Bullying Destroys Lives and Sometimes Ends Them: How Teachers Can Help

By Huber, Joseph H. | Palaestra, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Bullying Destroys Lives and Sometimes Ends Them: How Teachers Can Help


Huber, Joseph H., Palaestra


There has been a great deal of discussion lately among college educators in Massachusetts who prepare teachers, regarding their roles in preventing school bullying. How could there not be, with six South Hadley, Massachusetts, teenagers being charged in the death of Phoebe Prince? Phoebe was a 15-year-old high school freshman who recently moved from Ireland. She allegedly took her life in response to three months of endless harassment, ranging from verbal assaults to physical harm, including stalking and statutory rape. The news of Phoebe's death came less than a year after 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Massachusetts, ended his life in April, 2009, after relentless bullying, including anti-gay slurs. On April 29, 2010, invoking the two suicides of Prince and Walker-Hoover, Massachusetts lawmakers unanimously approved sweeping measures to crack down on school bullying, crafting one of the nation's toughest laws.

The Massachusetts Law St. 2010, c. 92 curtails bullying by requiring school districts to develop bullying prevention and intervention programs, including reporting and documenting of suspected cases, and procedures for prompt investigations. Every school employee, including custodians and cafeteria workers, must report suspected bullying. Schools are required to develop disciplinary measures that may be imposed on a student who has engaged in bullying, commonly thought of as repeated acts of aggressive behavior and intimidation against a less powerful individual. The law does not set penalties for teachers not reporting incidents of bullying, leaving school districts to choose their own sanctions for those teachers failing to report cases of suspected bullying.

Massachusetts is not the only state to address school bullying. Forty-two states now have laws against bullying (Time, April 19, 2010), and Congress is debating various federal versions. Bullying is now recognized as a serious problem. The National Education Association estimates 160,000 children miss school every day because of fear or intimidation by other students (The New York Times, OP-ED, March 27, 2010). Bullying can no longer be viewed as a harmless and normative rite of passage in the growing up process.

Understanding Bullying

Verbal and physical bullying occur on school buses, on the way to and from school, in lunchrooms, hallways, bathrooms, classrooms, and on playgrounds. There are also many incidents of hazing/bullying occurring in high school athletics as a part of introducing new players to teams and their traditions.

More recently, emergence of portable technologies has given new meaning to bullying behavior--a phenomenon known as cyberbullying (Committee on Inquiring, Violence and Poison Prevention [2009]. Policy Statement--Role of the Pedestrian in Youth Violence Prevention. Pediatrics, 124, 393-402). Cyberbullying, also known online as social cruelty, makes use of modern technology to humiliate, threaten, or otherwise cause psychological distress to others. Examples include sending intimidating e-mails or text messages, posting damaging digital pictures or videos, and circulating rumors via the social networking sites of Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.

Cyberbullying can be worse than traditional forms of bullying, for cyberbullying can wreak havoc 24/7. The more frequent the cyberbullying, the more tethered one is to one's tormenter, and this likely may cause higher levels of social anxiety. Schools, therefore, should develop policies specifically addressing cyberbullying.

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Professional Preparation

Practically nothing is being done to convey to teachers in training what is known about school bullying, how to identify bullying, and implement strategies for shaping appropriate student behavior.

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Bullying Destroys Lives and Sometimes Ends Them: How Teachers Can Help
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