While at work at a company recently I had the following experience; arriving on a Monday to pick up messages I heard the taped conversation on the voice mail, detailing a divorce proceeding. This detailing, that is the reading of the divorce papers, was being done in a male voice – done deliberately- to what purpose- I do not know. Yes I am divorced and have been for a number of years. Should I have been asked to listen to someone reading such personal information? The message had been left on the machine DELIBERATELY – harassment is a funny thing- it is often done under the table instead of what one usually reads about – the in your face comments, the rude snubs- Oh no- real harassment is the more ugly, subtle kind. For the record, I did not delete the message -I left it there, wondering what further games might occur.
Now as an educator I am on the lookout for bullying amongst students. And one thing I have learned over the years is that children will bounce back from the open threats; it is the continuous wearing of one down that hurts the most. I am going to be very clear here- open threats allow an educator to observe the bullying and to intervene; the student doesn’t need to tattle, and risk further trouble. But under the table actions, the kind that are meant to do one thing only- to instill fear, discomfort, worry, stress; all the statements about a bully being a coward etc., will do little to alleviate worry if the bullies’ actions can’t be curtailed, and if the bully can’t be snuffed out.
At this same position I arrived another Monday to hear the following message, this time in a female voice: “Well, slightly drawled, she is very creative, but she is not a manager”- again the portion of a recorded conversation, left on purpose for me to hear. I was going to write overhear, but that would be inaccurate as picking up and sharing messages was part of that particular job description. Now there is perhaps a backwards compliment in there, if indeed leaders are depicted as creative, and managers as drones. I have never been accused of being a drone. But as an adult, I once again resented receiving a message second hand- as bullying goes, it is not as obscene as the type I have witnessed on a playground, but it is still bullying. Face to face communication is a statement to a person, that the person is valued as a human being. Which is why I always appreciated a New York attitude that was once explained to me as: “people may agree to dislike each other but would still do business with each other.” Here in Toronto, the subtle attacks are unnerving, demoralizing, and much harder to eradicate.*
A colleague has a blog and asked for comments regarding bullying – sparking both the memory and the effort I have always made to not be a bystander. I recognize that each of us has a particular upbringing; mine was wrapped up in the need to care for others. This translated early into using an ability to speak, to speak on behalf of another if requested to. We as educators are tasked with the goal of encouraging students to recognize bullying when they see it and to create the environment in which it will be possible to ask for help to curtail the bully – to create the safest environment possible, wherein each student feels that the classroom, the school grounds, and the topics of conversation which will take place, are going to be encouraging, welcoming, and both open and fair. It is not an easy position, and at times, subtlety is called for in a learning environment- but not when it comes to preventing bullying. Bullying must be challenged head on, discussed, and as many outlets and options be made clear to as many students as possible if the school environment is to do its job and truly offer a safe and accepting learning space. Good luck to all teachers preparing just such environments in anticipation of the 2014-2015 year.
• I typed it as I had felt it; and mean no disrespect to my “adopted” city; the place where my children are pleased to call “home”. I also recognize that cultural expectations may come into play- but regardless, bullying has no place in either the workplace or the school.
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