Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bullying: My Perspective (As A Teacher)

I'm not sure if bullying is worse today than it was when I was a kid, or if it's just the flavor of the month in the media. What I do know is that the technologies that many students have access today (mainly social media) make bullying much easier and in your face. 

I try hard to teach my students respect and empathy. It's not always easy, and I can honestly say that over the last four years, I've seen a troubling trend of students coming into 5th grade increasingly unable to interact with their peers in a socially acceptable manner. I spend a lot of time talking about how they need to stop tattling on one another, stop whining at one another, and learn to work productively and cooperatively, and it's time consuming. It's October 13th as I write this, and yesterday we completed the 38th day of this school year, and I've just recently started to see improvements in how they relate to one another.

Yes, it's tough work, but that's not really what I'm writing about here. I wanted to talk about bullying. Bullying has always been a problem in schools. I remember being both bully (one time for about a month when I was a 4th grader), and bullied (on and off for years). I was one of the lucky ones, because I was always big for my age. I was a nerdier type of kid, so I took a lot of flak for that, but I also could stand up for myself.

These days, I see bullying as being much more personal, vicious, and non-relenting. 

I want to make one thing very clear. In my opinion, no child should have a Facebook account. I think this serves almost no good purpose in 90% of the cases. Yes, there are those rare cases where the child might use the account to send photos and things like that to relatives that are far away, but that's a pretty lame excuse, they can always just use a parents account.

I've personally turned in at least ten children with underage accounts and have seen Facebook promptly delete those accounts. I didn't do this because I'm a mean old man, I did this because, in each of those cases, there was bullying happening online, or cyber bullying.

Next, I believe that a lot of the bullying starts in the home environment. I definitely don't play the blame game, I am disgusted when parents point their fingers at teachers and schools when their children are the perpetrators. Don't get me wrong, I believe that it's the schools job to keep its students safe, but in almost all the cases I've seen of bullying, the bully usually has a home life where the proper boundaries aren't set, punishments aren't being utilized effectively (or at all), and discussions about proper behavior aren't happening. Sadly, these are the same parents who, all too often, point their fingers at society, and it makes me sick.

This doesn't allow schools to wipe their hands of the issue and just say "oh well, bad parenting." No, we're stuck with the problem. When parents don't do their jobs, it makes the job of a teacher much MUCH more difficult, but it doesn't absolve them of their responsibility to children, all children, even the bully. 

Bullying is a societal problem, and it's gotten worse over the years. Not a week goes by anymore where you don't read about a teenager who was bullied to the point of suicide. No matter what your personal thoughts and beliefs are about this, you can't argue that this isn't tragic. Teens being bullied for looking different, being different, or even just "because." It's one of the major problems that plagues society today. People don't know how to treat people anymore.

Even when I go out into public, I see these behaviors. People at Wal Mart pushing through one another, yelling at one another, fighting with one another. People in their cars acting aggressively towards one another. I don't want to blame society or the media, although they do play their part. It all comes down to parenting, or the lack thereof. 

I can tell you with 100% certainty that any time I've had a student come into my classroom unprepared to learn or interact with their peers, I can eventually trace these behaviors back to parenting. I do feel that the schools can do more, but if parents are not stepping up, it's a losing battle. 

I could sit here and continue to type for awhile, but you surely understand my views on this by now. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. Yes, we all have a responsibility to the future, especially those of us in education, it's the essence of our jobs. BUT, parents are the front lines, they spend the majority of time with these children. Behaviors are a by product of environment. If school really played a big part in this, then most students would sit at home everyday studying their spelling, doing math, lining up for the restroom, and saying the pledge each morning after breakfast. But instead, they come to school tired (for lack of sleep), without their homework (because nobody offered to even so much as help), hungry (because they didn't eat the night before), and starved for attention (because nobody gave it to them at home). Yes, we have a problem, and yes it's getting worse.

How do we fix the problem? It's not an easy one, because our society is breaking. I read articles everyday about parents who spend more time on their phones than with their kids, or playing video games than with their kids, or out partying than with their kids. These are the same parents who ask the schools and society to do more and more for them. Well this teacher is standing up and saying ENOUGH, GROW UP!

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