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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Bullying in the Middle School

Bullying in the Middle School

Related Tags: 6-8 Middle School
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Bullying comes in many different forms, and by middle school the damage that a bully can inflict can last for a lifetime. For some kids the bullying is an extension of that which occurred in elementary school. For others, it begins in middle school, when the differences in sizes, shapes, and personalities become more evident, gaining more attention from peers and schoolyard enemies.

For middle schoolers, the internal conflict of "Who am I? Am I the same as everyone or different from everyone?" takes on an external nature and, at times, manifests itself in bullying.

But are we doing enough to combat the different forms of bullying? Does the staff at your school know what forms bullying takes, where bullying occurs (both on and off campus), and what their role in fighting bullying is?

Are students at ease in finding an adult to confide in?

Do students really know what bullying is, or do they "suck it up" and keep quiet because it's "just the way things are?"

For that matter, do teachers feel it's just the way things are, or worse, do teachers bully as well?

What happens when the formally oppressed become the tormentors? Does that change how a school reacts to a bully?

It is our duty as teachers to look at ourselves clearly and honestly to help find answers to these questions. It is our responsibility to keep these students safe in our care as well as to help them achieve. And, let's face it, a frightened student does not an achiever make.

Join in the discussion and share your thoughts, anecdotes, and solutions.

-Heather WG

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Howard McCoy's picture

Joe,
You bring up an excellent point about bystanders and the power they consciously or unconsciously give to the bully. A couple of years ago I was teaching a literacy course called Academic Literacy, which used themes of safety, health, social justice, and community to boost literacy. While we covered themes such as bullying (both physical and cyber), we also felt it necessary to cover the topic of the bystander effect and how it related to empowering the bully. By using news clippings and anecdotes, we were effectively able to make students aware of these issues.

Debbie Williams's picture

I think that there are many instances in which teachers have not been vigilant about face-to-face bullying that has been going on since there were schools! The victims feel powerless because they don't feel that there is anyone who'll do something! I recently retired, and I was known as a watchdog of sorts for the oppressed. Several times some of my students used to bring their friends who were not my students to tell me what was going on because they assured the victim that I would do something! I also had many class discussions about the consequences of posting damaging things online. I have to say that I didn't see many of my colleagues doing much of the same thing.

[quote]I think that we as educators have to have some ownership of this problem. We've distanced ourselves from the education of netiquette in such a way that the kids have forged ahead with no guidance. It's like giving them cars without teaching them road signs and maps and how-to.

Now, we have some catch up to do. I agree with Chad. We can't disallow their mobile technology, but we must figure out how to break them of habits we saw them making from the sidelines. Now we have to step up and be involved.

-Heather WG[/quote]

Michael Sylvestre's picture
Michael Sylvestre
Secondary Social Studies & English Teacher From Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Though bullying has always existed; and will most likely continue to exist throughout the foreseeable future, I believe the impacts it is capable of creating has been amplified exponentially as technology becomes an increasingly pervasive force in our lives. Never before have threatening acts of harassment and ridicule been so easy to perform on a large scale.
I am unable to propose a solution the dilemma. Banning the use of technological devices in school would be counterproductive, not to mention ineffective (as teachers and administrators are powerless to control external cyber-bulling).
I agree with notion of maintaining a strict non-bullying policy, enforced with severe disciplinary measures enacted upon offenders. I also concur that suspension is not necessarily an effective deterrent.
However, such strategic plans fail to address the fundamental cause of the problem, the bullies themselves, or more specifically, the reasons why bullies bully. Of course, there is a wide range of motivating forces with the potential of leading to the adoption of tactics intended to intimidate and torment.
This simply leads further questions. What are these factors, and why are some children able to overcome them without resorting to bullying behavior? Does a child's genetics predispose them to the activity? What can be done to solve, or at least alleviate the predicament we are currently faced with?
It will require the combined efforts of teachers, administrators, parents, and other community leaders to effectively address this problem, yet I believe safe, community-based schools are a realistic goal worth striving for.

Miss Cathy's picture

Mr. Halligan presented at my school earlier this year. He was absolutely amazing, and held the attention of our entire school. The students were deeply touched by his words. He even gave an evening presentation to parents.

I feel our students benefited from this type of presentation. It was real, not just the teacher in the room leading a discussion.

[quote]Hi Heather,

Thanks for opening up this discussion! Last week, we had a police presentation on Cyberbullying, and my grade eight students weren't happy with the way that some of the examples were covered. They felt that they wanted to do more research into some of the incidents that were talked about.

We had our first presentation today: the story of 13 year old Ryan Halligan, who committed suicide after continuous face-to-face and internet bullying. Powerful conversations about being the bully and the bullied.

The internal conflict that you talk about is so prevalent at this age. I remember hearing a quote once, and I have used it at some point every year since. It goes like this:

"I'm not who I think I am. I'm not even who you think I am, but I am who I think you think I am."

