Nobody Should Go Through It
by Sara Turansky
Ms. Turansky teaches at American Community School in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
"You give me your lunch money, or I'm gonna beat you up!"
These words no longer hold the terror that they used to back when I was in fourth grade. I was a smart kid...I paid the money. And when I didn't have money, the solution was simple, I stole it from my mother.
Over the past month, I have been taking a graduate course on school violence through the University of Northern Iowa Professional Development (I figure I'll give them a plug because it is such a great course!). I originally enrolled for this course as a "filler" between computer courses. At first, I figured that it would not be relevant to my present teaching situation because the only weapons around here are the ones carried by the perimeter guards. Yep, I was quite wrong!
The first module was on bullying and as the opening statement shows, I have been a victim of it. A silent victim no more. Everything that I learned in the class, I shared with my present seventh and eighth graders. Some of them thought that verbal abuse being violent was funny. "That's not violent. Those are just words." They were the ones who use "just words." But some of the other students, perhaps silent victims themselves, knew the truth: that the scars from those verbal assaults can cause more damage than physical ones. Bullying is one of those crimes where the victims often remain silent.
As I was finishing up the course, a middle school student wrote into Teachers.Net asking why teachers let students call other students names and throw things at them. He was talking about himself, the victim. I wrote back that sometimes teachers are so busy that we are not aware of how kids are treating each other. Also, we may have been raised with the idea that "everyone goes through it" and you will, too.
But I am here to tell you, my colleagues, that NOT EVERYONE HAS TO GO THROUGH IT. Everyone has the right to a safe learning environment, and that includes not being harassed by administrators, teachers or fellow students. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide that environment. I plan to take that step at my school. Maybe it starts with only one person. The important thing is that it starts.
The most important thing that was learned (or reinforced, as I think we already knew) was that it takes a community. Ideally, it is the school community - teachers, administrators, parents, teachers, support staff - working with the "village." In Eagle Rock, Iowa, they use a character education program called Character Counts http://www.charactercounts.org, which is based on six pillars of character:
The six pillars are written on the police patrol cars and when a juvenile offender is stopped, they are asked, "What pillar did you break?" Wow! If only we could get cooperation like that in all communities! In another Iowa town one of the local storekeepers has the pillars written on the outside wall of his store. To know that these communities are working together for the betterment of the youth fills me with hope for the rest of the world.
This course has affected my life and my students' lives. I know that the environment in my room was already "safe," but you couldn't tell by looking. The next step for me is to have the kids (my number one free resource!) make signs promoting that. I'll let them design them as they are pretty creative in their own right.
I firmly believe in that saying, "What doesn't kill me will make me stronger." I look back at my own experience of being bullied and say, "I'm glad it happened." Because of it, I can face the problem and use the experience to strengthen me as a teacher and as a human being, and to see that other kids are saved from having to experience bullying.