Bullies: How to Identify Them and What to Do About It
Providing a safe learning environment is critical to the success of a student. However, one in five children will be bullied at some point in their academic career. That shocking statistic makes it very likely that a substitute teacher will witness bullying at some point during his or her career. How can you identify bullies and what steps should you take if you think bullying has occurred?
This is a critical step because mislabeling a student as a bully can result in emotional harm similar to that of a victim of bullying. According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined with two factors. First, it is unwanted, aggressive behavior involving a perceived imbalance of power between two individuals. Secondly, bullying behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated. Bullying could involve physical abuse. However, it can also be more subtle, such as spreading rumors, verbal attacks or excluding someone from a group. It’s important to note that students often use social media or electronic communication to bully, making it even harder to spot. As a substitute, it may be difficult to know each student individually. However, as you work for the same schools and teachers, you are likely to become familiar with students. As you do, look for warning signs that a student may be a bullying victim. Here are some examples.
- Unexplained injuries
- Frequent stomach aches or headaches
- Declining grades or loss of interest in class
- Self-destructive behaviors
Steps to Take
To restore a safe environment, it’s important that teachers, including substitute teachers, do not ignore the behavior. Circumstances vary. However, the following are actions you should consider.
- Be familiar with policy. Most schools now have an anti-bullying policy. Read it and know what process is already in place.
- Be discreet. It may make matters worse for the victim if you jump to his or her defense in front of other students. Instead, find a discreet way to speak to the victim. Assure him or her that you are there to help. Victims often suffer from low self-esteem. Reassurance may give them the courage to speak up.
- Report. Talk to the regular classroom teacher. This may help you establish whether the behavior you witnessed is a one-time occurrence or a pattern. Lastly, talk to administration. Per anti-bullying policies, administrators must follow-up and investigate reports of bullying.
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