Yesterday, I blogged a little more about Friday’s PA Day. In the post, I alluded to my experience with bullying. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to share this story yesterday. I’m still not sure that I’m ready to share, but there’s something strangely comforting about sharing through a computer screen, where I’m only vaguely aware of the readers on the other side. I’m not certain that I’m going to publish this post (or publish it now), but I think that I need that cathartic feeling that comes from writing it.
When I was in high school, I was bullied. I don’t think that I knew this at the time, or if I did, I convinced myself that it wasn’t true. I know that my parents didn’t know. They still don’t know. In fact, this is a story that I’ve never shared with anyone. Was I trying to suppress it? Maybe. Was it only through a more recent focus on bullying in schools that I was able to name this behaviour from so long ago? I think this is likely very true.
The bullying happened in a computer class. It was the only one that I took in high school. There was a group of boys, who always sat close to me. I had incredibly curly hair at the time that was also really frizzy. I still have trouble taming my curls. When I was in high school, classes used to have dot matrix printers. The most memorable part of these printers was the paper: it had punched holes along the side. This group of boys loved this paper. They used to grab the hole strips that people removed from the printed sheets, role them into little balls, and throw them at my hair. These boys were relentless. When I told them to stop, they didn’t. There was a group of them, so they had the support of their peers versus me, who was alone. They were always smart about when they threw the paper and when they didn’t. The teacher never saw, and if he did, he never said anything. Mind you, I never told. Until this day, I never told anyone. But the biggest humour for them came in all of the little paper balls that I never found. These boys used to find me after class and snigger as I missed a ball or two in my incredibly curly hair.
Looking now at our Board’s definition of bullying, I know that what these boys did was bullying. The behaviour was repeated class after class. It was targeted just to me. The boys used the safety of their group to also have power over me. They didn’t listen to my requests to stop. They knew that their actions were hurting me, and they didn’t care. I remember learning to code using DOS in this class. Just being able to write the words, “Hello, Hello, Hello” three times was a big accomplishment. I think now of how many failed attempts at coding I had that year. I was never more happy for a class to end, and I thought that it was because I struggled with coding so much. But maybe, the untold story of this class, played an even larger role. Could my focus on being bullied have also stopped me from learning how to code?
Back when I went to school, bullying wasn’t discussed. It didn’t mean though that it wasn’t happening. My example is proof of that. Maybe if it was talked about, if teachers were actively looking for this behaviour, and if I spoke up, something would have changed. The term “bullying” is often a worry for me as a kindergarten educator, as I do think that differentiating between bullying, disagreements, and unkind words/actions, can be a challenge. You almost need to live or observe these various experiences to tell the difference. But then I reflect on my computer classroom experience from 24 years ago: an experience that I have not uttered a word about until today. Could our current focus have also changed my perspective on this class, my learning, and the experience? I was able to move past this computer class nightmare, but I still remember it as vividly as I did all of those years ago. Why should anyone have to live with these feelings of hurt? I think that I will press “publish” now. It’s time to tell this long-kept secret.
Aviva, this is such a brave and courageous post. I’m sorry you had to experience this. You are right in that differentiating between bullying, disagreements, and unkind words can be a challenge… In high school, I often see a lot of students/friends teasing or ribbing each other. When is it crossing a line? When does it go from being good-natured (both on the giving and receiving end) to being bullying or harassment? I agree that the more we talk about it, the more we actively look for it, the greater the impact we can have on the system. THANK YOU for sharing.
Thanks Heather! I think that the talking is important. There is something cathartic in sharing, but I also hope that it encourages others to share. Even in elementary school, it can be so hard to tell the difference. When do people cross a line? How do we determine? What I do know now is that people are talking, and hopefully with this talking, comes a better understanding and a reduction in bullying.
I feel like embarrassment is the biggest weapon for bullies. They grandstand for an audience to make themselves feel bigger and in order to do that they have to try to make the other person feel smaller. Clearly those boys were doing that. I went to school with boy, older than me, who bullied lots of people. He said mean things to me and everyone else. Then in one class he wanted me to give him answers for a quiz so he acted as though we were friends. Weird! I didn’t let him. By then I was used to simply not answering him. The teacher had stepped out of the room in an effort to teach us a lesson about cheating. He had set up a video camera to tape what had happened while he was out. He clearly had the attempted cheating on camera. But he never said a word to me about it. He never talked to me privately about it. He never checked in to see if this was ongoing or if I needed help and was too shy (or whatever) to say anything. I think that is what has changed. The adults respond to bullying now by checking on the bullied, instead of only talking to the bully. That’s progress. Thank you for sharing your story!
Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa, and so very sorry that you had to go through this! I think you’re definitely right. Now adults are checking on the bullied too, and this is indeed progress. In the end, both parties might need support. I can’t help but wonder now why the “bullies” in your case and mine, responded as they did. Were there bigger issues/stressors at play? Maybe now, we’re also looking more at the “why,” or at least, I hope this is the case.
I’m sorry to read about your experience and how lasting the effects have been as exemplified through not sharing and perhaps through not continuing with coding. I’m hoping that you feel empowered through recalling and reflecting on what happened to you and how it shaped things for you. Furthermore, I hope that through being transparent and brave, your message encourages others to reflect, connect with someone they trust and to stand up to bullying.
Thanks for the comment, Carrie! I have no doubt that my visual spatial needs would make coding a challenge, but I do wonder if my memories from this class also have me connecting coding with something more. Maybe sharing this story will change that. I hope that others share too. Speaking up is so important. I wonder now if doing so 24 years ago would have stopped things then.
You are so courageous. ~ Every tweet you tweet makes me wish I was a teacher. You are a remarkable teacher and a remarkable human being. I’m so grateful to you.
Awww … thanks Kate! You’re making me cry. I so appreciate your support: here and on Twitter!