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A Bully-Free Zone

The school bell rings and students rush out of their classes to proceed on with their busy lives. Hesitant, Jonathan slowly walks out of his class largely bombarded with thoughts of fear and insecurity, cautiously scrutinizing the halls hoping to escape the promised actions of his bully. As Jonathan proceeds through the corridors, a safe departure from the hands of his oppressor seems unthinkable. Outside the school waiting is a six-foot tall, two-hundred pound individual wearing a thick leather jacket. When he notices Jonathan, he belligerently approaches him with a violent shove and a crushing blow to the chest. Unable to neither defend himself nor pacify the situation, the bully quickly steals the money in Jonathan's pocket with pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, it is this type of horror that confronts the lives of an often-ignored population of students all over the country. Bullying is the reprehensible act of causing intentional harm to others, mentally and/or physically. Although physical assault occurs more predominantly, bullying can take on many forms, namely: verbal harassment, such as name-calling or teasing, and social harassment which includes threatening or exclusion. Ultimately, this treatment can lead to numerous physical and psychological long and short-term effects. In order reduce the treacheries of bullying at school and to fully address the issue, teachers, students, and victims must be able to understand the bully at a deeper level in terms of any particular behaviours and characteristics.

A bully is a quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates others (Random House, 2006). Individuals who behave in this manner usually do it either to gain power over another person, be perceived as popular, or to get attention from their peers or those observing their actions. In fact, Crothers & Levinson (2004) have identified that most bullies act out of jealousy or self-insecurities as a result of being bullied previously themselves. Every child is different and has different things happening in their lives. Sometimes conditions at home, such as parents divorcing or a sick parent, or not getting enough attention from friends, parents, or teachers can trigger characteristic feelings of anger and discontent towards other students. Research studies have also shown that some bullies come from families where parents are authoritarian, hostile, and rejecting, have poor problem-solving skills, and advocate fighting-back at the least provocation (Batsche & Knoff, 1994). In conditions such as these, children lose insight of the benefits that come from making friends or coming to a truce with fellow classmates. If a child is constantly exposed to violence and abuse at home, a student who has not been stimulated otherwise will come to think that bullying is normal and will more likely display very little compassion and empathy towards those they inflict harm upon.

Furthermore, there is also a clear link that students who bully at a young age have problems with the law in their adulthood. Perry et al. (1988) discovered that extreme victims of bullies usually become the most aggressive bullies. This suggests that one bully spawns another bully and the cycle continues. In fact, victims of abuse are often more likely to be disruptive, aggressive, and violent than their non-abused counterparts (Ma, 2001). It is apparent that bullies possess several distinct behavioural characteristics; one aspect that nearly all bullies share in common is how little they resemble one another. Some are big, some are small, while some are male, and others are female. This poses an issue for educators because it is often difficult trying to distinguish a bully by simply examining their physical appearance. Consequently, in order to fully understand the actions of a bully, it is appropriate for an educator to know how to get inside the mind of a bully.

Bullying causes immediate harm and distress to the student who is victimized and has negative long-term consequences for the victim’s mental health (Farrington, 1993), which in some cases can lead to suicide. Students who are excluded by their bully from classroom activities or threatened to be verbally abused in front their classmates or physically harmed after school, becomes a major form of social stress. When a student is bullied, anything that suggests the possibility of danger becomes a higher priority than anything else on their mind, since the brain’s main job is to prioritize information relative to survival first, before all else (Bluestein, 2006). As a result, students who are bullied usually become less attentive in class, loss their sense of concentration, and give-up quite easily. In addition, they are less able to hear what is being said to them or asked of them in class, and as a result, they tend to do poorly in class activities, may not complete their homework, and their overall grades eventually drop. An educator who understands the detrimental effects of stress and bullying on the student will responsibly analyze the cause of the problem and provide objective solutions for the student to consider when in conflict. Indeed, teachers must also take the time to address this issue to their class wholly – even if it results in less time to teach the whole curriculum – as a way to prevent further occurrences of bullying.

 

In order to effectively stop bullying at school, teacher intervention is vital. Whether bullying is taking place in the classroom or out on the playground, teachers must readily observe the aggressive interactions between a bully and their victim. Unfortunately, many students report that teachers do not constantly intervene to stop bullying. One study found that 25 per cent of students indicated that teachers usually intervened, in contrast to 75 per cent of teachers reported that they usually intervened (Ziegler & Rosenstein-Manner, 1991). Teachers are usually uncertain about how to respond to bullying or simply identify mild bullying as typical childhood behaviour. Nevertheless, teachers often consider direct bullying, such as physical harassment and threats more serious than indirect incidents, such as verbal harassment or exclusion. This is deeply a cause of concern because regardless of what type or form of bullying takes place at school, serious ramifications are always involved. The saying sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt was obviously inspired by a bully who probably thought name-calling or teasing another person is not as hurtful as causing physical harm. As an educator, it is absolutely necessary to emphasize the many forms of direct and indirect bullying and the long-term effects they render on the student, such as the risk of developing psychological and psychiatric problems that may continue into adulthood (Mishna et al., 2005).
All teachers must be willing to address bullying by identifying its causes, responding to the needs of those inflicted, promoting strategies that can help victims cope with bullies, and strategies to reduce bullying within the school. A responsible teacher may consider investigating the situation by talking to the victim and the bully; informing their parents to arrange a meeting to discuss any possible solutions; follow up on the issue by communicating with the victim, the parents and staff; monitor their classroom behaviour, and finally, if the problem persists, decide on a justly punishment. To prevent bullying from happening, a teacher can also emphasize caring, respect, and safety in the classroom; enforce classroom anti-bully rules; encourage positive peer relations, and/or setup a student drop box where students can report bullying incidents. Overall, by incorporating these strategies, students will feel safer, happier, and help to relieve the anxiety bullied students face at school.

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