As I believe I explained before, I thought I was done recounting my own childhood bullying stories a while ago. But just when I think I’m done…
This one is less about me and more about something I observed. It really didn’t strike me as bullying until I retold the story to my oldest son and realized while telling it and while we were laughing that this was a bullying event. While it didn’t happen to me, I recall being the bystander and, I guess, not so much joining in, but doing nothing to stop it.
Much like my story some time ago about the schoolyard fight I witnessed and my feeling of satisfaction that it wasn’t me being picked on, this story is one where I know I laughed along and was glad not be the one having something done to them.
By 1985, I was a Junior in High School. Bullying against me was a thing of the past and I enjoyed my High School years immensely. I had wonderful friends and was part of a great group that had a lot of fun over the years. In my Junior year I was in a World History class with a brand new teacher. It was pretty obvious to all of us that he was brand new to teaching and had no experience with a bunch of 16 year olds. Unfortunately, this weakness was exploited by some.
I remember him. He would share personal stories with us. He was a preacher as well as a teacher and had an easy personality. I think that first year for him, he wanted to be liked by his students. But, as a teacher, he showed that and it was a weakness that some of the kids chose to exploit. I have read many stories about the teacher bullying a student, but this is a story about students bullying a teacher. Not a unique phenomenon, I know, but one I hadn’t witnessed before. I have to imagine that many first year new teachers have an experience dealing with kids exploiting their newness to teaching.
There were a few interesting and well-known cut-ups in my class with this teacher. One I remember well is Clarence. I recall that it started with Clarence coming into class and saying “Hi Mr. Groin” (a play on his real name). Certainly not a nice thing to say.
The teacher made the mistake of letting him say it without consequence, so every day Clarence would walk in and say it. We would all laugh. I recall telling my son this story and he laughed. I laughed too. Then I thought, well, that certainly wasn’t nice.
Of course once that wasn’t questioned, then the real mayhem began. Items being thrown at the teacher’s back when he wrote on the board. Things being put on his chair that made sounds. Kids being loud and rude. The problem grew.
The teacher would simply say, “come on now, let’s stop”, but no one would. No one was called out, punished, or got in trouble, so it continued. Everyone saw the teacher as weak.
The events came to a head one day late in the year. Clarence came in and announced he had written a song about one of the other students in the class. The student he wrote about, Neyo, was a much bigger kid than Clarence. But Clarence continued anyway and the teacher let him.
Clarence stood up and said to the class, “Want to hear my song?”
Of course everyone did. The class was ready and waiting. Even the teacher stopped to listen.
“OK, here it goes”, said Clarence. It wasn’t so much as a song as a poem that Clarence put a sing-song to:
“My name is Neyo
I live in Madrid
I got a lot of B.O.
and I got a big head”
That was it. Now I have to admit at the time, to 16 year olds, that was funny. Reading it back now…well not so much. As usual, you had to be there and know the kids. Well, Neyo. was not amused. Not at all.
He picked up Clarence by his neck and pinned him to the wall, choking him. He started punching him. Now you might think this is now a story of Neyo the bully, but it’s not. Because at this point the teacher had lost all control of the class. One student was punching another, all the other kids were in a frenzy, like a pack of monkeys, hooting and hollering. Finally, when he realized he had lost all control, the teacher yelled at the top of his lungs and stormed out of the room.
…and there we were. No teacher and the room subsided. I think many of us were struck by the fact that our teacher, our leader, was not there and at this point wasn’t coming back. Even Neyo backed down. The teacher didn’t come back for a while. We sat pretty quiet during that time.
When he did come back, it was obvious that he had been very upset, maybe even crying. It seemed pretty sad that we took him to that level. That the adult teacher was reduced to a total loss of control and had to leave. Certainly, this class had bullied him. Call it taking advantage or exploiting a weakness, but to me it’s just another form of bullying. He was the only teacher I recall that was exploited like this during my school days. I’m sure others had been hardened by years of teaching and knew not to let this happen.
I know that I still think about this class and this teacher. I recall his storming out and don’t know if he still teaches today. As an adult, I think that he probably sat that night and questioned why he went to school, sacrificed all those years of education, and got a teaching degree only to be treated like that by a bunch of 16 year olds. Maybe he should have known better. Maybe he should have taken control of the classroom.
But maybe, just maybe we should have respected another human being just a little more. Maybe that’s just something we should be teaching our children earlier.