Should teachers stop bullies?

An 11-year-old boy committed suicide and his family says it was because of relentless bullying at a DeKalb Elementary School.

Regardless of whether bullying led to Jaheem Herrera’s tragic death, his suicide is making a lot of people talk about bullying in schools.

We’ve blogged about this before – but this time I want to know how teachers handle bullying in their classrooms.

Have principals or districts provided any training or guidelines over how to handle bullies?

We know bullying is commonplace in schools, but it can become excessive. When do you step in and when have you decided not to intervene? How do you make the decision?

20 comments Add your comment

HS Teacher, Too

April 21st, 2009
3:22 pm

As with most things teacher-related, it really depends on the individual circumstances. Sometimes the bullying is blatant and obvious and it’s a no-brainer to intervene. Other times it is almost impossible to pick up on, and still other times you have to wonder if it’s truly bullying or even just crude flirting!

What I have done in the past is to not allow bullying that I see to continue in MY room, and I additionally did my best to monitor that it didn’t happen OUTSIDE my room. To that end, it often depended on the student and my school as to how I handled the situation, unless it was so blatant as to fall within a school policy that demanded a certain action. But where I had discretion, in a school with a strong guidance department I might talk to the bully/bullied’s counselor(s) and ask them to intervene. Where that was not available to me, I’ve gone to administration. I have also, of course, called parents, but that is risky and I’ve been super careful to present my call as concern rather than demand or accusation.

jim d

April 21st, 2009
3:34 pm

too,

it is only an obligation of a teacher if they are aware it is happening. i think MOST teachers do indeed take this obligation seriously. no one wishes to see a child hurt. well almost no one

Reality

April 21st, 2009
3:54 pm

Teachers should stop bullies. Teachers should teach manners. Teachers should teach personal hygene and grooming. Teachers should teach proper English, math, science, and social studies. Teachers should teach music and art. Teachers should feed the children. Teachers should clothe the children.

Wait a minute….. what do the parents do?

Reality 2

April 21st, 2009
4:08 pm

If teachers are aware of bullying, then they should stop them. No question. They shouldn’t be worried about what parents should be doing.

HS Teacher, Too

April 21st, 2009
5:07 pm

jim d, I agree, you can’t stop what you aren’t aware is happening. But once you are aware, you can’t just turn your head. I once had a situation where I successfully stopped the bullying in my classroom, only to learn that it got worse in the other classes the two students had together. I intervened. No, I can’t save the world, but I could do my darndest to ensure that the bully didn’t get away with it at school. Everyone has a “right” (for lack of a better word) to be able to attend school without harassment.

Nikole

April 21st, 2009
6:57 pm

I have never had to deal with bullying in my classroom. I teach first grade, they fight, they talk about each other and then they are friends again in a matter of hours. But I do not allow them to harass each other. I do notice that due to discipline issues, there are no real consequences for bullies. I think the parents of bullies should be inconvenienced and have to come to the school every time their child is caught bullying. Perhaps they will teach them to do better.

Tony

April 21st, 2009
7:09 pm

Yes. Teachers and administrators should stop bullying. As others have already stated, we may be unaware of it. Another problem is that bullying is defined by the offended party and is quite frequently in gray areas. Name calling is a perennial problem but it is not always equal to bullying. There are many times when a party claims to be bullied but in reality he or she is the one doing the bullying.

Reality, you had me going there for a minute!

The bullying problem

April 21st, 2009
7:46 pm

What’s a teacher to do if it’s documented, reported, and yet administration won’t take a stand? How many more children need to die before we finally address the national crisis of administrators and school systems not taking a stand on discipline in our schools?

Notice Laura's bias

April 21st, 2009
8:50 pm

Why is the question should teachers stop bullies? If the police officer makes the arrest, but the judge returns the criminal to the street, where is the onus of responsibility? Same in the schools. If the teacher documents the case, and tries to enforce the consequence, and the administrator won’t fully support the consequence, what message do we send to the bully? What message do we send to the bullied? The administration in Dekalb knows, and if they don’t know they can look at their blood stained hands to figure it out.

Sam

April 21st, 2009
9:26 pm

When the adults in the school fail to proactively root out their school’s culture of bullying, they leave it to the children to manage the matter. And manage it they will, one way or another. Though extreme and final, suicide is one way. Another way is self-protection. Here’s how things are going for one kid in the Atlanta Public Schools who chose self-protection…

Why was the mother in such a state of extreme anguish? Because she is fearful for her son’s life and well being. Why? Because her son continues to be in “lock-up” at the APS CEP/Forest Hill Academy alternative school one year past his “release” date and he is angry and deeply unmotivated. Why is the child in “lock-up” at the APS alternative school? Because he had brought to school a paring knife? Why did he do that? Because he felt he had to protect himself at school from a “gang of bullies.” Why did the child feel he so needed to protect himself? Because the school administrators, the adults in the school, had been non-responsive to his going to them for relieve from the bullying. Why is the child angry? Because he does not know why “they” won’t “release” him from “lock-up” at the CEP/Forest Hill Academy. Why is the child so deeply unmotivated? Because “the CEP has made my life not worth living.”

Teachers can't do it all

April 21st, 2009
9:44 pm

Many teachers are able to identify a bully at the upper grades only to have the administrators turn a blind eye. I have seen firsthand a principal refrain from discipline because the bully was a child of a PTA member! This child blatantly bullied other students all year. She would hit, kick, name call and make others cry. The victims often left school feeling less of themselves because of the bully. The principal did not want to deal with the PTA mom. She herself was a bully. It is all relevant though because the principal often bullied the staff, particularly in situations such as this. She’d rather allow a child to feel bad than have the PTA pull back their support. Sad.

