By Amanda MacFarlane
It feels like the last day I had an acceptable body weight by society’s standards was the day I was born. I was lucky sevens: 7 pounds, 7 ounces. I was always a chunky monkey: loved me some McDonald’s, Doritos and Pepsi. It was easy for me to be a target of bullying with the extra poundage I carried and the knit pants I wore until fifth grade (when I pleaded with my mom to get me jeans, cause really, I could handle the buttons and snaps).
But, looking back on the bullying experiences of my youth, I know that they were absolutely NOTHING compared to the ones I witness everyday.
As a teacher at a middle school, bullying is something I still have to endure daily. No, I don’t experience it on a personal level, but I experience it on an empathetic one.
My heart breaks day after day for those 11- and 12-year-olds I work with that are constant targets of bullying. For example, the small, skinny boy who is not ashamed of his love of “Firefly,” “Doctor Who” and Steve Jobs, but who others poke, prod and humiliate until he comes to me asking if he should change. The two bright, intelligent, beautiful girls who are brave enough to ask me to run a mediation between them and a group of five others who are harassing them for being smart and raising their hands in class. The popular basketball player who isolates himself on a park bench, with clenched fists and reddened, tear stained eyes, and only tells us that he has been assaulted by 10 girls after we promise him we won’t tell other students what happened.
These are only three students I’ve loved and tried to help and support over my nine years of teaching. As teachers, we are in a war zone against bullying everyday. And, with social networks, cell phones, and tablets, we are slowly losing the battle we are waging. Yes, my job is to educate, but more importantly, it is to build students up and hold a mirror up to them so they can see their beautiful strengths and what makes them unique. I strive to make my students feel safe, comfortable and loved in an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile and upsetting. I truly feel that the battle I am on the frontlines of needs more help than just the pre-packaged social work and counseling lessons that students receive at local schools.
So, what can we do as a community of mothers to help in this battle?
One: Talk to other parents openly and honestly about bullying. Recently, one of my beloved co-workers had to deal with bullying as a mother, not just as a teacher. She was nervous, afraid,and unsure of the choice to talk with the parents of the girls bullying her daughter, but the dialogue that was opened up saved her daughter’s relationship with the ones bullying her and her daughter’s fragile 10-year-old self esteem.
Two: Attend community forums about bullying. Recently, my church, Quest (which meets at Next Generation School) began a bullying message series that offers a Biblical perspective on how to deal with and respond to bullying. (The next program, this Sunday, April 22, addresses standing up to bullies.) I wish I could make it mandatory for my students and their parents to come. I feel Quest will offer a much more genuine, heartfelt response to bullying than anything students and parents could receive from schools that have to follow a protocol before a bully can receive appropriate consequences.
Three: Reinforce the inherent good, wealth and beauty of your children everyday. I know you already do this, but go do it some more!
I love my job. I am proud to be a professional teacher. While the battle against bullying seems never ending, I never lose hope that I can make a difference. We all have to take a stand against bullying: I have the opportunity to work with students, their parents, school administrators, and my team of fellow teachers. And, I hope you’re now encouraged to do the same.
Amanda McFarlane has been an ELA teacher for nine years. She is the wife of a Scottish hunk, mother of two beautiful babes, and can be found blogging about anything and everything that comes to mind. You can find out more about her church’s upcoming series and her classroom.