Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What is a "bully?" Part I

The Bully
Over the course of the past several months, the first graders have reported that they have at times felt “bullied” at lunch or on the playground.  While individual circumstances were addressed immediately, and a lot of interpersonal and staff support was brought to bear to assuage the students, it soon became apparent that there was a need for a larger group discussion to talk about difficult situations and how best to handle them. Mary Driebe, the children’s former kindergarten teacher, came to help guide us through this conversation.  
 A"Venn Diagram" re: bullying/contrasting emotions

O.F.: I had two problems today in the forest. In kindergarten, we had a fort in the forest and E. said “our own fort!” T. and O.P. went to the top of the tree, they were up there for like 10 or 15 minutes and E. was the master and he said 2 more minutes and they said “no” and we said you can’t be up there for the whole forest.  And another problem:  we said you can’t take sticks off of the fort. And D. put one there and I didn’t know it was his stick and he took it off and then he kept it and then I told him …
T.: D. didn’t understand and you didn’t explain.
N.: But just because someone misunderstanded, that doesn’t give anyone the right to hit someone.
D.H.: When T. was up there, L. starting poking him with a big stick.
O.P.: And when they called to line up, O.F. went up anyway.
Mary:  L.A., why were you poking with your stick?
L.A.: I was just a little angry. At T. and O.P. Because they never let anyone up there!

T.: There was no room up there.
L.A.: You could have got off!

Mary: I think it was interesting what N. said, even though you felt that way, hitting is never okay.  Do you think since some time has gone by, you can understand why they felt that way? 
O.P.: Yeah.
T.: I just think it was kind of unfair that he didn’t even know that.  O.F. didn’t give him a second chance.
Mary: But do you see O. and L.’s perspective that by the time they got I the fort they were going to line up?
T.: Ummm….
O.P.: Yeah.
N.: I think D. should go to Ann Reavey (our school counselor) because she really helped me with my anger. She talks about the choices we could make when we’re angry.
T.: And it’s not good to hit someone with a stick ever. 

.(above):  Being bullied is like opening a door that you don't know what's in it, and you fall into a great pit with cannons aimed at you.

Mary: So one of the things that we talked about last year was how to take care of each other. What do you think about that word “bully?” It’s a pretty serious word.
S.: It’s like if someone hits you, it’s kind of like someone calling bossy.
O.F.: Bully is for using your body, and bossy using your words.
L: No, bully is for words too. Bully is bossy. So bossy is not quite as bad as bullying.  
Mary: But they’re not equal though.

N: Bullying is when a bigger person picks on a smaller person. Bullying can only happen when there’s someone smaller and less strong than you, because you can’t stand up to them.
I.: I have a bully that’s my neighbor. She’s nice.  She’s been my friend since I was one but she’s not very nice. She’s not really a bully. A bully means someone who is a lot older.

Mary: So you just changed your mind about your friend?
L: You can be friends with bullies?

Mary: How would you describe her?
I.: Quarter bossy, half nice, half cool.

Mary: So it’s the bossy part that you find hard. 
Even sisters don't always get along
S.: Bullies can be like Voldemort because he thinks no one can beat him and he thinks he’s the best. Bullies are kinda’ like him because he thinks he can pick on younger people. But Harry’s younger than him and he showed his toughness. Bullies are kinda’ like, they think that because people are younger they don’t have any strength. My mom tells me a lot about bullies. Like on the bus in public schools.
Mary: Like when she was growing up?

B.: I’m not gonna’ name names but, well, someone in this classroom was being a little bully to me.

Mary: You feel like someone in your learning community was acting like Voldemort? Because there are some very strong things that Voldemort does in Harry Potter, so would you say that they did something like that?
How do you feel?
B.: Really upset.

Mary: What are their actions?
B.: They look like a bully, they act like a bully.

Mary: So what does a bully dress like?
B.: They wear ripped clothes, they stand like this (hands on hips). They talk like a bully. They say mean things about you and your friends.

Mary: Has anyone in this class ever stood like this and said mean things?
Various: NO.

Mary: I have. I’ve talked to my brother like that.
O.F.: Well if you and your brother are fighting, you don’t have to do this.
Mary: So does that mean that we’re all bullies?
Various:  No….
O.P.: If you say "stupid."

Mary: So if I say "stupid" I’m a bully?
O.P.: Or "dumb" or something else.
Mary: Does that make them a bully?
S.: It doesn’t make them a bully, only if they do mean stuff all the time. Maybe not all the time. Like if the bully….only does something like punch you, that doesn’t mean they are a bully, that just means they’re bullying. They’re not actually a bully.

Wrestling with a brother on the couch can sometimes feel overwhelming
Mary: So if you make a mistake and you punch and kick and get upset, then you’re not a bully, but if you do it all the time then you’re a bully? Can you be a part of a learning community and be a bully?
Some:  Yes.

Mary: What would the learning community do?
L.: I’d move away.
N.: A mean person and a bully are different. They say mean things and do rude things and lose control of their anger a lot, and I can’t avoid saying this I used to do this a lot, but I wasn’t a bully. A bully is someone who picks on someone who feels cornered or feels like they have no help and when that happens it’s like you give up and you feel like the bully can kick you and hit you and you’re hopeless.

Mary: What do you have to do to be bullied?
N.: You would act afraid of the bully, and you’d never contact help in case the person started bullying. The bullies see that when they come up, [that] you never run away to get help.

Mary: Really amazing information.  I’m wondering how can a bully actually exist in this learning community, because has anyone ever felt “I’m scared and there is nowhere I can get help?”
I.: Tons of times, the girl who is my neighbor. She used to yank my teeth out.
Mary: There was no help?
I.: She was fast.

Mary: [Has] anyone at Sabot [made you feel that way]?
S: I’ve felt like….

Mary: Can you describe that situation?
S.: I don’t feel comfortable. 
There wasn’t anyone around me. It was just the person and me.

T.: I kind of didn’t wanna say that. You don’t have to be older to be a bully. One of my friend’s older brothers is a bully. He gets worked up and says mean things.
Mary: Do you feel unsafe?
T.: No.

T.: He’s not a bully, he’s kinda bossy and he can’t control his anger.
N.: I’ve felt bullied many times at Sabot, and believe it or not it’s usually by a younger kid.
Mary: How did you feel?
N.: A kindergartener comes up and does very unfair things. Sometimes he comes up and hits me, and sometimes he spits in my ear. He says, “you’re an L word” and he even wrecks our work. But that happened way before I used to deal with him in unfair ways. But now I’ve gotten way better at doing that. Me,. F., and L.M. were trying to collect sap and then G. came up and he started whispering kooky things in my ear and I ignored him and they did too and he went away after three minutes.

Mary: What I’m thinking it would maybe be a good thing for us to do is, we’ll give you a piece of paper, and you can draw an experience where you felt like you were being bullied and if you have never felt like you were being bullied, you can draw when someone was being mean but not being a bully. 

Some of these pictures are shared above. There was one picture that truly captured the feeling of being overwhelmed by a difficult situation:

(above):  When someone is bullying you, it feels like an MC Escher painting. 
It's jumbled and frightening.  You aren't sure which way to go. 
It seems like there's no help.

The questions that we as a class have been wrestling with are substantial:  why does a person bully?  Why would people be mean to one another? Does the person teasing or hurting others need help too?  How could a bully exist in the Sabot environment, especially since there are so many ways to get help and be heard?  How do we take care of each other?


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