Bullying is an ongoing issue around the country. Most schools would probably describe bullying as the single biggest non-academic problem they face. Because of this, schools are often seen as the primary mechanism for combating bullying. However, there is a problem with this idea…schools have no idea what they are doing.
Bullying is kind of like a sport where the offensive strategies are developed before the defensive ones. If it seems like schools are always playing catch up to bullies, that’s because they are. Because bullies have been around as long as schools have, we tend to look at them as a pretty simple, and explainable problem. But the truth is bullying is an ever-changing, constantly evolving problem. No sooner have you figured something out, it changes.
Every new app creates different platforms schools have to monitor and learn. Every new fashion trend presents an opportunity for students to look down on each other. Every new wrinkle in technology adds an additional avenue for students to target each other. Every new school year brings new vernacular and language that teachers have to become fluent in before they can even effectively monitor their students’ interactions. On top of all that, we have to decipher which students are complicit in their questionable interactions and which ones are actually being harassed…and by the way, none of this is technically their job.
Monitoring student interactions to pick up on the subtleties and nuances of bullying could be several full-time jobs at most schools. Instead, it is a burden placed almost solely on already overworked teachers, and it shows.
In my school, I am generally considered a decent relationship builder. I know most of my students relatively well. However, I don’t know all of them well enough to know how they act with each other, particularly when they are not in my class. I can barely keep track of which students are friends week to week. Consequently, I typically find out about bullying issues when a parent complains, or a larger incident occurs.
I’m not naive. I know that it’s not reasonable to expect every school to get some bullying task force. I know that given the amount of time I spend with my students that I probably am the most logical person to spot and report potential bullying issues. I know there are many schools that are willfully ignorant to obvious bullying issues, but I just want people to acknowledge that it is nearly impossible for schools to completely prevent bullying like is often demanded. Schools get a bad rap when it comes to handling bullying issues, and it is probably well deserved because the weapon we are using to combat bullies was designed to educate students.
Schools will continue to fight the scourge of bullying for years to come. We will try our best to be proactive, but we no longer fully control the landscape on which the battle is fought…and that will show until we are better trained and equipped to deal with it.