This isn’t a story about technology. It’s also a long post, but if you stick with me until the end, maybe it will help you see a few of your students in a different light.
I was visiting with my son a few nights ago about social interactions. I decided to share a story with him. It’s not a story I’m proud of, but it explained a point I was making. After sharing the story with him, I realized that maybe others would benefit from the story too.
When I was in elementary school I was the youngest in my class and the smallest child by far. I was also considered gifted. Now, I’m not certain how that label was given to me, but in reflection, I did learn faster and thought differently than others in my class. I am from a small community and my class probably had a total of 15 students. Some years we combined grades in one classroom. When you have that few children in a classroom, a gifted student sometimes sticks out like a sore thumb. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, without other children, so I interacted with other students more like an adult would. We also didn’t have a lot of money.
So to summarize, I was the small, smart, poor, articulate kid who was an easy target for most students. I was bullied a lot! When I say bullied, I don’t just mean verbally, because that did happen often, but also physically. Once in elementary school, a group of boys took me by the arms and threw me into a concrete wall. I ended up in the emergency room with a concussion. I couldn’t even tell you why it happened. Another time, a student threw a pencil at my head and the lead broke off. I still have the mark under my skin. Another time a student put pins in clay and made clay balls. He would throw them under my seat (and others, he bullied indiscriminately) when I was in the act of sitting down so I would sit on pins. The event that changed everything for me though, happened during my 8th grade year (our school was K-8).
Our teacher left us alone in the room often. One day I had said or done something to upset some boys in my class. I don’t remember what I said or did, but I had angered these boys. When the teacher left the room, 4 boys held me down and set my hair on fire with a lighter. Thankfully only about an inch was singed off, but the event was terrifying for me. To make matter worse, the teacher tried to support these boys instead of me. He would bring up the event often and make fun of me. On the day of our elementary graduation, that teacher made some snarky comment to me about the incident. I decided, at that exact moment, that I would never be bullied again.
Since our building was K-8, we chose which high school to attend. I walked into that high school with a chip on my shoulder and determination. I became the bully! I chose weak people to make fun of because it took the spotlight off of me. I stood up to people, sometimes for good, but sometimes for show. By my sophomore year, people were afraid of me and many didn’t like me. I had a small group of friends, whom I protected with my words as well. I was not bullied in high school. That was my goal. I was also not a nice person in high school. I made others feel like I had felt. That last part wasn’t a conscious outcome; I didn’t set out to hurt others. My goal was to protect myself.
I don’t hold ill feelings against those who bullied me. That hurt has long passed. I hope, for those that I bullied, the hurt has also passed. What I did realize through my experience is that many who bully are trying to protect themselves. What they are doing is wrong, but they need help! Punishment empowers them, builds their image of a badass. I decided in college to be a better person and I was. I found a balance between being stepped on and being a horrible person.
What do I want to you take away from this? Look at the bully. Why are they hurting others? Consequences need to happen for poor actions, but until you know the root of the problem, the bully won’t stop. There are truly cruel and broken people out there who hurt for the pleasure of it. But, I’m convinced that many of our bullies are hurt people protecting themselves and they need someone to help them.