Monday, April 23, 2012

Mean Girls

It was a hard day with adolescents today. Not the majority of my students, but two really got the best of me.

Behind the closed doors of my classroom, it's easy to believe that a team of 46 students along with three adults share common values and goals. We've been together five hours a day, for seven months in tight quarters dishing up high expectations, often pushing kids well above their next level of learning and behaving. Beyond the classroom walls, I can confidently assert that the entire school shares core values for learning, cooperation, friendship, and respect - these are expected from everyone who's part of Sherman Middle School. If I didn't believe that commonalities like these exist, I'd come home a miserable educator every single day.

Well, today was one of those days. I left the building feeling drained and angry, disappointed and concerned. Still preoccupied, I managed a short run with Brad, cooked a Chamorro dinner for the family, and even went climbing. But when all was said and done tonight, I still can't shake feeling miserable.

I've never doubted mean girls exist in today's world. With the ever-present focus on bullying prevention, victims of bullying, reactions to bullying, bystanders of bullying, it's clear that bullying exists everywhere. With so much attention, I want to believe that the outreach, coupled with the consequences of bullying witnessed world-wide, are sinking in. That to some extent, with my own teaching team's focus on learning, cooperation, friendship, and respect, not to mention zero tolerance of it by our school principal (it's his definitive strength - the way he deals and manages bullying) that perhaps my own team of students would take the high road by disengaging from acts of bullying.

Not so.

Today I intercepted an academic notebook, written between two girls in my class filled with name-calling, sarcasm, threats, and assumptions towards other students in class. They targeted one person in particular - a "friend" - and wrote about her in awful derogatory ways. It was mean.

These girls have a club titled, "Badazzess Club." As written in their exchange, their goal was to make the victim do certain acts in order to be a part of their club. This appears to have been going on for longer than a week, and today's act was to mix peanut butter into a fruit cup, and make the victim eat it. Not physically make her, but manipulate and threaten her just enough so she would do it. Interspersed were comments about the victim like,

 ". . . she annoys me with her so-called issues of self-esteem."

". . . she weighs like 29lbs more than me, I bet she never turns down a hamburger."

". . . why doesn't she just be a vegetarian like me, then she won't have to worry about her weight. But then, she'd be like me, and that would be annoying too. Is that too harsh?"

". . . she turned Emo and is cutting her ankles now because of, what? Because she needs our friendship?"

There's more, but it makes my blood pressure rise just remembering all of it. Included in the exchange were caricature drawings of students in class depicting the bullies views of them. One, drawn with wide eyes and a protruding behind, was labeled, "___________ ass," a student who is often picked on for his high-pitched voice, sensitivity and general confusion during class. Another comment dissed on what another kid was wearing - that kid, was also supposedly a friend of one of the bully's.  There were more - these were just a few of their targets.

Teachers did not go unscathed from these girls' judgements. They said some pretty mean things about their teachers, including their student teacher.  Interspersed in their writing was the comment,

". .  . these teachers don't want us to write notes, but then they walk right by and don't even notice we're writing notes.  WTF?" 

Never ever underestimate the eyes of a teacher.  For a total of 8 pages front to back, I spent my lunchtime reading their notebook, turning each page just shaking my head, irritated that the cynical bullies would make a mockery of the positive learning environment we all work so hard to cultivate and foster.  Even though what they said about their teachers was mean, they were insignificant eye-rolling perceptions towards very thick-skinned women.

What is not insignificant however, are the emotional affects these particular bullies have on their most targeted victim.  I'm concerned about her and she's foremost on my mind.  Tomorrow my teaching partners and I will be addressing the bullies.  Right now, I just want to deal head-on with them.  Use the top-down approach.  Implement consequences with parent conferences, write a full on bully referral, and say some things that should not be said by an adult to adolescents. 

That's my impulse right now.  We'll see how it all goes down tomorrow when as a team of teachers, we get in the faces of the bullies.  Maybe we'll avoid the top-down approach and end up reiterating the common values and goals that have been central to our community.   Maybe we'll have a meaningful discussion about bullying and the emotional turmoil bullies put victims through.  Maybe it'll turn into a psych session to get to the bottom of the bullies hearts and minds.  Maybe. 

Maybe, maybe, maybe. 

Right now, I'm not feeling it.  I'm feeling unforgiving towards the cynicism of these adolescent girls, and the gall they had to create such a club that worships mean acts of torments.  Frankly, I'm feeling miserable - drained and angry, disappointed and concerned - about the victims, and to some degree, the bullies. 

Damn them.

Mean Girls Suck. 


  1. Oh Vera. God bless you and your profession for having to deal with the mean kids of the world. Take heart. Perhaps what you say and do today will change their futures. You may never see the fruit, but don't be afraid to plant the seed. Sigh.

    1. Thanks, Carmen. I appreciate your thoughts!

      FYI: After sharing the notebook and giving our input, our principal talked with the victim and the girls who were bullying. He also called in witnesses. From there, he deemed this a level 300 offense for bullying/harassing and suspended the girls. (BTW, these girls are high achievers who demonstrate higher level thinking skills across subjects, and value their education. They are from in-tact families who place education as a high priority.)

      Unlike last night when I actually lost sleep, tonight, I can go to sleep feeling that this consequence was deserved and appropriate to their offense.