Not all bullies are kids.
In second grade, I hated my teacher. She was mean, and mean, and mean. She made one of the girls in our class cry by screaming at her to stop breathing through her mouth! Are you fucking kidding me? I remember telling my mother that story years later, expecting her to be outraged. Instead, my mother excused her behaviour because the teacher had been going through a divorce at the time. Sympathy aside, divorce does not give you the right to take it out on a 7 year old.
My 3rd and 4th grade teacher, the one I loved more than almost any other teacher I’ve had since, used to call me ‘Motor Mouth’ – something that devastated me. And he used it at least once a week. And long after he stopped calling me that, my classmates kept it up. For years! Every time I heard it I cringed. For that reason, I vowed never to give one of my students a nickname. And the worst part was that calling me ‘Motor Mouth’ shamed me, but it had no effect on my actions. After all, I was a gregarious kid. I couldn’t stop talking. The nickname was like making fun of someone with a physical deformity that cannot be helped.
And so, I read with horror but also a sense of familiarity about some of the terrible adults presented in stickboy – the principals and teachers and janitors who are clueless and cruel and don’t help anyone and by their actions and words make others think it’s ok to make fun of the fat kid, or the acne-covered kid or the (insert the adjective here) kid. And I want to believe that in real life there are more adults who are proactive and positive role models, but I know there are not enough.
As a teacher, almost every day I come up against some form of injustice, some form of bullying. Today, one of my 7th graders asked me what kind of bullying it was if someone kept calling you a slut. She’s 12. And earlier this year, a male student came out and there are days when his classmates are cool with it, and there are days they change their minds. And it kills me when all I have are words to offer – when all I want is a rewind button to make it go away.
But sadly, there are days in my classroom when the comments come fast and furious from one student or another, and I see human balloons deflate in front of my eyes. And I have to fill the balloon up again in some way. Or the worst days, when I have to choose the lesser of two evils: to let this one pass, or to draw more attention to it and make it worse. There are days when I have the fight in me, and there are days that I know it is better to let that evil monster sleep because getting involved will only make it worse after I stop talking and once I’m out of earshot. And hope to God that day isn’t the day that kid gives up.
I hope for better, but know I must work harder. We all must.
All my love and compassion,
- Shane Koyczan: “To This Day” … for the bullied and beautiful | Video on TED.com (liamrobert.com)
- Opinion: Surviving the pain of childhood bullying (cnn.com)