This spring I read the book Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, and the effect it had on me and on my classroom was powerful. The book is about a high school student who was bullied every day of his school career starting in kindergarten. The chilling fictional story depicts one devastating possible outcome of this kind of constant abuse; the young man finally breaks, takes weapons into his high school, and kills or wounds several fellow classmates. What made this story so frightening is that our news is riddled with stories about the sometimes devastating result of unresolved bullying. We are bombarded with tragic tales of retaliation, suicide, and the affects of the newest form of bullying; cyber bullying.
After reading this book, I felt compelled to do something powerful to take a stand against bullying in my classroom and in our school. My students and I engaged in some heartfelt conversations about bullying; how it makes us feel, why we do it ourselves, and what we could do to take a stand. The students openly discussed the feeling of powerlessness a victim of bullying feels and several got emotional as they told of times they felt this way. Without a doubt, if you were to ask me to share my best memory of this past year it would be those moments of complete honesty we shared and the difference it began to make in my students.
We made a declaration against bullying and teasing which everyone signed. Some of my students shared personal experiences about how they felt when they were bullied or why they had bullied in the past over the morning announcements and invited anyone who felt as we did to sign our petition, which hangs proudly in the front hall. It was a life-changing moment for all of us, and the proudest I have ever been of a group of students.
I share this with you to ask for your support in your classrooms and in your schools in the upcoming school year. We need to be more tuned in to our students and confront bullying when we hear of it. We need to involve our students in the task of rethinking how they interact with each other, and we need to openly address problems as they occur with the goal of resolution. We need to put our students to work to help stamp out this destructive behavior, too. Give them a sense of ownership in the solution, and they will join in.
In one of our discussions, one of my students said, “How can we make a difference? We are just one class.” I told them, “We are only one class, but each student in our class will have an impact on everyone they know, and those people will impact everyone they know, and over time maybe we will begin to see the difference we made.”
I am asking all of you to make a difference. Read Nineteen Minutes. It will touch you deeply. I am including a link here for you to sign the “Stop Bullying! Pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act”. Please log-on and sign this important document.
Get involved in this most important fight. It impacts all of us.