Memoir, Pop Culture, Rants, Suburban, Teacher

Children do not fall off turnip trucks. It’s time for parents of bullies to get their heads out of their posteriors.

Children do not fall off turnip trucks. (I mean, I suppose literally, some do, in rural Mississippi or southern Ontario, but really, those things are freak accidents.)

Children do not come to school, empty vessels, only to be filled up by what they learn from teachers and peers.  As the old saying goes, children learn what they live. Don’t get me wrong: I know that sometimes, despite everything we do as parents, our kids will go off the rails. But then it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to get them back on track again. Sticking your head in the sand and saying, “Not my kid!” only makes things worse.

The issue of bullying has once again reared its ugly head with the recent suicide of BC teen, Amanda Todd.  This poor child, already suffering from depression, was bullied on-line, in school and out. Despite desperate interventions from her parents and her school, she still felt powerless and alone and eventually took her own life.

There is no doubt that schools have an important role to play in the prevention and treatment of bullying. Teachers and administrators see kids at work in the classrooms and at play on the school ground. And here’s a little secret: most of the time, teachers already know who the bullies are. There are a few, usually the charming kids who are good are being sly and flying under the radar, who come as a surprise but most teachers can tell within the first month of school who is being mean to whom without anyone having to come tell. And teachers deal with small acts of meanness and bullying everyday. It’s a fact of life when dealing with people in groups – kindness and nastiness will occur and hopefully the kindness will outweigh the nastiness.

The problem occurs when schools attempt to deal with the bigger issue of bullying. Bullying is not a one time thing – like two friends having an argument over what to do at recess. Bullying is when a person or group of people targets an individual repeatedly over time using aggression to humiliate or hurt their victim.

Parents are always very willing do anything they need to do once they find out that their child is the victim of bullying. But the scenario changes greatly when parents are told that their child is the bully.

“No. Not my child. My child wouldn’t do that,” they say.

 “I know it’s difficult to hear, Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the principal tells the stone-faced parents. “But the other child said that your child has been taunting him, pushing him and stealing his lunch treats for weeks now. We have witnesses who have verified this.”

 “They’re lying. I asked my son and he said he didn’t do it and my kid doesn’t lie.”

 “Some of the witnesses are teachers and lunch monitors at the school. They said when they confronted your son he admitted it. He actually confessed everything to me and wrote a letter of apology when he was brought to the office.”

 The principal hands the parents a letter which they refuse to take.

 “I don’t care what that says,” the mother snips. “You forced him to write that. He said you bullied him into doing it.”

 “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I know this is difficult,” the teacher begins. “But some of these incidents have been recorded on the school’s video cameras. We can show you those now.”

 “Those things can be faked!” the father sputters, turning red in the face. “I saw a thing on it on 20/20 about it last week. You people have had it out for my kid ever since he started at this school. All of his teachers suck and the other kids are mean to him. He doesn’t do anything. He’s the victim in all this.”

 At this point, the principal looks out the window and sees the child in question on the playground. She points this out to the parents and everyone in the meeting looks out the window.

 Young Billy is walking around the playground alone. Suddenly he walks over to another student who has his back to him and pushes him to the ground. The teacher on duty runs over and pulls him away just as he’s about to kick the other child.

 The principal gasps and shakes her head.

 “This is exactly what I’m talking about,” she says to the parents. “So what can we do about it?”

 The parents stand up and walk towards the door.

 “This is harassment,” the mother says.

 “You’ll be hearing from our lawyer,” says the father.

 They nab their son as he’s being brought into the office and tell him that he’s coming home with them.

“Wahoo! Freedom!” he shouts.

 As he’s going out the door, the kid turns around and yells, “See ya later, suckers.” And gives everyone the finger.

 Until the parents of the bullies take their heads out of their proverbial asses, the problem won’t get better. The most schools can do is implement short term suspensions. In reality, this usually means the kid gets to stay home and play video games all day, while the parents complain that once again their kid is being punished for nothing.

I used to work for an amazing woman who believed that, “everyone who is a pain, has a pain.” Kids who are happy and content with themselves don’t bully other kids. If your kid is bullying, you have a problem. Put your ego away and deal with it. Your child, and mine, is counting on it.

Memoir, Teacher

“You smell like fruit” and other compliments from my students

Marshall was an odd boy, by any definition of the word. He didn’t have an official “diagnosis” but he was definitely…outside the norm. For one, he talked like a robot and two, he was little obsessed with aliens and anal probing.

I started teaching his class late that year. My mother died on the first day of school, so I was in Ontario when they all arrived. Being the conscientious teacher that I was, I gave the eulogy, packed up some of her things, gave my father a fortifying hug and was back to work within the week. (Ed. note: yes, I know. Craaaazy!)

It was a new school for me and starting late did nothing to ease my angst. My large class of grade 5’s was well known for their “specialness”.  When I arrived at the school, I was told, “Oh sorry. You have that group. Good luck.” There was something in the water the year those children’s parents got together and it’s quite possible that “thing” was alcohol. (I’m not accusing anyone but seriously ladies: put down the wine glass until after your kid is born. There’s plenty of time to drink once they’re teenagers. And trust me, you’re going to need it then.)

Anyway, that year was a hard one for me and, no doubt, for Marshall. As I said, he was odd and he didn’t have a lot of (read: any) friends. This didn’t seem to bother him though, as he spent all of his time reading. He read in language arts class, math class, science class, lunch…you get my drift. And whenever I tried to get him back on track, he would just sigh and say in his robot voice, “I’d rather not.”

Of course it was my job to push the issue, so everyday, he and I would meet to re-do the math lesson from the morning – this time, one-on-one.

“So, today we’re looking at long division, Marshall,” I flip the textbook open to the section we just covered in class while Marshall was reading about aliens.

“You smell like fruit,” he said.

“Oh,” I reply. “Um…thank you?”

“You smell like oranges.”

“Oh.”

Pause

“Do you like oranges?”

“Not particularly. But you smell like them.”

“OK-dokey then.”

Another day.

“Today we’re working on double-digit multiplication, Marshall. Do you remember what we talked about in class?”

“Are you familiar with anal probing?” he stares at me with a serious look. He’s not trying to mess with me…he’s really just curious.

“Uh, yes, I’ve heard of it. But we really need to focus on math right now,” I say, trying to divert the conversation.

“Aliens use these probes to find out information about the human race,” he says. “It’s quite a popular method of information gathering among aliens.”

“Alrighty then.”

Another day.

“So, Marshall.  Today we need to find the area of this square. Do you remember how we figure out how to do that?”

“Area equals length times width,” he intones right away.

“Yes!”

I can’t believe it. He’s on track. He was listening today! I am making a difference. I am such a good teacher.

“So, can you show me how to find the answer to this question?”

“Of course,” he says.

He puts his head down, writes down the formula, fills in the blanks and comes up with the correct answer.

“Excellent,” I crow. “You did it! You are one smart cookie, Marshall. What do you think about that?”

“You smell like the soap from my campground.”