Bullying Within The Classroom

Even with the prevalence of Anti-Bullying campaigns, students are victimized daily.  Santrock (2013) suggests that outcomes of bullying include depression, health problems (headaches, dizziness, sleep problems, anxiety), and attempted suicides.  As educators, we might notice this through student withdrawal, disengagement, a decline in academic work, or a rise in defensive or aggressive actions.

 

During the Fall semester, my English students compose position papers, and many choose to discuss bullying as their topic.  What is concerning is a prevalence from their perception that bullying is not met with help or derision from educators in the same way other discipline actions might be handled.  In essence, teenagers feel that they don’t have the support needed if they are victims, or if they witness bullying happening to someone else.  I make it a point to discourage meanness of any kind within my class, because it is a duty of an educator to provide a safe and nurturing environment.  I also use opportunities to point out acceptable and unacceptable behavior from characters that we discuss, to help students connect it to their lives.  In terms of assisting the aggressors, I understand that bullying often stems from a personal issue.  I try to make connections with students who begin to exhibit aggressive behaviors to let them know that someone is there who cares, and to help put supports in place to mitigate victimization of others and ensure there is intervention for the prospective bully.

 

An issue of concern at my previous school was the ‘legal’ definition of bullying, which is unfortunately different than Santrock’s definition of ‘verbal or physical behavior intended to disturb someone less powerful.’  According to the Code of Virginia 22.1-276.01, bullying is defined as ‘any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma.’  That last phrase puts the burden of proof on the victim (‘repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma’) and limits the type of discipline a ‘perceived bully’ can receive until that threshold has been sufficiently met. Some educators are witnessing bullies who spread their aggression out amongst different victims, and therefore avoid the label of repetition or scope necessary to discern the actions as ‘severe’.  Because of this, it is necessary to take proactive steps to prevent bullying before it occurs, such as social education, a positive school climate, and so on.

 
Santrock, J. W. (2013). Children. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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