying present, but they’d be lying through their teeth because the vast majority of bullying is never seen or reported, which is even sadder than it happening in the first place.
What every single teacher said when talking to a student who had come to them to help them with a bulling situation was,
“If we don’t know about it, there’s nothing we can do to help you - talk to us.” because it was true - if we knew about a bully, then a metaphorical ton of bricks was dropped on them from a great height, but if a student suffered in silence, we couldn’t help. As much as we kept an eye on all the students, and our tutor groups especially, we couldn’t watch them all the time and had to rely on them speaking up when they needed help.
Every time the year groups cycled round and you had a new Year 7 tutor group, we did a lot of work on socialising the students, making sure they knew their way around the school and who they could talk to if they needed to. This included a lot of work on bullying and what to do if it happened, but also made sure that the students knew what bullying actually was.
“She called me a bitch, she’s bullying me!” is something that would not be uncommon to hear, especially as the girls got into Years 9 and 10.
Sensing a disturbance in the Force, and knowing that the two girls involved usually couldn’t be separated with a crowbar, I would have to be somewhat diplomatic when I would then ask,
“How many times has she called you this?”
“Just the once… but it was after we’d had an argument and I’d called her a dirty slag.” would come the answer, or something similar. I’ve heard enough variations on this theme that no one encounter stands out any more. With a somewhat weary sigh,
“That’s not bullying, that’s just you two having another argument. You’ll be friends again tomorrow.” I’d dispense some sage advice, which would of course be ignored, as the student involved would start to splutter in indignation that Childline, Children in Need, Social Services and possibly the SAS weren’t all rushing to her aid. Of course, most of the time I was right and the students would be best friends by the next day if not within an hour of the alleged ‘bullying’.
The last tutor group that I looked after I had taken over when they were coming to the end of Year 9. As had been the case several times in my teaching career, I was going to be given a tutor group that had a certain reputation, the reasoning being that my behaviour management coupled with
my somewhat fierce reputation would be enough to whip them into shape. I can’t say that this strategy ever failed as I can’t think of one of my groups that I didn’t like, but it was certainly hard work at times.
It said something about my reputation I guess when one year I was handed a group who had had
a Head of Year/Head of Department as their tutor and had worn him down a bit. When I asked, with suspicion colouring my voice, why I was getting this group,
“They just won’t shut up!” came the slightly hysterical answer.
He was right, they didn’t shut up - not in a malicious way, they just wanted to share every single thought that was passing through their heads, all the time. It was because of this that I created a behaviour management technique that I called ‘Basic Training’, and which I used on a few other classes over the years. Once when I was using it on a class, two members of my tutor group - now
in the 6th Form - happened to walk past us, and I gleefully dragged them into the situation, telling the group that these two had had to do the same thing.
“It was horrible” whispered one of them, the blood draining from her face a little.
“You don’t want to have to do it for very long!” warned the other, and I appreciated the drama they added to the situation and thanked them for it when I saw them later in the day.
“Anything to help!” came the cheerful reply, all fear and dread gone - our students knew when to ham it up for the younger years.
Basic Training involved a group of students performing a couple of basic actions in silence - or attempting to. I never had a group that did it right first time around. All they had to to was stand behind their chairs, go outside my room and line up, come back in when directed, stand behind their chairs and when asked to, sit down. All in silence. Not terribly difficult, but for some students this was the most painful thing I could do to them. It was guaranteed that at least one student would talk at some point, which would mean they’d do it again until it was done right. If a class
got the message quickly, they’d only have to do it two or three times and then we could get on
with what we were supposed to be doing.
The group that wouldn’t shut up did Basic Training every day for the whole of our tutor session for two weeks before they finally got the message. They really should have caught on quicker that my stubbornness would outlast them any day. They became the object lesson that I would drag out
any time I had to use Basic Training on a class, and drove home the point that it was easier and quicker to do things My Way.
