If you have ever heard the term “frequent flyer” used to describe students who visit the nurse very often, that would have described me. To this day, I hate hearing people say it. If you are a “frequent flyer,” it is for a reason, maybe not the one you are giving, but you have a problem nonetheless. And, frankly, my stomach did hurt, and it still does when I think about third grade. The nurse used to tell me, “Don’t let them get your goat,” which I didn’t understand until many years later to be another take on “Don’t let them get to you.” I like her wording though, because it implies that something was being taken from me, and it certainly felt like it.
Recently, the Federal Bullying Prevention Summit convened, and the experts there presented a wide variety of perspectives, each filtered through a different lens. Educators and researchers examined everything from how special education students experience a disproportionate level of bullying to the outgrowth of behaviors that escalate into dating violence. The consensus is that bullying acts like a symptom and a disease simultaneously. In my case, I was lucky enough that the school nurse “treated” my problems by acknowledging what was happening, giving me strategies, and genuinely caring about me—all steps that educators can take immediately.
Acknowledge what happens
Even though the nurse didn’t ever “do” anything about my situation, she did let me know that it mattered, simply by acknowledging that what I was saying had validity. She never promised me it would stop, or get easier. Nowadays, she would be responsible to take greater action. Students believe, often accurately, that adults don’t want to get involved; or adults believe that if a student wanted interference, the student would ask. The cruel and targeting behaviors are not simply a part of growing up, or an example of “boys being boys,” or girls going through a “catty phase.”
Important in this conversation is demystifying the term “bullying” in the first place, as well as offering overt explanations and specific examples. When students hear “bullying” used in a neutral situation, i.e., when they are not actually being bullied, they are able to internalize the message. WonderGrove Kids, one of Share My Lesson’s content partners, has powerful, brief videos with lesson plans and follow-up activities that incorporate bullying scenarios into content areas. "Know How to Handle Bullying" is a resource for elementary teachers, and when your students are hooked, you will find WonderGrove Kids has uploaded 42 other activities related to student behavior and character.
Even as adults, we find ourselves in situations where we simply can’t think of what to say until we are in the middle of peeling potatoes for dinner, only to think, “Oh … I wish I had said that!” or “Seriously, why didn’t I think of that earlier?” Sometimes we are caught off guard when another adult is shockingly inconsiderate or demonstrates bullying behaviors, only to wish we had responded on the spot. Sandrasarge, a Share My Lesson contributor, has a great “What to Do If It’s You” lesson plan that provides a wide range of scenarios that will help students through discussion and role-playing. If students have handled a situation before, even as part of an activity, there is a good chance that they will “play like they practiced,” instead of being frozen with fear by a new situation. These activities are appropriate for students in middle and high school, with varying degrees of scaffolding for the conversation.
Ultimately, there are too many adults who are either oblivious, hold the belief that the bullying behaviors are just a part of growing up, or don’t know how to help (some are even in helpless situations themselves). School, though, must be matchless in our support of students. We may or may not like it, but part of our charge is to develop healthy, socialized and productive members of society. The students who leave us will become the police officers, teachers, truck drivers, nurses and construction workers who will in turn interact with our own children. We literally influence the future our children will face by what we are willing to promote and by what we are willing to ignore. If I am your child’s teacher, you will have benefited from my having had a kind school nurse who acknowledged the bullying I was experiencing, gave me coping strategies and genuinely cared. I am able to be the teacher I am today because of one adult I knew a very long time ago. It has been 32 years since I timidly approached the nurse’s office as a “frequent flier.” Significantly, I don’t remember the name of the bully, but I still remember Mrs. Lewis.