V for Vendetta

April 21st, 2009
10:28 pm

I absolutely agree with what many of you have said: If a teacher is aware of a bully then that teacher should take the necessary steps to address the situation. (I’m leaving it at that because, as many of you have also said, what the administrator does or does not do is not in the teacher’s hands.) However, I do want to point out one very important thing: This blog topic focuses the responsibility on the teacher or, if you want to look at the bigger picture, the education system. But I have to wonder, what are we teaching children by taking this sort of stand. Back in the day, kids defended themselves and had the self esteem and confidence to ignore petty name calling. It no longer seems that way. My dad’s dictum of “Don’t ever start a fight, but make sure you finish one,” seems to have disappeared. Granted, some will say that schools now are “more dangerous” and all that. I’m not trying to be Jeff here. But what I AM saying, is that we should be teaching the KIDS how to handle the bullies, not merely stopping the bullies once they’re caught in the act.

Eliminating bullying is as much about teaching self esteem and confidence as it is about preventing physical or social harm.

Sarah H

April 22nd, 2009
7:23 am

We have been told at our school that we are not to use the word bully. Can’t hurt some poor child’s self esteem by labeling them. Of course the one student that I keep an eye on uses her weight (literally) to push people around. She has verbally abused students in my classroom. She has been reported to the office. She got a slap on the wrist. I still struggle to force her to leave the smaller children alone.

Reality

April 22nd, 2009
8:36 am

My point about PARENTS is that bullying should never start. Should teachers stop it if they are aware – of course. But good parents teach their children how to interact with others properly. Bad parents do not and then their children become the cause of so much grief in schools (and other places).

As I have stated in other posts, GA needs to require a parenting class in high school as a requirement for graduation. These poorly parented kids are the ones that have more kids and the cycle continues.

vft

April 22nd, 2009
9:15 am

Reality, I tend to agree with you on a lot of what you’re saying, but kids are two-faced sometimes, especially in the higher grades. As a former middle-school teacher, there were a few parent-teacher conferences I was in that prominently featured some trash-talk or objectionable comments, in the little darling’s own handwriting…because that was the only way the parent could believe that their little angel knew those words, or would proposition a boy/girl, make threats, etc.
Note though, when I was in the classroom, I made it a point to be out in the classroom doorway to monitor my own classroom and the halls. Why? Because school bullying is in my book a common sin, and one I am NOT going to tolerate.

Ernest

April 22nd, 2009
10:28 am

Well said, V!!! Most of us grew up in the days of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm them”. The things I hear my children mention that happen in today’s classrooms are far different that hearing “you’ve got cooties” from my day.

I empathize with the schools given the responsibilities and blame placed on them. I hope we can find out what happened in this case so we can collectively learn from it. Given the mother has a lawyer now, I will bet this will be quietly settled out of court.

Teacher, Too

April 22nd, 2009
11:59 am

I’ve noticed two situations. One, the kids learn bullying from their parents. I had many parent conferences where the parents have tried to bully me, and then I see where the child gets his/her bullying from. Or, second, the child has learned to bully his/her parent. I see this in parent conferences all the time– the child actually controls and bullies the mom or dad (more frequently, the mom).

In either case, the teacher can only give consequences, but often the admin negates them because the parent bullies them and gets their way.

Parent

April 29th, 2009
8:13 am

I totally agree with Teacher,Too children get their behavior or bullying
from there parents. It is the parents responsiblity to raise there children teacher’s are suppose to teach, In society today we want
the teacher’s to shoulder the responsiblity of teaching our kids and being a parent to them. I think all teacher’s should get combat Salaries for the children they have to deal with today!

Julie Clark

May 21st, 2009
10:40 pm

To stop bullying, long before it reaches such a horrible conclusion such as bullycide, everyone should be educated on what bullying is–all of the forms–and get people to stop believing the myth that bullying is a rite of passage, etc. Bullying hurts, and bullying can kill. Everyone should be educated in what to do about it. Schools should have and implement anti-bullying policies. Bullying is getting worse. We can dress itup with fancy terms such as social aggression or relational aggression but that does no good and doesn’t help anyone.
see http://www.stopratoday.com

Teacher World

July 22nd, 2009
12:03 pm

As a teacher, I have spent valuable time this past year dealing with the issue of bullying in my classroom. I had read “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult, a book that explores bullying and that left me enraged that we aren’t doing more as educators. Through brutally honest discussions and confessions, my class began to see the need to take a stand. They signed a declaration against bullying and teasing, and campaigned within the school to get everyone to sign it. I am not going to lie and say that my students never teased or bullied after this, but I will say that when circumstances required it, we sat down and talked about better ways to deal with these situations and resolutions were reached. I have never been so proud of a group of students.

Bullying does occur, and it makes our schools an unsafe place for some kids to attend, let alone learn. As educators, we need to tune in to our students and deal with these situations as they occur. No more turning a blind eye or thinking the problem will go away. And principals need to be supportive of our efforts to build safer schools. In addition, parent education is required. I believe that many of the bullies we deal with at school have been created by their environment. Also parents may need to learn to be more sensitive to the warning signs either that their child is being bullied or is bullying others.

Putting all of the responsibility on the school is obviously not the answer, but I think schools are the reasonable place to begin. And we must begin now because the ramifications of turning a blind eye to bullying are becoming disastrous. It is way past time to look for a cure!