It was also because of my reputation and successfully managing my somewhat ‘unique’ tutor groups that I would often be given students who transferred to our school, often with behaviour issues trailing behind them them from their previous school or schools. It got to the point that if Graeme, my Head of Year and then Team Leader approached me with a smile on his face, I very quickly grew suspicious and got in a pre-emptive,
“My tutor group’s full, I can’t take anyone else.” which he would just laugh at and give me the new student anyway. He often did this with the knowledge that not only would I be able to handle the student concerned, but knowing that the student wouldn’t last long anyway, and I could be counted on to document each incident properly so it could all be filed and used as evidence at the inevitable exclusion meeting.
So it was with barely a weary, put-upon sigh that I took on the Year 9 group that had managed
to run three tutors ragged. They had the reputation for being the worst tutor group in the whole school, but it had to be said that this was mainly down to the extreme antics of one student in particular who would be going to be in a referral unit the next year so I and the group wouldn’t
have to deal with him. It’s a measure of how much he damaged the entire group that when his referral period was almost up and he came into school for a morning that news of his arrival got around very quickly indeed and about half the group came to me in a panic to ask if he was going
to be back in their group. Luckily he wasn’t, and he managed to do something appropriately awful so that he went back to the referral unit.
I have to say that this group were a bunch of softies - it must have been all the work of the exiled student that had created this hell-like reputation. Other than a few incidents that I got involved in because the lads were complete idiots, they were really quite nice - they ignored me on the whole, and I ignored them in return.
Having said that, there were a few times when I had to get involved with the girls as they ran into some bullying issues. Well, I say ‘bullying’, but it was really just them arguing with each other. Within the first week of being their tutor, one of the girls found me at break time, in tears, to tell me about being bullied. She was in tears, not me - any crying I did was done in the car on the drive home.
I had been pre-warned about the girls, and so it was that Megan found me somewhat less sympathetic than she perhaps expected.
“Sir, can I talk to you?” she said with a wobble to her voice and tears in her eyes.
“Of course you can,” I said “What’s up?”
“I’m being bullied Sir” she said with heartfelt sigh.
Now, at this point, she was probably expecting a look of panic to cross my face, for me to break
out the tea, sympathy and tissues, and to leap into action on her behalf. So she was brought up
a bit short when this emergency action failed to materialise.
“Who is it and what’s happening?” I asked bluntly. Already off-balance because I was not sticking to the usual script, she soldiered on.
“Helen and Carmen have been putting stuff on Facebook…” she started, but stopped when I raised my hand to halt her progress into melodrama.
“Hold it there. If it’s on Facebook, it’s outside of school and we can’t do anything about it.” plus the fact that Carmen and Helen were her best friends, I could see where this was going and I wasn’t going to waste any more of my time than I had to with this. “What’s actually been said? Have you kept the messages?” It was often the case that when serious bullying did happen, and it happened online a lot, the kids deleted the messages - as you would, but that left us, or the police with no evidence to work with.
“Yes, I kept them - I showed my mum. They’re on my phone.” said Megan.
“Let’s see them then” I said, holding out my hand for the phone. The tone alone said that refusing
to show me was not an option, and she dutifully found the messages and handed me the phone.
What I then read was horrible, truly horrific. Not what was being said, that was just some rubbish argument the girls were having which would blow over very quickly. What was horrible was the language used, and not the usual swearing the kids peppered any sentence with. These girls were now in Year 10 and what I saw before me was honestly the worst, most tortured excuse for ‘English’ that I had ever seen - and I had been teaching for 11 years by that point and had seen a lot of mangled sentences in my time.
It was so contracted and interspersed with text-speak (and misspelled text-speak at that) that I could barely understand what was being said, but I understood well enough to see that no bullying was going on, just the girls doing what they did best: whipping up a whole mountain range worth of drama out of a teeny tiny molehill.
“This writing is possibly the most badly-written stuff I’ve ever seen!” I exclaimed “It’s awful! You guys have been doing English for almost TEN YEARS. How can it be this bad?”
Megan, to give her credit, did look somewhat embarrassed, and muttered something to the effect that she and the other girls were a bit lazy when it came to writing properly.
