Sunday 25 February 2018

We can't treat the issue of bullying like it's a dirty little secret any more

--E Grade

There's been a lot of disturbing reports of how Leaving Cert kids have been celebrating their last day at school by indulging in some very cruel and nasty 'pranks'.

Rightly enough, the minister has been vocal in his criticism and labelled some of the worst incidents 'bullying'. This is all symptomatic of an underlying tolerance of intimidation and marginalising of students that starts in Irish schools and naturally enough continues across society in general.

As a teacher I often find myself powerless in the face of bullying. Wherever I have taught or in the schools where I sent my own kids, bullying has been treated by the powers that be as some kind of unavoidable fact of life.

Half-hearted and woolly-headed approaches to this problem that keep teachers in the dark have meant that my colleagues and I are often put in a deplorable position sometimes leading to a worsening of the problem.

Imagine the situation where you unwittingly put a bully and a victim sitting beside each other for pair work or you send them both on an errand because your principal or deputy principal has decided it was best to say nothing.

I can honestly say that I have never been informed of a bullying situation until after some incident has meant it was too late to hide it. It's as if the people who run our schools feel that it is a dirty little secret that has to be hidden away.

Similarly I have had students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, but nobody informed me until after I have written up the results of the 1st year exams, and only then after I passed a remark at how surprised I am that this pupil did so poorly.

It can really come as no surprise that random bullying can happen at several levels in Irish schools as long as such important information is retained as the preserve of power.

There have been plenty of stories in the media of principals who single out a particular staff member, of principals bullied by staff, staff who bully other staff, pupils who bully teachers and of course the most common of all, pupils who make other kids' lives unbearable with their own campaigns of intimidation.

It never ceases to amaze me how fast some school authorities react when pupils damage the image of that school in a public domain such as the media or on the internet when right under their noses there can be a vulnerable child whose life has been made a misery for months on end.

Yet, for some reason, in many schools the first point of reference for a child being bullied is a designated member of staff who happens to be the one person with whom they do not have a working relationship -- the principal. Yes, the one person who stands apart from the daily business of school and who represents authority.

Here's my end-of-term report on bullying in our schools: must do better.

Irish Independent

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