Dear Jasper and Kestrel,
This past week we had Pink Shirt Day at school. Pink Shirt Day is a day where we wear pink shirts and have programs and lessons about not bullying other kids. It was started years ago when a boy wore a pink soccer shirt to school and some other boys bullied him about it. Some of his friends went out about bought a bunch of pink tee shirts and they all wore them. The bullies had to give up because they were out numbered and bullies only like to pick on one person at a time.
So, on Pink Shirt Day, I borrowed a pink shirt from Auntie Olga and wore it to school. The Student Leadership group brought small paper shirts to the classes and showed us a video about working against bullying. It was good to see my students come up with so many ways to stop bullying! “Stand with kids who are being bullied.” “Ask new kids to play with you.” “Tell a grown-up.” Kids who defend those being bullied are called “upstanders”, because they stand up for the kids. It is good to be an upstander!
The irony is that in the middle of all this focus on not bullying, two of my boys were teased very cruelly by their friends…. and their friends were in Student Leadership. Apparently, knowing how to stop someone else from bullying doesn’t keep you from being a bully.
It started when a friend thought of something clever, but mean, to say to my student. He said it, and his friends laughed. My student didn’t like it, but these were his friends, so he laughed, too. Then everyone was saying it, because it made them laugh, and all of a sudden my student had half a dozen kids saying the mean thing over and over, and laughing. It felt awful. He came back to class crying.
Fortunately, we have good grownups at our school who saw what was happening. They called the kids aside and talked to them, and had the kids talk to each other. The kids who had been mean saw that they hadn’t been playing, but bullying. Playing is when everyone is having fun. Bullying isn’t. Apologies were made and friends, mostly, were forgiven.
By the next day, it seemed that everyone was friends again, but it was a real lesson about human nature. We need to practice kindness everyday until it becomes our natural response. We need to practice on our children, teachers, parents, pets and house plants. We need to nurture and care for each other, not say things that will hurt others, and hold on to the connections between us.
It’s always been true, but more than ever, that teaching is less about curriculum and more about growing good people. It’s hard work.