“Well, it’s not bullying, you’re just having and argument. That’s not bullying. I bet you any amount
of money that you’ll be friends again by the end of the week.” that it was part way through the week already should have told Megan just how confident I was in my prediction.
“Oh no Sir, this is it, we’ll never be friends again!” she declared, to which I just rolled my eyes.
“I’ll call home and let your mum know you’ve spoken to me, but I bet you lot will make up very soon.” I assured her, and sent her on her way.
When I called home later in the day I had one of those conversations that teachers love: parents who are all-too aware of just how big a drama queen their precious flower of a child is being, and who were giving them no sympathy at all. Megan’s mum was lovely, and agreed that it’d all blow over, which it of course it did, just as we both predicted. I had to deal with various combinations of the girls coming to me in tears claiming that they were being bullied after they’d had an argument, and each time they got less and less sympathy from me and more and more annoyance.
“You bully me!” whined Tyler in one lesson.
“No I don’t.” I replied calmly from my seat at my desk. “Telling you to work does not constitute bullying. Get on with it!”
This could have been any of a number of lessons in which Tyler was really lazy, I told him repeatedly to work and he just whinged and whined about it, partly as a strategy to avoid working as if he was complaining, he was successfully avoiding getting on with any work.
It always amazed me that the students who did the least work - and who complained the most about me having to prod them verbally to get on with it - were the ones who sat right in front of me, directly in my line of sight and less than a metre away from me.
As much as I’d like to think that my students were all clever, sadly a lot of them weren’t, and geniuses in the art of concealment they most certainly were not. Did they honestly expect me to
not see that they weren’t working?
“Alfie, get on with it!” I’d say in almost every single lesson that included the very lazy Year 11.
“No, you’re not. You’re turned completely away from your computer, your hands weren’t even on the keyboard and you were talking to Connor. How is that in any way ‘doing your work’?”
“I was working! You pick on me!” came the usual blatant lie, followed by the line designed to scare me into backing off, something which never worked.
“No, I don’t, I’m doing my job: getting you to do your work. If you were working, I wouldn’t have to talk to you.” as ever, my flawless logic was completely lost on the kids who were determined to try and score a point.
Various students tried the ‘you pick on me’ line now and then, always failing to see that if they actually shut up, kept their heads down and did their work, we’d never have reason to even speak
“Don’t even speak to me!” he’d angrily retort, a favourite line of his. I was never sure what he hoped to achieve by trotting it out as it almost certainly guaranteed that at least one teacher would certainly be having more words with him in his near future. If he said it in a corridor, it was accompanied by a highly dramatic strop away that, in his head at least, confirmed that he had been in the right.
Ashley was another Usual Suspect who sat right in front of me, but who did as little work as possible, and who would also claim that I was picking on him. Luckily for me, Ash’s mother was one of those parents who loved it when you got in touch with her. Ash had been in my tutor group before I switched departments, so I knew him quite well, but more importantly, I knew his mother quite well too. She was brilliant - she knew Ash’s quirks well enough to give him support and to back him up when he deserved it, but also knew him well enough when he was just trying it on.
Ash and I both knew that if I even let slip a whisper of him not trying his hardest and being annoying to his mother, all hell was likely to break loose, so it was usually enough to mention that I had his mum’s work e-mail for him to look terrified and get on with it.
One of Ash’s issues was that he was very, very dyslexic, and writing anything was literally the most painful thing you could ask him to do. No, I didn’t make him do written work just to make him squirm - I could see you all thinking it!
“But, Sir!” he’d whine when he had to do written work. “I can’t read or write!” he’d claim, in all seriousness. At which point, I’d say with all the professional and personal sympathy, care and support I could muster,
“Don’t talk utter rubbish Ashley. I’ve seen you read and write - and read and write quite well at that.”
“Get on with it. You may not read or write as well as you would like, but that just means you need the practise.” He once claimed, in a Food Tech lesson, that he couldn’t turn his oven to the correct temperature as he couldn’t read the numbers on the dial - a blatant lie we both saw through as soon as he said it, and a new nadir in his attempts at being lazy.
