Let's have a chat, shall we? We all hear the anti-bullying organizations saying how much they will crack down on bullying, how schools are putting a zero tolerance policy in place, and how teachers will be more direct in dealing with bullies. Do these tactics even work? Is bully even the right word? It makes it sound so trivial. When you hear the word “bully”, the image you conjure up in your brain is one of a tall middle schooler shaking you down for lunch money. Not of someone who harasses you day in and day out for every little thing you do. Someone who makes your academic life a living nightmare solely depending on what you are interested in and/or what you look like. Overweight? Look forward to people calling you fatty for years simply because the one person who did it has more friends than you. Like to draw? If you are seated next to anyone who has the slightest amount of hate for you, be prepared to block any so-called “accidental” pencil markings heading your way. Band? Maybe you can try to lessen the blows a bit by not trying out for marching. Combine all that and you're a walking, talking bulls-eye. At this moment, I have been out of high school for 6 years. While high school was indeed hell, the worst experiences I've had with “bullies” happened in middle school. May sound like a cliché, but gym class really can end up as a perfect opportunity for a “bully” to act. What is not cliché is while most of the class is running around barefoot on the court under the ever so vigilant gym teacher who is sitting in the corner with their nose in their phone, the “bullies” make their way to the locker room where they pour a cup of their own piss onto your tennis shoes. You find out at the end of class in the locker room along with everyone else and the only two people who are laughing at you. Despite being found out, they claim they did not do it so you go home with your shoes in a plastic bag like nothing ever happened. But as you know, one child out of a whole class walking out of the gym and onto the bus with their shoes in a bag is not a cause for any concern by a teacher. Let's fast forward a bit; my family moves to another state in my last year of middle school. I, of course, I am ecstatic at the idea of leaving my old middle school life behind and start fresh. So what happens? Singled out by a girl with a posse due to my weight issues and when I reach my limit, I make it physical and push her. Once again, this happened during a gym class. While there was a teacher present, the only thing they did was tell us to stop and to get back to our activities. After that class, the girl decided to tell everyone that, instead of a push, I touched her breasts. It spread like wildfire and for the next few weeks, nearly every girl I passed in the hall crossed her arms over her chest and/or called me a lesbian. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a lesbian, but the fact is that I was being called something I was not and accused of something I did not do. When classes were over in this school, students walked to their next class in lines; teachers standing guard by their doors. Absolute negligence is the only reason something like this could have gone without action. It did go one step further with my mother arriving at the school and having a conversation with the guidance counselor about it, but the other girl was never brought in for the conversation. I don't recall much after that since my family moved back to our home state. From then on it was mainly being called fat; being asked out as a joke, and having multiple drawings messed with or destroyed for my four years of high school. Where am I going with all of this? Zero tolerance policies only work when the school has hired staff who actually care about the students, their mental well-being, and who continue to do so. During my time in the two middle schools and one high school I have attended, not a single teacher had interfered in a considerable way in any instances involving “bullies”. I get it, working with dozens of children for most of your days gets exhausting and annoying. But you have a duty to perform, not only as an educational provider, but as a caregiver. This sort of harassment cannot be completely avoided. But when it does happen and you notice it, or a child comes to you for help, the correct response is not simply “Knock it off and get back to your seat.” Telling that to students does not mean nothing will ever happen again after that or that something else between them is not going on. Harassment needs to be stopped at the source, which is informing the parents and having them take the action necessary to correct their child's behavior. Now not every parent is going to do this since every now and then you have those that believe their child can do no wrong, but the ones who do will make a greater impact in the nature of harassment and ending the instances nearly as soon as they arise.
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