A little over a week ago, I told you about the way one of my students dealt with a bully. Another situation in a different year at the same school restored some hope for humanity.
You see, some kids start whining as soon as someone looks at them. Toward the end of my career, I found Drama Button and really wanted a portable one so I could smack the button when I received useless tattling about someone’s paper being half an inch on the wrong desk or one kid glancing at another.
On the other end of the scale, I had kids who absorbed all kinds of abuse and never said a word. In those cases, you would expect other students nearby to help the kid being picked on, but too often, no one wanted to get involved.
One of my students was terminally shy. If Girl said more than three words in a day, I was amazed. A couple months into the year, something weird started happening. Whenever the class went into transition, she came over to me and started asking odd questions. What’s the next lesson? What’s the date? What time is it? I was never really sure what was going on, but as soon as the class settled for the next activity, she’d return to her place.
Since many kids are embarrassed to speak of some subjects in front of their peers, I had a policy that if a student wanted a private word, a hallway conference could be requested. As soon as the class was busy on something, we’d step into the hall, and the student had three to five minutes to tell me what was on the brain. One day, Boy 1, who tended to be Drama Button Required, asked for a conference.
Once we were in the hall, he told me two of the larger boys were threatening him. This surprised me because the pair mentioned were among the better-behaved of my students. I told Boy 1 I’d deal with it, and sent him to do his work. Later, while the class was on a restroom break, I pulled the two bigger boys aside.
Me: “I’m getting reports of you threatening someone.”
Boy 2: “Yes, ma’am. I guess you could say we’ve been threatening [Boy 1], and if you have to write us up, that’s okay because someone had to do something.”
Now that was curious.
Me: “What do you mean?”
Boy 3: “Well, ma’am, he’s real careful about it. Waits until you’re busy or on the other end of the recess field or at lunch or on the way to the bus or something. Then he pushes [Girl] or smacks her on the arm or trips her or … well, y’know. He’s just being mean.”
Boy 2: “Yeah, and it just wasn’t right. She was scared to say anything cuz he might do worse, so we decided to fix it ourselves.”
Boy 3: “We didn’t hurt him or nothing. Didn’t even say anything. I swear we didn’t. We just got between [Boy 1] and [Girl] and looked like this until he left.”
The two of them crossed their arms, stretched up to their full heights, and glared with a Game Face usually reserved for the NFL. Although nine years old, the two of them were almost my height to start with, so they looked pretty intimidating.
Technically, their solution to the problem was “against the rules,” but they saw the problem and found a way to deal with it safely. Officially, I was supposed to impose consequences because they didn’t go get the adult in charge. Unofficially, I was pleased with their solution and their initiative, and I told them as much before I sent them to rejoin the class.
When the class was going on the next assignment, I called Boy 1 back out into the hallway for another conference and told him that if he didn’t want to be threatened, he should avoid trying to harm his classmate, even if it was “just a joke.” Naturally, Boy 1 protested innocence, but I’d caught him in several other blatant lies and even proved he’d forged a signature on a report card once. So, should I take his word against that of two of the best-behaved students in my class? Not even a matter for consideration.
For the rest of my teaching career, I used that incident — with the names redacted, of course — as an example of how to help someone being harassed by a bully: Get friends and get in the way.