“Sir! This is bullying!” he’d try, knowing that I understood he wasn’t being serious.
“Oh do shut up Ash and just get on with it, or do you want me to e-mail your mum? We both know she’ll beat you with a big stick with nails in it if I told her you were being annoying and lazy.” That was my Teacher Of The Year award in the bag, right there.
“Yeah, she probably would as well” he’d mutter, but grudgingly making an attempt to at least look
as if he was working.
I often employed threats of gratuitous violence against the kids, but we all knew that they were so over the top that they were not serious.
“Be quiet!” I’d start off with, barking at the student in question, which was usually enough to startle them into being quiet. But I’d then follow it up with, “If you don’t, I’ll rip your arms and legs off.” at which point the hapless Year 7 I usually directed this to looked as if they were about to wet themselves. “Then I’ll put them in a plastic bag which you’ll have to carry in your mouth and you’ll have to roll home and when your parents see you with no arms and legs you’ll have to tell them how you annoyed Mr Austin, and then they’ll say you deserved it and you’ll have to learn to write with your tongue.” all delivered with a slight growl to my voice and a deadly serious expression on my face. The other kids in the class usually caught on pretty quickly, but my unfortunate victim often looked confused enough to suggest that they at least half-believed that I was being serious.
Tying in the ‘It’s All An Act’ and the ‘Fake It ’Til You Make It’ aspects of teaching into this chapter,
it was a common technique and strategy to essentially emotionally blackmail the kids into doing what you wanted them to do. It was a well-known teaching fact that a really good, loud telling off was often less effective than a brief shake of the head and a quiet,
“I’m really disappointed in you.” which resulted in more than one quivering-lipped and remorseful student standing in front of you.
It was in this spirit that I pulled out several stops with my Year 12 A Level group in the last year I
They had a deadline approaching for their exam unit where they were to hand in their completed projects. As usual, I’d marked out a Hand In Zone on one of the back tables, harped on about their deadline approaching for the few weeks leading up to it, and had seen a marked increase in the students (or at least some of them) turning up in their spare lessons in order to get the work done.
Their deadline day happened to be on my quietest teaching day, so I was puttering around my room for most of the day, seeing them work feverishly away. It was also the last day of term before the Easter holidays, so everyone was tired and more than a little grumpy, myself included. So I wasn’t in the best of moods as the students finished up and handed their work in when I decided
to get ahead of myself a bit and start marking them.
To say that I was not a happy bunny was a vast understatement, and I let the students who were still in my room know it. They’d all had more than enough time both in their controlled assessment time and in class to get some really good work done - and what I had seen over their shoulders had been really promising. But what had been presented with bore very little resemblance to that promise, and in some cases, I would expect the Year 7s to have done a better job. Not happy.
Naturally I decided to lay it on a bit thick for their benefit, especially having had a look at some more of their books and not being pleased with what I saw. I began to mutter that they’d have to redo the work, and that they’d have to use their own time to do it in. As the day wore on, my mutterings became louder and the kids all knew that I was not pleased with them. They even spread the word to some of those who had already handed in the work, and a few worried faces started to appear at my door.
One of my students, Zanis, was not one of those in trouble as he was very, very good at what he did, always going the extra mile and producing stunning work. He was also very nosy and would often have a look at the others’ books and cast a critical eye over the designs. He did this on the hand in day too, secure in the knowledge that my growing ‘wrath’ was not directed in his direction.
It even got to the point, after looking through one book that I stalked off to the 6th Form common room to have words with one of the students who should have done better. Jazmin knew things were not looking good when I turned up, and she looked guilty enough that we both knew she should have done better. Having established that her book did not look good, I gave her until the end of the day to improve it - making sure that I played the ‘I’m doing you a huge favour’ card in the process. Relief stampeded across her face, and another one of my students also asked if she could perhaps do a little bit more work herself.
“I think you’d better” I growled ominously.
