American Association of Blind Teachers

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Carla Hayes

One of the biggest challenges currently faced by students and schools is bullying. According to research cited at a recent bullying workshop that I attended, one out of every four elementary students and 30% of all students in grades 6-9 are bullied. In recent years, we have seen that extreme acts of high school violence are often perpetrated by youngsters who have been bullied by other students. Also, youngsters who bully often grow up to be adults who bully other employees in the workplace and abuse their spouses and children. In addition, victims of bullying often carry psychological scars for life, or in extreme cases, take their own lives. As teachers, we all have the responsibility of doing all that we can to prevent bullying. For blind teachers, this can be especially challenging because we often cannot see when certain forms of bullying are taking place amongst our students. This is why I thought it was time to write a column on this topic.

Before we discuss some possible solutions for this problem, let's start with a simple definition. In general, bullying can be defined as repeated and systematic harassment and attacks on others. According to the Department of Justice fact sheet, "Information On Bullying for Parents and Teachers, 1996, it involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful child or group attacking those who are less powerful. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological, or social/emotional intimidation. The computer age has also given us cyber bullying which can include such activities as sending nasty Emails or text messages and posting embarrassing pictures, destructive rumors and other offending material on the Internet. Some signs of bullying may include uncharacteristically low grades, loss of interest in school and activities, damaged belongings, and students who appear to have few friends, are afraid to come to school or ride the school bus.

The first step for preventing bullying is making a commitment to having a zero tolerance policy for bullying in your classroom. Communicate this policy to your students the first day of school. Have an open discussion about bullying with your students. Define bullying and have your students brainstorm about what types of behaviors they consider to be bullying and how it makes them feel when other students do it to them. Then, ask your students to write and sign an agreement not to bully and if they observe bullying, do what they can to stop it. Post this agreement in a prominent place in your classroom as a reminder.

The second step to solving the bullying problem is understanding why it happens. Why do bullies bully? Strangely enough, most bullies are very insecure. They have a strong need for power and bullying gives them psychological and physical rewards. On the other hand, there are different types of victims. Some are quiet, shy, have no friends and no way to fight back. Another type of victim is simply an annoying student with ineffective social skills who pushes everybody's buttons. Whatever the reason it happens, it is important to remember that nobody deserves to be bullied, and as the classroom teacher, it is your job to do all that you can to prevent it. Knowing the potential causes of bullying, you can often head it off before it happens. For example, knowing that the classroom bully has a strong need for power, why not give him an important classroom responsibility? This may be enough to give him the perceived power and psychological rewards that he needs, thus negating his need to bully. Also, empower the shy students by bolstering their confidence and teaching them strategies for fighting back if necessary. Finally, teach social skills to those annoying students who "push buttons" and often become victims of bullying. The better they get along with their classmates, the less likely they will be victimized.

The third step for preventing bullying is recognizing it when it happens and reacting quickly. This can be especially difficult for a blind teacher who cannot see the cell phone texting, shunning, poking and dirty looks which might be occurring right in front of her. You may not know what is happening unless someone alerts you. This is why it's important to earn your students' trust and keep the lines of communication open at all times. Teach your students the difference between tattling and telling and create a safe system that they can use to inform you when something is wrong. This can be accomplished by having a message box with a slot in the lid into which students can drop anonymous notes to you. Check this box daily and immediately act on the information your students give you. When you find out who the bullies are, change your seating arrangement. Seat the bullies in the front center and their victims as far away from them as possible.

Finally, remember that teachers can be bullies, too. Ridicule, sarcasm and cutting remarks can damage your students for life and you should never engage in these behaviors.

As you can see, bullying can be a very serious problem with devastating lifelong effects. However, with diligence, perseverance and common sense, it can be eradicated from your classroom and perhaps even your school.

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