When we moved to Jamaica the kids called me two things, "Ching Chong China-girl" and "Fattah" which was the Jamaican way of calling someone "Fatty". I remember as a young child in the first and second grade I tended to cry at the smallest thing and I was painfully shy so any unwanted attention would send me into tears. But by the fifth grade when we moved to Jamaica I was no longer a cry baby and so I either ignored what they said, fought back by calling them something more insulting or I turned it into a joke or laughed it off. But I didn't like being called names. And I always pointed out to the name caller that I was NOT Chinese.
We never talked about bullying when I was growing up, at least not like we do today. We never had presentations on how to be accepting of all kids and all people and we never worried about who was a bully and who was not. Skip to today and public elementary schools and there is no end to the ongoing dialogue about bullying, bullys and how to stamp it out and bring an end to it. "Zero Tolerance" is a term that is thrown around liberally.
I remember a boy in high school that was bullied quite a bit by more than one boy in the class. I remember this kid was the brunt of all the jokes, bad behavior and mean spirited name calling or trickle down and he is a registered sex offender with a repeat history of incarceration. Do I think that his being bullied in school has something to do with where he is now? I definitely think that he has little to no self esteem and it affects his every day and every moment of his life, I do think that.
I spend a lot of time in the classroom and I see behaviors that are appropriate and behaviors that are not. I see kids that get targeted and I see kids that do the targeting. I see the kids gang up on other kids and watch as they destroy a kids self esteem as young as the first grade by continually letting him/her bear the brunt of all the anger, frustration, name calling and isolation because of weight, clothing, sexual orientation, and other distinguishing factors that I'm not going to go into because they are too hurtful to list and because those of you reading this know what the list contains. And I don't blame the teacher most of the time because she or he has 24 or 28 kids in the class and has a hard time focusing on each child and what is being said or done. She is just trying to get through a list of stuff that has to be done today so that we can move on to tomorrow. And she is bombarded with tattle-tailing, crying, sniffles, vomiting, sick kids, bathroom breaks, my pencil needs sharpening and on and on and on. And I don't blame the kids because if you watch them - they only want to avoid being on the receiving end of that kind of behavior - they want to be in the "in" crowd and not the "out" crowd.
I do however seriously question the home environment and the parents though and what they are creating at home. Since the school's motto is Zero Tolerance and the bulling continues why can't we make it an individual motto? Can we teach the kids that are being bullied to fight back? Can we arm them with the physical and verbal tools to at least defend themselves to their peers?
I don't condone retaliation but I will tell you that once in high school an underclassman called me "Fatty" or "Fatso" or something insulting and laughed loudly and looked around for validation. I ignored her but hated her silently for the rest of my life I mean year. Several days later I climbed up on the hood of her and her brother's brand new car and draped myself across it with all my weight while a friend took my picture. We had it put in the yearbook. Revenge is a dish best served cold but how do we translate that for first graders?