Even with that little bit of extra time, the books on the whole did not look great. There was the odd exception, but they were far below what I expected, and all the kids knew it. My Head of Department also knew it, and she was not happy herself because it meant that targets were not being met and the data would now look rubbish. My explanation of,
“They haven’t worked hard enough,” did not cut any mustard though (I never expected it would
as it was clearly my fault that the kids hadn’t used their time well. Imagine me rolling my eyes disgustedly at this point.), and she made pointed comments about what I was going to do about it.
With all honesty, I said that I didn’t know, but using some of my time in the holiday to give them some extra sessions might be an option, but as I had a holiday booked, I’d have to think about it. Considering that the end of the day was rapidly approaching and everyone would be disappearing for the Easter break, that didn’t leave me much time to think at all. I greatly resented having to use time in the holidays to put on extra sessions, and I was not alone in that thought, and the Senior Team knew it too. That they were paying the staff to put on extra revision sessions for the Year 11s showed that there had to be some sort of sweetener to the deal.
Having chewed it over, and having seen more very poor books in what was left of the afternoon,
I reluctantly realised that I’d have to offer the session, more to show my Head of Department and my Senior Manager that I had done everything possible than to give the students more time. I was firmly of the opinion, and still am, that if the students didn’t put in the time and effort the first time around, they got the grade they deserved, but this was not the most popular of views with my bosses.
When our moderator for the A Level work came in at he end of the year, and we had to have a discussion about whether one student was entered or not because all he would achieve would be a U (for ‘Ungraded’ - used when a student hadn’t even done enough work to scrape the lowest grade), I said that if that was all he’d done and he deserved the U.
“But it’ll show up on the school results as a fail.” she said, the unspoken comment being that it was very bad form for a fail to be recorded as it brought the school’s stats down. all I did was shrug and reply,
“It’s what he deserves. If we withdraw, him, he gets away with it.” Even as she was about to suggest again that we withdraw him, to salvage the stats a bit, I saw realisation cross her face,
“You know, you’re right.” There are times when the students have to learn through failure, and it was satisfying to see someone else agree with that.
Having made the decision to come in during the holidays, I let my Head of Department know, very pointedly saying that I would have to cancel my holiday in order to put on the session, also clearly communicating that I was not happy about it, but that I’d take one for the team. She didn’t blink an eye, the implication being that it didn’t matter that I had a break away planned and booked, I had to do what it took to get the grades the school wanted.
She didn’t need to know that I may have been making more of my holiday than was actually the case, but it needed to be noted that I was going above and beyond. I was cancelling a holiday - I was coming into school during a break when I hadn’t planned on setting foot in the place, so this was very inconvenient to my plans to do bugger all for two weeks.
I then proceeded to call home for every student that needed to come in, also communicating to
the parents how unhappy I was with both the work handed in and the need for the extra session, perhaps mentioning that I was cancelling a scheduled holiday so that the students could have more time on a project they should already have finished. Again, I wasn’t exactly lying, just spinning the truth in a certain way.
Most of the parents weren’t pleased either, but were appreciative that I was giving the students more time. Even the parent who asked me to call her back after I left a message, and who demanded to know why I thought the work was so bad came around to my way of thinking after
I described in much detail just why it was rubbish. This happened a fair bit - parents would call our office, angry that we’d upset their little darlings, only to find out that the kid’s version of what had happened was radically different and a heavily edited version of what had actually taken place. Generally they came around to our way of thinking.
“He was in tears when he came home!” said this parent.
“I’d say that was the appropriate response considering the work that he handed in” I shot back, not prepared to be cowed. The student in question had assured me every time I’d asked him whether he was on track or not that he was, and that he was doing a lot of work at home too. When I passed this information onto his mother, adding that he had handed in four pages of work for a six-week project, she was not happy either and did a swift u-turn. It was all the more annoying because I had seen a lot of work that this student had done, but for some reason hadn’t printed out and presented - lack of ability I could cope with, but sheer laziness was not something I would ever accept as an excuse.
