When Alye Pollack’s YouTube videowas aired on The Today Show, many parents and teachers were shocked at the eighth-grader’s cry for help after suffering in silence for two years while being bullied. But several students who were interviewed didn’t share in the same surprise as their grown-up counterparts — some of those knew very well about the bullying in school that was going on.
To teachers, Pollack’s video should be a wake-up call that students are much more aware of what’s going on in schools than we are, and it should also be a reminder that cries for help aren’t always as in-your-face as an online video. Bullying happens in nearly every school despite being one of the most significant distractions from a successful education.
How can a teacher prevent bullying from happening in the classroom and beyond? Here are four tips that any teacher can implement to help curb bullying in his or her classroom.
Prevent Bullying Tip #1: Create a “Check It at the Door” Policy
Some call it a “safe space.” Elementary school teachers sometimes post it as “class rules.” Whatever your policy is called, it’s important for teachers to create a positive environment for every student the second they step into the classroom. And it’s important that students recognize what they’re entering into as soon as they open the door. A “Check It at the Door” policy is most effective when it’s posted on or outside the door to your classroom, in a place where students must see it every time they walk in the classroom. From time to time, it can also be re-printed, painted or created so that it gets noticed. When you confront theabully, it’s about principles and they’re not able to say that the victim is just over sensitive. Need an example to model? Take a look at the Check It at the Door Declaration of Harmony Cafés around the country.
Prevent Bullying Tip #2: Write Everything Down
Memory can be fleeting. But when we write down our experiences and document our actions, we’re able to see patterns or uncover truths we didn’t realize. Keeping a teacher’s journal can be very helpful in preventing bullying in your classroom for a number of reasons. Writing something down helps keep it in your memory longer, and you’re more likely to catch something that is recurring. When you’ve got written evidence, it’s harder to forget and ignore the problem, making you more pro-active as a teacher — and possibly a life-saver for a bullied student. If you record incidents on a computer, you can search for incidents in seconds with a few keystrokes. This comes in especially handy if you’re talking to a parent (of the victim or the bully), another teacher, an administrator or other legal entity.
Prevent Bullying Tip #3: Share Your Own Bullying Experience
Even if you’re a middle or high school teacher, your students are listening -– and looking up to you. Laughter can be a powerful teaching tool, and it’s important to show kids that you were once like them. Think about it: Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been launched to the top of charts. Why? Kids want to know they’re not alone. Perhaps you had acne, have a disorder of your own, can’t sing a note (but tried out for the school play anyway) or still struggle with inappropriate comments about your weight. Share how you got through it (or get through it), and became a successful professional. Or share with them some famous examples, like child star Taylor Lautner, better known as dream-boy of the Twilight series, who used to be bullied in school because he wanted to be an actor. These anecdotes might spark the confidence in a victim to come forward to an adult or even speak up for themselves.
Prevent Bullying Tip #4: Make Yourself Available to Students
Bullying doesn’t always happen in your classroom. In fact, a lot of bullying happens outside of school hours and even off of school grounds –- or online, as cyber bullying. But that doesn’t mean that the effects of bullying don’t trickle into the school day and that teachers are helpless. Often, when students are being bullied, the last thing they want to do is “tattle,” for fear of even more bullying. Thus, if they’re going to approach an adult for help, they’ll often want to do it when no one is around to hear them or at a time when friends are with them. Teachers who show up for class right before the start of the day, eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge every day and zoom out with the dismissal bell aren’t accessible to students who need a listening ear. Just like college professors do, elementary and secondary school teachers can post “open office hours,” where students know they can come in and discuss anything from grades to girlfriend woes. And, it doesn’t hurt to attend the occasional sporting event, school dance or academic competition to see peer-to-peer interactions outside of the classroom.
Ultimately, bullying isn’t easy to eliminate and every situation is different. But it’s far better to be proactive and err on the side of caution as you prevent bullying than learn a student is hurting themselves –- or worse -– because no one seemed to notice.