Friday, April 22, 2011
As part of a regular lecture series, I was invited, along with a St. John's University professor, to make a presentation to education students regarding the issues of bullying and cyber bullying.
I walked away feeling like I was the lucky person to learn something. It struck me how important it is to raise awareness and offer training to future teachers.
They were a great audience. Engaged and compassionate.
In this tangled mess, teachers represent one of the most critical strings. As most people know, most bullying doesn't happen in the classroom but the most consistent pieces of advice that experts give children is "Tell a trusted adult."
Aha! I think we've hit upon a huge disconnect -- but with training it can be improved. Adults, either in school or at home, don't really know what to do and kids know that instinctively. Even well meaning teachers say the wrong thing that can make a child feel even more isolated and hopeless.
OK, so here's an example that I hope horrifies you as much as it horrifies me. In my travels, I was visiting a 3rd grade classroom recently and although I wasn't there to discuss bullying, it must have been on their minds. Their hands were waving and their little bodies popping out of their seats trying to shout out their stories of bullying. I was shocked at their need to tell me all of this in such a flood of urgency. I wasn't sure why until I asked the teacher in front of the students, "Mrs. X, what do you think?" and she, (hold on to your seats) says "Oh, don't worry. They were just bullying you 'with love."
What????? Is that even possible? I don't think so.
You catch my drift. The kids can't confide in her. She makes it worse.
I think we really need to make high quality training mandatory or at least very accessible. There are many top notch organizations such as the National School Climate Center who host workshops. What if the school doesn't have the money? Have a fundraiser and send at least one or two teachers who can come back and share the materials and information. Teachers are not supposed to be social workers but they should feel prepared to react in an effective way when their students need them, especially when it directly affects the class climate. Teachers are also in a position to stop bullying behavior when they see it in their classroom or when they're walking the halls. They can also help encourage kids to be good digital citizens because young teachers, especially, have a better understanding of how kids communicate online.
I applaud St. John's for making this a part of their education outreach for future teachers. The children in their care will be very fortunate.