The other day I had the opportunity to speak with a student who was heading back to school as so many children are or will be soon. This particular student, a young man, was not too keen on going back to school. I asked him why and he just said he hated school and didn’t want to go. Knowing this student fairly well, and even knowing a great deal about his school, I was a little taken back by this. Here was a good kid who I thought had a great previous school year, who was now nearly petrified of going back to school. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. Personally, I just wrote this off to the unease that often accompanies a new school year. I even went as far as to talk to his mother about the situation and she was just as baffled as I was.
As any good parents would do, this young man’s parents encouraged him and slightly “forced” him on the bus that first day of school. Knowing both of them well, I knew the anxiety they felt and uncertainty of how his day would go. At the end of the day, he got off the bus, came home and appeared to be in good spirits. When he was asked about his day, he simply replied that it was good and that he wanted to go back the next day.
Being the inquisitive person that I am, I was curious as to what could have happened on the first day of school that could flip his seemingly strong feelings so quickly. Once I had a chance to sit down with him, I asked him how his first day was. He replied that it was good as he had told his mother. I then followed it up with the question, why? Why was school good for him? He looked at me and said, “Pat is not there anymore.”
Now, Pat is a fictional name because I don’t want to embarrass or put down a real student. However, he said that his day was good because this student was no longer in his class. This again heightened my curiosity so I asked him what he meant by that statement. He went on to explain how this particular student would push and hit him all of last year. Now that this student was no longer in his class, he was confident school would be “good”. This young man was a victim of bullying. As someone who knows this student well, I was shocked that he was apparently being picked on and nobody was aware of it. Trust me when I say his parents had no clue. As any good teacher would do, I then asked this young man if he told his teacher or another adult in his school. He replied nope and then went back to coloring.
The story above is real and actually happened to me as I described it. The students involved will remain nameless as that is not the intent of why I share this story. We have many students in our schools and classrooms that are harassed or mistreated in some way and will never speak up for themselves. Instead they harbor this fear where it manifests as it did in this young man to a point of him not wanting to go to school. Now, I know this student as well as his teachers. They would be the first to address this type of issue but clearly they were not aware of it.
It is this type of story that reminds me to be ever so aware of the quiet and meek students in our classrooms…or even the loud ones that you suspect are hiding pain. While many kids will share their life stories with you at the drop of a hat, many will never step up and advocate for themselves. Sadly, we have seen the pain caused by adults on children who were incapable of speaking up for themselves. We have to see the real pain that is also being caused by other kids. Be mindful of the victims and go out of your way to create those relationships that allow students to feel comfortable reaching out to you and advocating for themselves. Not all victims are obvious and not all victims will stand up for themselves.