Bullying at school
One of the worst nightmares in a teenager’s life is the fear of being bullied at school. It is not always the physical bullying that is the worst; the name calling and other psychological nastiness can be absolutely gutting. Should you risk telling a teacher and perhaps make the situation worse?
Debby was the new girl in my Year Nine Science class, a very pretty girl with lovely manners. All the other kids in the class had pretty well known each other since kindergarten and this was a really hard group to ‘get into’ if you were an outsider. She had come from her previous school in the middle of the year with a glowing report of her progress: she had certainly been an able student. Until now, that is.
9Kt had a science class with me three times a week, with very noisy practicals and then some ‘sit down and pay attention’ type of teaching. The class was very competitive and those hands would shoot in the air to answer questions. “Miss, miss, miss, ask me!” Because Debby’s previous school had been at a different part of the syllabus she of course struggled to answer some of my questions and I could quickly see the hurt in her eyes as she became more and more subdued.
One day I met her in the corridor as she was on her way to the office on an errand, and I was able to ask her how she was fitting in. She became extremely upset and told me that David who sat next to her kept calling her ‘stupid’. To you or I this may not seem very serious, but it had been traumatic for Debby and was causing her to lose confidence. Would it help that she had told me or would it make the name calling worse? Thinking quickly, I told her that the next lesson, I would ask her a question. She was not to worry what I asked her, whatever she thought, she must answer ‘millimetres of mercury’. We practised this answer in the quiet corridor until she had it perfectly.
Next lesson I bombarded the class with fairly straightforward questions and they were all answering with great enthusiasm. Then I turned to Debby. “Debby, what is the SI unit that we use to measure transient climatic change in air pressure?” (I was trying to make a really, really hard question using all the scientific words I could muster). The class fell silent and mocking eyes turned to look at Debby. Of course, she popped out “Millimetres of mercury, miss” and I must tell you that David’s mouth actually fell open in amazement. The rest of the class gasped.
She never looked back after that, her confidence returned. She and I never spoke about that answer again, but it was enough to turn the tide of bullying. Debby went on to study medicine.