Forgive me today, as I write from a place of emotion, frustration, and immediacy. I usually do not do this. I allow my thoughts to settle and my mind to reflect. But I think I need to say this now, before it gets tempered by time.
Today I was going to write about something else entirely. I was going to write about apathy and procrastination, two demons that haunt my creative efforts and have burst to full life now that I do not have the Ohio Ren Festival to keep me overly stressed out and busy. I will still write about that, but I think I do need longer to reflect on what I want to say there before I say it. (Yep, there is that procrastination again…)
Today I am going to talk about abuse and bullying.
My kids go to the local public elementary school. I tried homeschooling my daughter for one year and it did not work for us, and the school they go to now is brand new and seems pretty great so far. They both love their teachers and are excited every morning to get up and go. It is close enough to walk, about half mile, which we do every morning and every afternoon.
Today as we walked, we talked about bullying. My daughter has seemed more withdrawn since school started two weeks ago, and I wanted to at the very least make sure she knew that she could always talk to us, her parents, about anything troubling her. We talked about needing to tell an adult when you someone is picking on you, or threatening you, and the difference between tattling just to get someone in trouble and the need to let someone know about destructive behavior so that it can be stopped.
My son is in kindergarten, and thus everyone is still everybody’s friend. My daughter, several grades older, assured me that nobody picked on her (this has been a problem in years past), and there was only one bully in her class and he only picked on one boy. I asked her if that was ok. If it was fine to watch someone else get picked on, so long as it was not you.
She thought about it for a moment, while we waited to cross the street, and then said, “No. That is not ok. It is not nice to let someone else get picked on if you could maybe stop it.”
So then we talked about what she could do to stop it. She suggested standing up to the bully and telling him to stop. I told her that that was an excellent idea, but would not always work. That another thing she could do is to make sure a teacher is aware of the situation, as this is not tattling, and to make sure that she was being a friend to the one who is getting the rough end of the bullying. Maybe sit with the kid at lunch, or play with him on the playground, and absolutely do not laugh at the antics of the bully.
She walks off to her classroom, and I escort my son to the gym where he lines up before his teacher comes and gets the class. I walked a little bit behind him, because he is confident he knows the way and wants to seem grown up. I hung back at the door while he found his line, sat down and started to wave.
Then I absolutely failed in everything I had just talked to my kids about.
Something must have been happening. Something prompted an older red haired women in some position of authority to snap. She yanked a kid up out of his line by his arm, dragged him over to a chair, leaned down and just started yelling – right in the kid’s face.
I did not see what happened. I totally get that this kid had probably been pushing buttons all morning, perhaps since the first day of school. This kid might have behavioral issues. I don’t know the circumstances. I also know as a parent, especially one who has tried to teach my own kids, that there is a point of frustration that leads to yelling. I yell at my own kids, on occasion, when I just can’t take it any more. This is wrong, I know it. I still do it. And when I do, they flee to their rooms, which is exactly where I wanted them to go anyways.
But this kid, in the chair, being yelled at by this teacher/administrator person was in kindergarten. He had zero place to run to to get away. He had no relation, as far as I know, with this woman. This woman who is much bigger than him, yelling right in his face. He shrinks in the chair and puts his head down. Thankfully, she steps away and shouts at the entire line of kids, that if they can’t behave sitting with their friends, they will be separated.
This woman has totally flipping lost it. She is loud, bossy, and clearly upset. Those kids look scared.
I make my way past her, to the line my son is sitting in, and I give him a hug. As I walk back, the woman in charge, perhaps realizing her mistake leans down and tells the boy in the chair that he can sit there for five minutes and then go back to his line. She is attempting to be calm. He looks away. Of course he looks away, this lady has been yelling in his face in front of about a hundred kids!
She loses it again. She starts screaming about him disrespecting her and that she is not going to have it.
I should have stepped in. I should have interjected. I should have stopped this bullying right then and there and appealed to her as an adult, as a parent of a kid in that crowd, that this is not acceptable behavior from an authority figure to a child. This is bullying, plain and simply.
Instead, I hurried away. I found another teacher, explained that there was a lady in the gym screaming in a child’s face and that someone needed to intervene. She knew right away who the other teacher was, and assured me that she would get the principal. I thanked her and left the school.
The whole walk home I fretted over the fact that I did not step in and help stop the bullying of that one kid. I, as an adult, could not do what I had just instructed my own kids to do. I, without even knowing this woman, felt the ingrained pressure of society to not question her authority. I, who had been bullied a lot as a child, by both other kids and adults, stood by and watched… If I can’t even stand up to her, what chance do our kids have?
And now, it comes to me, that bullying is a learned behavior. Ok, maybe it is inherent human nature to compete, to struggle, to dominate. But I look at my son, and his kindergarten class, all of them friends with each other, and I think that maybe this is wrong. They learn to hate. They learn to pick on those weaker than them, those different than them. They learn to shout, and yell, and throw their weight around.
So where do they learn it? They learn it from us.
Every time we yell in anger at a child, we teach them that bullying is ok. Every time a teacher lifts a kid from the floor by his arm, drags him across the room and screams in his face, she teaches those hundred kids looking on in horror, that bullying is ok.
It is not ok.
And it is up to us, as adults, to stop it.
Update (11:30am) – I do want people to know that the principal of my children’s school has read this post, and contacted me to thank me for my candid nature and for bringing this to his attention. I sent a copy of the text to him but I did not expect him to track me down and chat. He agreed that this was unacceptable behavior and is taking steps to address it. People make mistakes, people have bad days, people get frustrated. The point is to realize when our behavior crosses the line and fix it as soon as we can. Thank you to everyone who is sharing my words today and thank you to those, like this awesome principal, who do step in to make sure we are all looking out for the kids.