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Diary of a schoolteacher: Mean boys and girls become mean men and women

There are so many nasty people in the world that hone their cynical skills while in school. We all know that bullying in schools is a very serious problem and that even if we think it doesn't happen in our school, it almost definitely does.

We teachers bear the onerous responsibility of having to fight the insidious culture of bullying in our schools as a child on the receiving end can be scarred for life. If we don't get it right, little bullies will grow up into big bullies.

Mean Boys and Girls at school become Mean Men and Women. I know an overgrown Mean Boy who is in his forties and delights in intimidating his seriously ill neighbour every time he thinks the neighbour somehow infringes upon his rights as a property owner.

It seems to me that Mean Boy hasn't developed much since he was probably the Meanest Boy in the Class, 30 years ago.

I'd lay a bet that he went to the local boys' rugby school where on the pitch and then in class he was encouraged to speak up for himself and not let anyone get in his way. I know the school in question hasn't changed much down the years because I've seen how their yearbooks never fail to praise macho achievements in business and sport but never mention former pupils who have become successful musicians, writers or actors.

Naturally this thug might feel vindicated by the alma mater, intimidating ill people over a tree. What makes this story worse is that Mean Boy is generally considered by his community to be a 'hero' because he works in the emergency services.

In the savvy 21st century we know there are no heroes. Films like In the Name of the Father and LA Confidential showed us how many of the policeman heroes of the 1950s and '70s were actually villains and, yes, they were bullies. Same goes for priests and politicians.

As a teacher let me share stories about three real heroes ...

There's Elaine who was late every day from 1st year to 6th because she had to get her granddad out of bed and bring him downstairs for breakfast in a three-bedroom house that he shared with her mum and dad, her older brother, her younger brother and his girlfriend and their baby.

She left school two years ago but she comes back every sports day to help out.

There's Shona who told me that when she was 12 she went to more funerals than she could count because she had to help her (now late) mother do the cleaning in the local hospice.

There's Veronika. Add to the crime of being Polish the fact that she is pretty and has an older boyfriend and naturally enough she'll be spat at, called slut and then beaten up in the school grounds. She's still coming to school, smiling and working hard for her Leaving.

Better to praise these young heroes and encourage them and stamp out bullying.

Irish Independent