By Teachers, For Teachers
Recently, a military family I know - a husband and wife I went to high school with and their two children - was reassigned to South Carolina. This marked their fourth move in seven years. “Karen,” a seventh grader, and “Cody”, a fifth grader, began the year at a new school.
In a matter of days, Karen, an outgoing and bright student who loved school, went from never wanting to miss a day of classes to one who begs her parents to let her stay home. A strong student and an award-winning equestrian suddenly begged her mother to home school her. The reason? She was being bullied.
Teachers play a vital role in creating a sense of community in school. By making connections with students, you can better recognize instances of bullying and play a role in preventing them.
According to Stomp Out Bullying, a national anti-bullying and cyberbullying program for kids and teens, one out of four students experiences bullying in person. More than 40% of students have been cyberbullied. That means in a 24-student class, six kids have been bullied face-to-face and at least nine have been harassed online or by text message.
As teachers, we have an opportunity to be change agents. In Karen’s case, little effort was made to address the problem. Instead, staff skirted around the issue by changing her schedule. When Karen broke down crying, her teacher bandaged the problem by asking some students to sit with her at lunch.
After a couple of weeks, Karen’s parents decided to remove her from the school. They phoned the principal who reported teachers had “no idea” what was going on.
No idea she was being excluded for being “white” and “rich.”
No idea her days, from the very first one, were plagued with name calling and harassment.
Teachers cannot be accountable for every students’ behavior and teachers cannot be expected to hear everything, but we can make sure students know we care.
Making connections with students is easy and takes little time. It’s about getting to know students as both learners and as people. Opening the lines of communication with students can help to detect bullying as well as to educate the bully. With no connections to her teachers or peers, Karen was left to feel like an outcast. This feeling was strong enough to prompt her parents to enroll her in a private school.
We all hear the beginning of the school year hype about bullying. Schools hold large group presentations, the newspapers run cover stories and the nightly news airs reports. The trouble is, the students don’t know the people giving the message. Teachers have the opportunity to make a powerful impact on a daily basis and to become someone students can personally relate to.
Meet & Greet
Acknowledge students as they enter the classroom. This shows them you care that they are present. Ask them about their day or simply find a few seconds to look up, smile and say, “good morning” or “good afternoon.”
Even if you don’t know the student, a simple, “hello” will do. An even better approach is to use the student’s name in your hallway greeting. Strike up a little conversation about their schedule, their day or an extracurricular activity.
Be a Cheerleader
Sporting events, school plays, concerts and other functions are import parts of students’ lives. For some kids, it is the one reason they are in school. Showing students you appreciate their talents outside of the classroom lets them know you care. It also gives you something to talk about when you see them at school.
Infect Them with a Smile
Smiling is contagious and simple. It is a powerful tool that makes you appear open and warm.
Ask Students to Write about Themselves
Invite students to write a personal essay with a “Letter of Introduction Assignment.” Encourage them to write about their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Ask about an academic goal and their plan for reaching it so you can help them be successful. Welcome students to write about anything personal you may need to know; anything that may impact them as a learner.
By this time, everyone has started the new school year, but it’s not to late to become an ally to your students. Connect with them. Show them you are open and approachable, and you create an invitation for them to talk to you.
But teacher beware: prepare to steer them toward the guidance office. Given the open and sincere invitation, they will share what’s bottled up inside and it isn’t all pretty.
Once you've made connections with your students, you can be a resource for students who are bullied. They'll feel more comfortable reaching out to you and not feel so alone.
You can also use your relationships with the students who bully to open their eyes to the effects of their behavior. If they respect you, you'll be a much stronger voice in deterring this negative behavior. You can be the angel on their shoulder as they face the peer pressure that often leads to bullying.
How do you connect with students and prevent bullying in your classroom? Share in the comments section!