LENA MITCHELL: School year brings need for bullying vigilance

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

I’ve been reading one of my escapist fiction books, my personal form of mindless entertainment. This book, however, has a subtext that is anything but mindless or escapist. The subtext is the issue of bullying.
While many students probably welcomed the start of school, looking forward to seeing friends again every day, participating in favorite sports or other extracurricular activities, there likely were some who dreaded the thought that it was time for school to start again.
For them school may represent the scene of daily torture, facing a bullying situation in one form or another.
In the book I’m reading a teenager becomes the online victim of a female classmate who resents her because the classmate’s boyfriend blatantly tries to date the other girl. The bully starts online rumors and eventually posts doctored photos of her victim that make her appear nude.
Fortunately, a teacher who herself had once been a teenage bullying victim realized what was going on and got justice within the school for the student victim. She widened the educational process by organizing an anti-bullying rally for the entire town to shine a bright light on the issue and let all the students know that bullying would not be tolerated by the community.
The teacher was a hero in taking a stand and going beyond the single situation to be an advocate for others who might be victims.
Unfortunately, not all teachers or school administrators can be counted on to stand up for students who are victims, though school districts generally have anti-bullying policies.
Sometimes the individuals in authority don’t see the seriousness of the problem. Or they don’t want to get involved. Or they fear the parent of the bully.
But what if the teacher is the bully?
According to WebMD.com the problem is not uncommon.
There are teachers who scream, humiliate and threaten students in front of the class.
Dr. Stuart Twemlow is a psychiatrist at the Peaceful Schools and Communities Project at the Menninger Clinic in Houston who has studied the problem.
Teacher bullying, he said, is “using power to punish, manipulate or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure.”
Twemlow, himself a former teacher, said teachers are human and they shouldn’t be subjected to unrealistic expectations. They have personal problems like everyone else and may take those problems out on students in their classes.
However, like student-to-student bullying, a teacher bullying a student should not be allowed to continue.
Some advice from WebMD to parents:
• Keep lines of communication open with children so they will bring the problem to you.
• Watch out for behavior changes that may indicate a problem, even if the child hasn’t discussed it with you.
• If you’re told about or suspect a bullying problem, don’t ignore it.
• Set up a meeting with the teacher and say that the student appears to be having a problem in the class. Ask the teacher if they know why there might be a problem.
• Do not include a young child in such a meeting, but do include a teenager.
• If the teacher makes excuses, rationalizes or doesn’t appear to want to address the problem, go to the principal. Continue up the chain of command all the way to the superintendent or the school board until someone listens to your concerns.
Finding resolution to bullying problems is not easy and sometimes doesn’t happen within the school district. I have known more than one situation where parents had to resort to the court system to find resolution.
Bullying in schools and among young people is the most commonly discussed type of bullying, but bullying also occurs in the workplace. Sometimes it is characterized as harassment or a hostile work environment, but to the victim it feels the same.
Wherever people come together the potential for weaker people to be bullied by people who are more powerful – either physically, emotionally or in an organization – exists.
The problem has been around for generations and it requires constant vigilance to assure bullying is not allowed to flourish in any environment.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.