By Venise Grossmann
Published in The Philadelphia Inquirer
Posted on Tue, Jul. 15, 2003
The news of three teenagers in Oaklyn being charged in an attempted carjacking and murder plot reminded me of what Thoreau said about people leading lives of quiet desperation.
Perhaps that was their state of mind. Some of their peers claim that the teens were victims of bullying.
Because I am a teacher, such revelations do not surprise me. We witness students who are bullied every day. Some victims react immediately with violence; others let the anger build.
Preventing bullying is ideal. Toward that goal, many of the educators in my school district, West Deptford, incorporate the teaching of values in their lessons. The district also brings in specialists who speak at assemblies to teach students to appreciate diversity.
Administrators also have begun compiling statistics on bullying - cases in which intervention occurred, and those in which disciplinary action was not necessary.
My district, like others, is also training teachers to better deal with bullying. Not only does the district pay professionals to conduct surveys to identify the types of bullying in the high school, but it also brings in experts on sensitivity training to educate teachers who volunteered for the School Improvement Team. Counselors also provide support groups for students who are victims of bullying. They teach strategies to deal with bullies.
And the administration provides teens with the opportunity to speak about bullying in town meetings in the high school library, and in speak-out sessions led by the adviser of Students United for Respect and Equality and the Pride and Awareness of All Cultures Club.
I and some other teachers include lessons about bullying in the curriculum. For instance, I ordered a free book titled Bullying in Schools: What You Need to Know, by Paul Langan. When I teach the unit, students read about specific cases of bullying, discuss them, and write journal entries and skits about them.
In another class, a teacher leads students in role-playing activities, which the school shows the student body via closed-circuit television.
All of this is aimed at preventing bullying. Should these efforts fall short, however, we must also be prepared for an act of violence at school. Police have trained teachers and students in lock-down and shelter-in-place procedures.
When bullying does occur, some teachers, including me, intervene. Unfortunately, not all teachers do, and, sadly, some teachers bully the students themselves. Addressing these issues immediately is imperative.
Disciplinarians use several strategies in dealing with the problem. Some appeal to a student's conscience, but if repeated infractions occur, the in-house police officer will visit the bully's home and discuss the issue with the parents.
If the bully's threats are physically carried out, legal action is taken, of course.
Students, teachers and parents also identify teachers who bully, and the administration deals with these issues immediately. In such cases, it calls the teacher in for a conference, and the administration expects an immediate change in the teacher's behavior.
But the ultimate weapons in our arsenal against bullying are the students. Some are brave enough to say to the bullies, "Knock it off. Leave the kid alone." Others are kind enough to inform a teacher, counselor, administrator or parent who can address the issue.
The major problem for victims, which may very well have happened with the Oaklyn teens, is that no one intervenes and their anger escalates. It can result in a disaster.
School districts such as mine are doing a great deal to combat bullying, but clearly we need to do more.
Because I witness bullying every day and was a victim of bullying myself, I know that each occurrence is a tragedy. We must address each instance.
The key to success in schools is for the administration to continue to train teachers and students so that they have the sensitivity and the courage to intervene.
Venise Grossmann is an English teacher at West Deptford High School.