It took some time to call the parents, even though as this was an A Level class and there weren't
as many students in it as one of the GCSE exam classes. It was close to 6pm by the time I was
done, although I wasn’t quite done as one of the students, I had found out, was going on holiday and wouldn’t be able to come in on the day I had set up as the extra session. As he lived close by, his mother had offered to come and pick his book up, so I found myself lurking by the school gates clutching a sketchbook in my hands waiting to hand it over.
While I might be genuinely a bit grumpy about having to do all this when the kids should just have worked harder in the first place, and while I looked and acted a lot more grumpy than what I was feeling, if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have been there. No one was forcing me to do this, even
if the pressure from my bosses suggested that I had better do this level of Intervention. If I thought that the students had handed in their best, I would have had to accept that, but we all knew that they could do better. So despite appearances, I only put in token appearances of grudgingly agreeing to set up the extra session - although to the untrained eye it would have looked as if I
was doing this under extreme duress.
Tuesday rolled around - I would have had the extra session on the Monday, but it had been a Bank Holiday so the school building had been closed. I got into work at about 8:45am, expecting to have a little bit of time to do some tidying up before the students started to roll in - if they turned up at all. So it was with no small measure of surprise that I saw two of them already in my room working away! I grunted at them to acknowledge their presence and then went to dump my things in the office, where I saw my Head of Department, who also had students coming in to do some work.
Such was the culture of Intervention that quite a lot of staff would be in today and for the rest of the week, putting on extra sessions for the Year 11s, 12s and 13s who all had coursework to complete and exams to prepare for.
“They were waiting when I arrived, so I let them into your room” she explained, and again I was mildly impressed with the students who had arrived extra early - putting the fear of Mr Austin into them had apparently done the trick, and while I might feel a bit bad that I had stretched the truth
a little when I spoke to their parents, the kids were here, I was here, so we might as well get on with some work.
I obviously underestimated my own powers, because in very short order, most of the students I had wanted to come in had arrived, most of them, it had to be said, looking rather sheepish as they cast their eyes my way, and my conscience felt a little twinge of guilt that I had said I’d cancelled a holiday to come in for this one day. A couple of missing students I had been assured were in the building, but were upstairs in Art doing some work there, and would show up later.
I had plonked myself at the front of the room on what I optimistically called my ‘resources desk’ only because it was usually the place where I dumped the piles of marking I really should be doing, and any of the resources I needed for each class during the day. My aim for the day was to crack on and plough through some of the marking I had been putting off for too long.
The quiet in the room was in marked contrast to the usual low chatter that accompanied the 6th Formers when they worked - not that I was complaining, as this meant that they were focusing harder than they usually did. It allowed all of us to get on with what we needed to do.
I only fielded a few questions from the students, so although boredom set in very quickly as it always did with any serious chunk of marking, I was able to be more productive than I had expected.
“Sir?” came a very tentatively-voiced question after lunch.
“Yes? What’s up?”
“Sir, did you really cancel a holiday to come in today?” at which I felt several sets of ears prick up.
Yes, I did.” I said bluntly. Oh well, I’d already put it out there that I was grumpy at the students because of their work and their impact on my break, there was no backing out of it now. I could
feel my karma crunching down several levels and was now expecting to be reborn as a chicken at best in my next life.
“Oh.” was sensibly the only thing that the student said, and wisely got on with her work, as did the others. I think it was certain that another aspect to my slightly mental, perpetually grumpy reputation had just been formed. Had I bullied them into coming in? Not really, and their work really did improve as a result, especially Aaron’s whose project after the holidays bore little resemblance to the one he had handed in before them. They’d all had the choice to come in or not - as had I - despite what I’d said or hadn’t said. But I had acted and spoken in a way designed to have a certain effect, and it had apparently worked very well indeed, and I couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty about that.
Not that the students were above doing the same sometimes - quite a lot of them thought that crying would get them what they wanted as obviously a crying child would make any adult want to crumble and give into their demands. I didn’t care if they cried or not, as one of my last advisory group found out to her regret as I just ignored the tears and bluntly told her that I didn’t understand what she was crying for and that it wasn't working on me.
