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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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Stephen Hurley's picture
Stephen Hurley
Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
Blogger 2014

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

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Blogger 2014

You're quote, as hard to follow as it is, is exactly what being a middle schooler is all about. I think, you think, maybe I'm, maybe you're...

Teachers and students have a relatively easy time recognizing what they themselves knew: hitting, cussing, certain hot-button words. But beyond that, it's the cyberbullying and whispered comments and gossiping that also corrupts a person's school experience.

I once worked at a district that treated gossiping like bullying and it had an impact. In other words, if a rumor you were involved in spreading could be traced to an incident, you were suspended just as long as someone who threw the punch. Powerful, no?

So another question is: do we ban electronics or do we teach them how to use them and how not to use them? We need to identify what bullying is, and teachers must be up-to-date on how to talk about cyberbullying in particular.

Thanks for jumping into the discussion, Stephen. Good to hear from you on the Edutopia boards.

-Heather WG

Chad Sansing's picture
Chad Sansing
Charter school humanities teacher for non-traditional middle grade learners

If we want to bring the distance betwen our students and authentic experts and experiences to zero, then I think we need to promote not only cyber-safety courses, but cyber-etiquette courses, units, or lessons, as well. Electronics are already too pervasive and useful to be kept out of kids hands at school, even when officially banned.

Connecting with an authentic audience - like commenting on another schools' projects or Tweeting with kids in Tanzania - goes a long way in enaging students with what they should be doing. A real purpose and sense of doing something special can help motivate kids to learn how to chat and comment constructively with and for others. As those skills develop, in-house closed networks like Edmodo or a private wiki can be used to give kids a sandbox that is aggressively, but warmly, monitored and modeled by a teacher. The private networks can be opened to others once students learn how to socialize online with one another in positive ways and have used the networks to help one another craft quality work for publication.

So, to help curb cyber-bullying, maybe we could help kids build their identities as responsible tech users with more distant, "special" audiences and opportunities while expecting them to use what they've learned to treat one another well online.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Blogger 2014

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

MDavis's picture

Just yesterday we had the Verizon presentation on Cyberbullying and the you could have heard a pin drop. The reason, in our area about 4 weeks ago a girl committed suicide from cyberbullying and just plain bullying. I teach 8th grade and afterwards they weren't laughing, especially when they realized that they could be brought up on charges and mommy and daddy couldn't really help them. Many of the middle school students text with their phones in their pockets and we as teachers are having a really hard time stopping them.

Joe Brown's picture

My school is involved in a Bullying Prevention Program named Olweus. Olweus is a professor at Clemson who has studied bullying internationally.

The key is not so much the bully but the bystanders. Olweus says that the bystanders lay on a continuum from closest to the bully, probably encouraging the behavior, to the other side which describes those students who don't like what's going on and think something should be done to stop it. The program aims to move students to the far side of the continuum and equip them to take a stand.

Patrick McMillan's picture
Patrick McMillan
Single dad (2 boys, 12 yrs & 9 yrs) Denver, Colorado

I have heard great things about the Olweus program and I do wish our school would look into it. I found and very effective program for children who find themselves the victim called Bullies to Buddies. Here is the link: http://www.bullies2buddies.com/ It helped my sixth grader very much. I would encourage teachers to refer this site to parents of kids who are experiencing bullying. As a parent I was not comfortable with leaving it up to the school to "fix the problem" and felt it is my duty and responsibility to empower my kids to take a stand for themselves, and their peers.

The devastating effects of bullying can last a lifetime, but it is not just the victims who's lives are effected. The children with bullying tendencies need help too, not punishment.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture
Blogger 2014

Thanks for this other perspective of bullying in the schools. This issue of victim-proofing is powerful in combination with real discipline and consequences for those who bully. It makes a valuable point, that in making students more aware of victimization, we are helping to diffuse bullying from an entirely different angle.

Thanks for the comment!

-Heather WG

Patrick McMillan's picture
Patrick McMillan
Single dad (2 boys, 12 yrs & 9 yrs) Denver, Colorado

To actually say out loud "Who cares about bullying?" and "I don't" makes me seriously wonder why some people even take up the profession of teaching children. I believe these kids who bully model the behavior of their parents and teachers. If the kid is being a "jerk" it more likely than not that he is modeling the jerks he has for parents and/or teachers.

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