One Elementary School Teacher Explains the Impact Bullying Has in Her School, and What She Is Doing to Change It

Bullying takes many forms.  It affects people of all ages, races, and income levels.  It is a virus that has spanned generations and has reached pandemic proportions.  It needs to stop.

  • Your three-year-old daughter doesn’t want to go to daycare because she doesn’t have the right kind of light-up sneakers.  Her “friend” said she had to wear the sneakers or she wouldn’t play with her.
  • Your ten-year-old son hides his love of reading science fiction books because “the cool kid” in his class said that science fiction books are for dorks.
  • Your sixteen-year-old daughter refuses to eat because her “friends” said she looks chubby.

As a long-time third and fourth grade teacher I have witnessed bullying in a variety of forms and circumstances.  In school, bullying usually occurs out of the classroom during times when children have some  freedom to socialize.  Upon entering the classroom after recess I have watched kids experience a frenzy of emotions and who are eager to retell recess war stories of battling cliques.

I have also seen the happy, enthusiastic learner lose her zest for learning and shrink into a shell when called on because she is afraid a handful of students will make fun of her.

Over the past several years I have worked closely with our school guidance counselor to research methods to combat bullying and put an end to children feeling insecure in school.

When students were asked to complete an anonymous survey about bullying, 85 percent of fourth graders admitted to being involved in bullying; either as the one being bullied, the one doing the bullying, or the one who stood by as a witness to bullying and did nothing to stop it.

When asked in an open forum discussion to elaborate, some students bravely responded that if they experienced being bullied or witnessed a friend being bullied, they felt that it would get worse if they told an adult.  Students believe the bully will retaliate  if they tell an adult.

A few children even admitted to bullying and remorsefully confessed that they did it to make themselves feel more powerful and in charge.

A strategy that I now use in my classroom that has been pivotal in changing bullying behavior with my students is to instill a respect for the differences we have.  I teach children that our differences are what makes us interesting, and what helps to make our classroom fun and unique.  Students understand that if we all looked the same, dressed the same, and had the same interests and talents our classroom would be a boring place.

When we respect the strengths and interests of our peers and recognize and respect our own strengths, we can learn so much and grow as a community of learners.

Each morning we have a meeting in which we greet each other respectfully, taking the time to look each other in the eye and make each individual in the room feel welcomed and appreciated.  I offer students a chance to share special news or events in their lives, or to bring a special item to share and discuss.  I teach students how to compliment each other, how to really pay attention and listen to one another, and how to ask questions to understand each other better.

After starting this practice several years ago, I have seen a vast improvement in the interactions of my students not only in the classroom, but also when they are not with me, especially during recess and lunchtime.  When children learn how to appreciate each other and the differences we possess, it instills a respect for each other.

When all students feel validated, respected, and accepted, they are less likely to bully each other.  Instead students can celebrate each other, and grow and learn peacefully.

Stacey McCord uses her expertise to improve the lives of children in many ways.  In addition to being the mother of three young children, she is an elementary school teacher, and an accomplished author of children’s books.