Teachers: Don’t They See The Signs?

31 Jul
English: A special education teacher assists o...

English: A special education teacher assists one of her students. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I can’t go, I’m sick.”

Sound familiar?

We’ve all made up excuses in one form or another to get out of going to school. One of the main reasons? To avoid being bullied.

School is a place where you meet the same people every single day. Naturally, it is also the place where you come face to face with your bullies every single day. The cycle of constantly being bullied at school, irregardless of the nature of bullying, is one reason why some students choose to stay at home, a place where they can feel safe.

This safe haven leaves such a sense of security that students being bullied fall ‘sick’ more often, choosing to stay home rather than face the torture that comes with going to school. Parents, of course, would be concerned for their child. Well, most of them anyway. When they hear the words “I’m sick”, parents would be more concerned over their child’s physical well being, so focused on the child’s supposed ‘illness’ that they fail to miss the signs and pick up that it is merely an excuse to miss school. Teachers, on the other hand, should know better.

A student missing a couple of days worth of schooling throughout the year is normal. Perhaps they were sick or there could be some personal issues at home that needed to be dealt with. However, when a student is consistently absent far more than what is considered normal, teachers should be able to pick up that something is wrong.

I understand that a teacher’s job is mainly to educate but when it becomes so obvious that something is wrong with a particular student, shouldn’t they do something about it? Perhaps talk to the parents about their concerns or maybe even speak privately to the student in a caring manner to encourage a response as to why the student is constantly absent?

Instead, from my own experience, some teachers don’t seem to care. They are there simply to teach and if a student misses school, it is their own fault. Some teachers don’t even hide their annoyance with these students, choosing to attack them publicly by making them feel guilty for missing school. Don’t they realise that this makes the student feel worse? Not only do they have to face their bullies but now they have to face their teachers as well?

That being said, I understand that it is a hard job. There are on average twenty or so students per class and it can become hectic when you are teaching five to six classes a day. Teaching is a tough job, no doubt about it, but students, especially younger ones, don’t know any better. They don’t understand the frustrations a teacher feels and instead take on their teacher’s behaviour toward them as another incident of bullying, forcing them to feel that they have no one to turn to.

It may be hard to distinguish the reasons why a student misses school but when it comes to bullying it is fairly obvious, as when the student is in school, they:

1. Tend to stick with one or two close friends or sit by themselves. They isolate themselves from others.

2. Rarely participate. They are so quiet that sometimes no one realises that they are actually present in class. They are invisible.

3. Often, despite the weather being warm, wear long sleeved clothing to either hide their scars/ bruises, hide their body, or in some way feel the extra clothing helps them hide themselves, blending in with others.

These are the common signs that I’ve picked up on both as a victim of bullying and as an observer (I isolated myself in school and in some way, this honed my observation skills). When the signs are clear, shouldn’t a teacher, as the adult and authority figure, pick up on it and take action? Or is that too much to ask from a teacher, who’s only job is to teach?

What do you think? Should teachers take a more active role in helping bullies and the bullied?

Write your thoughts below. I’d love to hear them.

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4 Responses to “Teachers: Don’t They See The Signs?”

  1. Rockman July 31, 2012 at 16:08 #

    If it were only as simple as seeing the signs and intervening. For the climate of bullying, aggression and conflict to change in schools, a cultural shift must take place. One where every adult renews their commitment to be better versions of themselves… which includes, above all else, role modeling the courage to be decent. While I agree that teachers, as adults, must take an active role, I disagree with the strategy of targeting. Targeting a particular group of individuals, be it parents, educators or the bullies themselves, feeds only the cycle of aggression and defensiveness that perpetuates conflict. I admire anyone wanting to take a stand to wake people up to the epidemic of youth violence, though too often do I read of finger pointing more than examination and ownership. Sure, we need to hold each other accountable, but there are ways to do so without engaging in cliched blaming… and unfairly, teachers seem to be the easiest targets. I for one spend my days with the teachers I believe you’re speaking about (as a high school counselor who deals all day with disciplinary issues)… the teachers who seem not to react in the ways I prefer they would. And rather than accusing them of sticking their heads in the sand or of going to work only to “collect a paycheck” or of giving in to their own fears at the expense of their students… I spend my energy being as visible as I can in taking a stand against bullying. I spend my energy being obvious with my support and appreciation of the teacher and the student who seems timid or unsure. I spend my energy challenging the bullies to be better versions of themselves and stirring in them the compassion that is missing. And I spend my energy trying (though not always succeeding) to be the best version of myself I can be. It’s an awfully challenging time for young people, as it is for parents… and as it is for teachers… which is why we need to challenge each other to be better champions more than we need to berate each other for shrinking in ways which we all do at times. My intention isn’t to condemn your words, because I have the utmost respect for anyone who cares enough to elevate the issue… I guess this is my way of doing my small part in harnessing any caring people we can in being even better than we think we’re being.

    • throughawindshield July 31, 2012 at 17:43 #

      That is an excellent response. You make very valid points. I’m always interested in hearing what others think of these issues and you have far more expertise in this area than I do as a high school counselor. I’m simply writing from the point of view of a victim of bullying, having been bullied all through my schooling years and recently out of high school with all the memories of the pain intact. I’m also writing from my experience here in New Zealand where the situation perhaps is different as bullying isn’t treated as a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. You’re right, with an issue such as bullying, putting the blame on just one group or targeting is not fair. However, I feel that my teachers could have handled my bullying differently, even by simply referring me to the school counselor. Maybe it is hard for teachers to intervene, perhaps they missed the signs. I understand that teachers often try to be fair to each student and not show favouritism but to make me feel worthless and pick on me constantly in front of my peers rather than other students? That does not seem very fair. Some teachers even shunned me when I needed help and in fact did show favouritism to other students.

      This wasn’t just the case with me. A number of people I know chose to skip school because nothing was being done to help them. Some teachers even scoffed at the notion that bullying was taking place. In fact, some teachers were the bullies.

      I didn’t see your response as a condemnation at all. In fact, I respect you for it. It certainly opened my eyes and encouraged me to see things from another point of view. I enjoy that and certainly will help me in approaching this issue of bullying in the future. Thank you!

      • Rockman July 31, 2012 at 22:43 #

        As you know all too well, being mistreated in any way, especially when you’re young, leaves a mark… but as I can read in your words, the mark that being bullied has left inside you has already become your motivation. The quality of resiliency, the ability to bounce back from a pain you’ve endured, has already positioned you to champion the cause of inspiring other young people to feel less alone and more brave, and to educate adults (of all titles), without blaming and without seeking pity, as to how to more quickly protect, reassure and strengthen the young targets of bullying. Meanness comes in so many forms, and seeing it every day in my school (and for having felt it myself, as we all do), just as you felt it so often, has to become the springboard for deeper understanding and more inspiring choices. Be proud of yourself for having the courage to endure what you have, and for using what you felt and what you feel to become the best version of yourself. You did not deserve the attacks and there most certainly wasn’t anything wrong with you to draw such attention… in fact, there is clearly A LOT right with you. And though I haven’t met you, the perspective, reason and convictions you write with will undoubtedly serve the bullies themselves, the adults in the lives of young people, and the targets of bullying very, VERY well. Keep stepping forward and thank you for growing into the kind of person you have.

      • throughawindshield August 1, 2012 at 17:54 #

        Thank you, Rockman! You have no idea how much your kind words and comments mean to me. I’m still learning and growing as a person. I hope that others out there who have gone through something similar to what I have will see that they are not alone and that it is possible to get through the hard times. This blog is essentially for them.

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