Stephen[/quote]

Lori Day's picture
Lori Day
Educational Psychologist and Consultant at Lori Day Consulting
Blogger

I addressed this topic in a recent column that I write for my local newspaper. Here is the link, because it would be too much to cut and paste here:

http://www.wickedlocal.com/concord/news/education/x1777800239/A-DAY-IN-T...

Basically, I feel that too much of the conversation around bullying prevention focuses on the role of schools and not enough on the role of parents. I believe there is shared responsibility for sure, and other Edutopia members have done an excellent job of responding to this question, especially regarding what schools and teachers can do, so I won't repeat what is already posted here. However, I do think there should be more education for parents. If you're interested in this view, you can read more via the link above.

Thanks, Heather, for raising this. The topic of bullying is finally garnering the attention it has long deserved.

Larissa Spare's picture
Larissa Spare
7th Grade English

I wanted to contribute to this conversation as someone who was bullied in elementary and middle school. My clothes were made fun of, my desire to have all A's, my nerdiness, my weirdness, and my lack of coordination. Some of these things I could help, I didn't have to be a suck up or the teachers pet, I didn't have to have all A's. However, some of these things I couldn't help. Many days in 5th and 6th grade I would come home crying because of what someone said. Of course, that was 15 years ago when we didn't have cyberbullying or text messages. I could come home and escape from my bullies to a home that was loving and safe.

As I spend time reflecting on this time and talking about it with my students, I realize that the bullies didn't really go away, nor did they stop saying things. I eventually stop caring so much of what they thought of me. I started surrounding myself with people that actually cared about me and doing things that I cared about. I began to be okay with who I was and what my interests were. I began to see what my life would look like after I left middle and high school.

I can get very overwhelmed with what my students say and do to each other. I can get very angry and very sad. Some days when they leave my classroom, I want to weep at what they are doing to each other. For me these feelings can be consuming and almost paralyze me into doing nothing, but what I can do and control is what I say to them about bullying. I share with them stories from the news of what is happening with bullying. I share with them stories of my life, even the one of a former bully marrying my little sister.

More than anything, I can create and environment that allows them to be themselves and care with them and tell them I care about them, and what to help them or point them to people that can help them. I can stop the name-calling in my classroom. I can create a positive environment where I use positive language and encourage them to do the same.

I am not saying that it works all the time, because I am definitely not perfect. However, I know that when those students know that someone cares about who they are and who they are becoming, it helps them not feel quite alone in whatever happens in the hallway or on the internet.

I would agree with Heather on what middle schoolers are thinking about who they are. We have to continually create an environment that allows them to discover that. And that starts with the teachers and what they do in their classrooms.

Shari Sjogren's picture

Help! I need advice.

I am currently teaching separate gender classrooms of 8th graders in an English immersion program at a private school in Mexico. I am experiencing classroom difficulties relating to bullying that I need to address. Today after a class game a bully prodded an angry kid until he reacted by jumping on him and choking him out. The boy's face was blue when we got the fight broken up.

My principal sent all boys involved back to their next period five minutes later and told me that she would call the parents this afternoon. I tried to convince her to do something more and not to let them back into class. (I'm not allowed to call the parents myself). She sat down and showed me the videos of three in-class fights that happened before and told me that she wasn't allowed to do anything about those, and that we cannot keep a student out of class.

My current plan is to disobey orders and not let them back into my classes until they finish a really detailed internet research project, one on bullying and the other on anger management, including personal reflection.

Meanwhile, I intend to spend significant class time on the issue of bullying (as I said, there are other instances, and the bully mentioned is only one of three major bullies in a class of 17).

Help! I need resources, suggestions, and other things that I haven't thought of. What internet sites do you suggest? What questions would you have them answer? Where can I find Olweus style anti-bulling resources for free? (I earn pesos.) Got any suggestions for classroom activities?

Hubert V. Yee's picture
Hubert V. Yee
social media and marketing manager of startup

Hi Shari,

We understand that educators have limited money and resources. On Edutopia we have lots of free resources on bullying. Feel free to dive in and share them with others.

Jamie Armin's picture
Jamie Armin
Health Science & Life Skills Middle School teacher from MA

I use the book "Letters to a Bullied Girl" Olivia Gardner, Emily Buder, Sarah Buder. It is a compilation of letters sent to Olivia from the bullied, the bystanders and the bullies. I have the kids read/present various letters to the class. We discuss and work on how to create empathy in our society. It is one part of the anti-bullying program that I have out together in our school. The book is powerful!

shanebravo's picture
shanebravo
In the world the parent-child relationship is one of the longest lasting so

Well said
What the reason and why do teachers and principals neglect bullying and not find a settlement to stop it. Too many kids are demise because of bullying and when you report your kid is being bullied and intimidate they don't even take any action. School officials should do something to stop this. We have to be very hawk-eyed against this type of behavior because some of them become terrify and bully you.

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