Principals: Act As If Your Child Is the Target
A trio of third grade girls spent the last couple of weeks picking on a classmate until the child’s parents came in and spoke to the teacher. Here’s what the teacher didn’t say: “Kids will be kids.” “It’s hard to see everything.” “Sometimes he brings it on himself.”
Instead, she took the complaint seriously and set out to correct the problem.
She met with each girl and talked to each parent. Each girl wrote a letter of apology to the student and to his parents. The teacher didn’t threaten or bully the girls herself, but she made it clear she wouldn’t tolerate that kind of behavior in her classroom.
Perhaps I was especially struck by the teacher’s assertive actions because I had just seen Bully – it finally came to a theater near me as they say. I was prepared for the sadness and for the pain that bullied kids and their families go through. But I have to tell you, I was completely unprepared for the fury I felt as I watched various school officials patronize parents, ignore their pleas to protect their children, and pretend that bullying is just a part of daily life in school – so get over it.
At the middle school, maybe the toughest part of any kid’s education, the assistant principal is clueless and condescending. It was tough enough to watch her cajole a boy into shaking hands with another boy who had been bullying him with impunity. What left me talking out loud in the theatre, however, was her callous treatment of a boy’s humble parents who come to see her about the harassment of their child on the bus. Like a slick used car salesman, the principal tries to sell the parents a line about how she’s ridden that very bus and the kids were “angels.” No kidding. She’ll look into it, she promises them, but hey, take a look at the pictures of my new grandchild!
Later a hard eyed woman assigned to handle discipline problems listens while the boy perpetually targeted by bullies softly and diffidently accuses her of not doing anything. “How do you know I didn’t do anything?” she retorts. “I talked to him and he stopped [sitting on the boy’s head on the bus].”
“Yeah, but now he does other things,” the boy responds. The woman sighs as if this is such a big burden for HER to deal with. (Eventually the filmmakers had to stop filming on the bus and intervene, telling the parents how badly their child was being treated.)
From these two school officials to the superintendent who insists that bullying is not a problem in her district– at least not more than anywhere else – it’s clear that the adults in schools who could actually do something about bullying choose to ignore it. Even when a child in her district commits suicide as a result of bullying, the superintendent stands by her assessment that it’s just part of life in school.
In my own career in education I’ve heard school officials give parents the same runaround when it comes to bullying. Kids will be kids. It’s just part of growing up. He didn’t really mean it. We can’t see everything. He sometimes brings it on himself.
I can feel my blood pressure rise as I write this. It’s all nonsense.
Every kid has the right to go to school in a safe environment. Adults can do something if they choose to. They can educate kids about bullying and make sure they know that there are consequences to bullying behavior – and then follow through. I am positive that if the grandchild of the assistant middle school principal in the film were being bullied, there would be hell to pay.
So hats off to the third grade teacher in real life who understands that part of her job is to make sure that kids respect one another. If it’s ignored in elementary school, bullying flourishes in middle and high school. Principals need to act as if it’s their personal child that’s the target.