This is a difficult topic to write about. It is equally difficult to go back to this time and see myself as not taking action when an action was absolutely warranted and necessary. In sharing, I wish to motivate any teacher who is in a similar circumstance to hate this, then be motivated to take action with the help of colleagues and community.
When a teacher is mean or a bully work becomes a whole different dimension. The tasks of teaching alone can be perilous (depending on where you teach), overwhelming, and stretch you so thin you’re not sure you’ll ever make it back to your real self. I have had many conversations about the importance of the summer vacation to regain calm, happiness, and balance; a return to one’s neutral place.
When a teacher is mean or a bully, anxiety easily goes up presenting even more challenges. As adults, we are faced with the conflicts our students have from mean students or bullies. We are led to believe we can manage these matters because we are the adults. What happens when we the adults are confronted by mean teachers or bully teachers?
I was knee deep in my first urban teaching experience. There was plenty to consider with these students, their life circumstances often consisted of not having basic needs met. Sometimes families were entrenched in conflict, violence, abuse, or jailed family members. I had a wonderful support network of teachers. I was one of seven reading specialists who blanketed the school. We had a large room full of resources where we sat at our desks to discuss the day’s happenings with one another. We mostly laughed and joked finding solace and comfort with one another.
One day Joanne opened the conversation with, “Do you guys ever feel sick when Jeff is dismissing the kids at the end of the day?”
“Yes!” Many of us chimed.
Jeff the gym teacher was a tall, stocky, and boisterous man. His stature alone was intimidating. Jeff’s voice deep and long was heard through the entire floor where he taught gym classes. At dismissal, albeit a very chaotic time for any school setting that funnels the entire student population to the cafeteria, Jeff ruled via authoritative brashness. His voice boomed already without the megaphone he flew up in front of his face at ten-second intervals.
“Bus 56 line up! Jesus get over here! What are you doing?”
“Bus 35 line up! Damien shut your mouth and get in line!”
“Bus 34 line up! Quiet down everybody – everybody shut your mouths!”
“Juan what are you doing? Quit your fooling around. Look at you, making a fool out of yourself in front of the entire school, messing around when you’re supposed to be sitting there quietly waiting for your bus. Give me that!”
The gush of insults, belittling, and orders poured out for well over the thirty minutes of loading buses. The air felt cleaner once the room cleared. You knew everyone was breathing again because Jeff had no one left to scream at.
Joanne talked at length about how her insides churned. How small and silenced she felt in his presence. She noted that Jeff was a favorite of Nancy, our principal. That Jeff’s fiance’ Jen was also a favorite of Nancy’s. That all three had spent time out of school, regularly, socially. Joanne mentioned there would be no use doing anything, because of that very connection. Joanne felt Nancy enjoyed Jeff’s approach because of the nature of the student population. He kept the kids in line, leaving few discipline problems for Nancy with Jeff as a gate-keeper and perpetual intimidator.
I was in year three of teaching. I was green, I was learning, I was also feeling as Joanne had mentioned, silenced and small.
I saw and heard Jeff one day. He was in the face of a student. Jeff’s finger pointing in this child’s face, who was equal height. “Who do you think you are? You are nothing. All you do is cause problems! All you do is nothing! You are nothing! You need to shut your mouth, sit down, listen, and do your goddamn work! I am sick and tired of getting calls about you! I am sick and tired of having the same conversation with you over and over! What’s your problem? You’re useless and bringing everyone around you down with your stupidity!”
The torrent of word slams continued. I stood there watching, I was less than twenty feet away. I couldn’t move. I watched in agony and horror as this young boy was leveled by raging body language and obscene verbal language. The whole school heard this exchange from the first floor to the third floor.
I wish I could report that my several close-knit colleagues and I did something after that episode which the entire school and staff buzzed about for days. I wish I could write that I did something to change the way Jeff acted. I wish I had. But nothing at all changed, nothing… to be continued.