You soon learned as a teacher to be able to tell the difference between genuine tears and tears
that could be brought out on demand. One set of tears I came across once were coming from a notoriously dramatic student, but these seemed very genuine indeed as she sat crying outside
one of the D&T rooms. After trying and failing to establish what was wrong for some time, she eventually got out, between sobs, that her life was over, and there was nothing I could do.
As this did little to reassure me (even I, notoriously grumpy Mr Austin, could hardly walk away after a student had told me that her life was over. I had no doubt at all that her life wasn’t over, but even
I wasn’t that heartless.), I continued to ask what was wrong and if I could help in any way. As she kept saying that there was nothing I could do, and realising that I wasn’t helping to calm the situation, I beat a hasty retreat, saying to the student that I was in the office if she needed me.
I found out later from the colleague whose lesson the student should have been in that her life indeed may be over as it turned out that she had overspent a little on her mobile phone account. When asked how much we all thought the extra charge was, we all guessed wrong and the amount went up and up and up, until we were told that the student had racked up an extra charge of £800 on her phone. We were all suitably impressed, and we opined that her life may indeed be over as it was well known how tough her mother was. As impressive as this was - and I still have no idea what you’d do to get that amount of additional charges - we found out a few months later that another student had managed to get £1500 of additional charges to his account! They rarely did anything
by half did our students.
I had one student whose behaviour went past the usual disruption into bullying. Luke, as I’ve discussed, exhausted my efforts to manage his behaviour and to get him to work. In the process of doing so, I had several conversations with him about his behaviour and it’s impact on not only him, but the others in the class. I told him that one of the class thought that he was destroying the class, and that I agreed, to which he disgustedly disagreed.
It was during this conversation that I had a minor revelation - what Luke was doing was bullying, but he was bullying me! his behaviour was designed to provoke a certain reaction from me, which was one of the definitions of bullying. When I told him this, that he was attempting to bully a teacher, the look on his face was a picture of dumb-struck disbelief. I can’t even think of a suitable comparison that would get a similar reaction. I could see that he had never even considered that
his actions could be seen in such a light - not that this stopped him from disagreeing with me, but
it had put a momentary pause in his step.
“It’s not working, but you are bullying me.” I told him, annoying him even more than I already was because I had conducted the whole conversation in a quiet, calm voice. A lot of the kids expected me to come in with all guns blazing and the volume set to maximum when I told them off, but I always preferred to talk to them quietly and calmly. Handy fact: when talking to a student, or anyone for that matter, you should always try to stand next to them, not in front of them, as it’s
less confrontational and much harder to have an argument when you’re side by side.
One student, after I had helped a colleague calm her down after an explosive incident in another class, came to find me the next day to thank me for helping out, but she said that all she wanted was for me to shout at her, as that would have shocked her out of her fit of hysterics. I took the suggestion on advisement.
That Luke was marginally better behaved the next lesson might have been because of what I’d said to him, but sadly it didn’t have that much of an impact as his behaviour continued to deteriorate. Either he had forgotten what I’d said to him, he simply didn’t agree with it, or he was okay with trying to bully all those around him.
Thankfully, as horrible in general as kids could be, the vast majority of students we had in our school were at best supportive and caring of each other, and at worst they ignored each other.
In the last week before I left teaching, one of my Year 9 students came to have a chat and say goodbye, which was a sweet thing for her to do. She had a friend who I didn’t know with her, and the conversation was a rambling one but somehow the subject of bullying came up.
As I was leaving and this gave me a little more leeway than I would usually have, I asked them,
“Is there much bullying here, honestly? Is there a lot that we don’t see?”
“There’s some, yeah,” said my student, “But there’s nowhere near as much as >name of another local school that was allegedly better than us<.”
“Really?” I said, very much surprised, “They like to put it out there that they’re so good.”
“They’re not.” came the very definite response form both of them. “That’s why I moved here, they did nothing about the bullying.” It was nice to know that, despite the huge pressure to work harder and harder, and to do more and more work, there was at least something we were getting right.