loved like only a child can adore their teacher, someone who was supposed to protect and guide me as I grew as a learner. Instead she made it her mission to make me feel like the freak (her words) and bad influence (again her words) that she saw me as.
My mom did the right thing, she contacted the principal. She held me when I cried. She spoke to other parents. She fought for me, but in the end with the Danish school system being so that you have the same classroom teacher from 1st through 9th she knew that this was a losing battle. So in the middle of 5th grade, I hugged my teacher (yes, really) and said goodbye to all my friends to start a school in a different city.
I speak of my bullying experience as I find myself wondering whether schools can truly prevent and protect children from bullying. While my case was an extreme one, usually teachers do not bully their own students, it still followed a pattern of hidden targeting and isolation My teacher was very good at making it look like she didn’t hate me and so when we spoke to the principal he mostly thought we were making it up. She messed up though when she started contacting other parents telling them to keep their children away from me outside of school. She messed up when she kept all of the girls in the classroom behind to have them share how much of a bad influence and terrible friend I was.
But most of our students, when they bully, are very good at keeping it secret. Perpetrators are often those students that know how to manipulate teachers into believing that they would never do such a thing. Ask any parent and they will tell you that they know that their kid is probably different at school than they are at home. I know Thea has done stuff at daycare typical of a 4-year-old that I still have a hard time believing she would do. So we don’t often see the bullying happen and rely on testimony that turns into he said/she said discussions. We wring our hands, trying to see through the chatter and try to figure out what really happened. We document, of course, and pass on to the powers that be. We contact parents and keep a paper trail trying to find patterns, but for what? Often, if the bullying is bad enough students don’t report it. Perhaps they fear further retaliation or escalation. Perhaps they assume that we as a school cannot do much. Perhaps they don’t think they will be believed. And so it continues and we can truly do nothing for the unreported.
Yet, if we look at what we can do as a school it is depressingly little; we can scold, we can discuss, we can take away recess. We can take away privileges, we can threaten and guilt, we can suspend. We can try to mend relationships and we can try to educate. But is all of that enough? Can we truly as a school protect kids from bullies? Or can we only hope that all of the effort we put into preventing it is enough?