Bullying

Bullying is a topic that has been weighing heavily on my heart.

bully actions

by Erin DaCosta

Bullying is a topic that has been weighing heavily on my heart.  The thought of one of my students being hurt, either physically or emotionally, is heartbreaking.  I want my students to feel safe each and every day.

What happens if you know bullying is occurring, but you never witness it firsthand?  What happens if you overhear an incident, but no student is willing to discuss what happened?  What happens if the fear of being a “snitch” is so heightened that a student is not willing to disclose what is happening to them?

These are the questions I’ve been struggling with.  Students have come to me this year to discuss issues of bullying they have witnessed in their community.  They are worried about their peers, and they want to help.  Yet they sometimes do not want to share what happened.  Students are willing to say, “It’s bullying,” but they are not willing to share more specific details.  Students have also shared their own experiences of bullying, but often refuse to name other students as the perpetrators, out of fear of being a “snitch” and ultimately becoming more outcast as a result.

Students have come to me in tears, sharing details of their days.  They have written in their journals about incidents of bullying.  I have overheard conversations that seem alarming.  All of these incidents are reported to the Guidance Department, and guidance does their best to resolve these issues, but students are not willing to talk authentically about what is going on their community.  They are fearful, and confused.  And more often than not, the bullied find themselves on the other side of the fence days, weeks, or months later, and they are so relieved to be out of the spotlight that they don’t dare stand up for the bully’s latest victim.

I want to help these students.  I truly do. But more often than not, I feel as if I have failed them.  Educators can offer a listening ear, and pass these issues on to appropriate authorities.  But is this enough?

Every time a student shares an incident of bullying with me, my mind inevitably flashes to Episode 13 of the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why.  This series follows high school student, Hannah Baker’s, suicide, and each episode highlights one of thirteen cassette tapes she recorded before taking her life.  Each of the cassettes are addressed to one person who played a role in her death, and in each she explains why their actions (or lack thereof) contributed to her decision to end her own life.

In episode thirteen, we learn that Hannah Baker’s thirteenth tape is for her guidance counselor, Mr. Porter.  Over the course of the episode, Hannah shares that Mr. Porter’s lack of action left her feeling hopeless.  In her eyes, he didn’t do enough.  This episode haunts me.  Am I Mr. Porter to my students?  Do I do enough to help them feel supported and loved, particularly in instances of bullying?

How do we, as educators, show that we care so deeply about students, particularly when they are being bullied?  How do we show them that we are so much more than Mr. Porter?  How do we build a community of trust, where students can name their bullies without fear of retaliation?

Sadly, I have no answers, only the fear that what we’re currently doing is not enough.

Erin DaCosta teaches theology to sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Mount Alvernia High School in Newton, MA.  Previously, she served as a campus minister in a co-ed environment.

Stressed

by Erin DaCosta

Every Friday, I invite my students to start class by spending ten minutes journaling.  I provide a prompt, and the rest is up to them.  The prompt is rarely related to class topics.  Rather, they are questions that invite them to reflect more deeply on their daily lives.  Several weeks ago, I gave my students the prompt, “What is on your heart and mind?  Share with me.”  The results broke my heart.  One entry in particular has stayed with me, and I want to share it with you today.

One student wrote:  “Many times I have to choose between spending time with my family and homework.  What is the point of all of this?  What is all of this stress for?  We live in a cycle of work, work, work, work, work, work…I feel like there is a problem in America’s schooling system.”

This student’s journal entry put into words what I have been witnessing in my students over the past few years:  they are incredibly, dangerously stressed and overworked.  They feel burdened by homework, quizzes, tests, and projects.  They are drowning in a world that bombards them with Snaps, likes, favorites, notifications, and more.  They are overcommitted, overinvolved, and overstimulated.

Do I add to this burden?  Do I, as their teacher, offer meaningful assignments that will aid their growth and development?  Does their homework supplement their in-class learning?  Should I do away with homework altogether?  How can I help them stop, breathe, and engage with the world around them?

These are the questions I grapple with on a daily basis.  I want to ensure that my students learn, that we cover enough curriculum, and that I offer structure and consistency.  Yet, I do not want my students to suffer.  And what I am seeing now is that they are struggling, immensely.  No student should have to choose between eating dinner with their family and doing homework.  No student should exist in a constant state of stress and anxiety.

My student closed her journal entry with a haiku, and I leave you with her words,

My generation
We need less stress, more support
Can we find a way?

I close by asking you this:  what stress do you see in your students?  How can we, as ministers and educators, appropriately respond?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Erin DaCosta teaches theology to sophomores, juniors, and seniors at Mount Alvernia High School in Newton, MA.  Previously, she served as a campus minister in a co-ed environment.