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Tales From the Schoolhouse: Of Heroes, Heroines, and Bullies

By Jeff Johanson
Tales From the Schoolhouse:  Of Heroes, Heroines, and Bullies

According to, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.” The website is fantastic, by the way, and a great resource for teachers and administrators. Those of us who have spent years in education have inevitably come across bullying and have tried to address its causes and effects with varying degrees of success. The practice can take so many different forms, of course. Another time, and with license to fill up an entire issue of TIE, we might continue the conversation by discussing just how prevalent bullying through social media is, even as it changes and morphs, hurting our kids in ways that educators and parents are almost helpless to control. Recently, the plight of a youngster in Tennessee reached the attention of both news and social media and has garnered anti-bullying support from sources that have, at least in their short-term response to this incident, proven inspiring. An eleven-year-old student, Keaton Jones, was filmed by his mother while reacting to the bullying he has been subjected to at school. With the mother’s social media posting, the victim’s tears went viral, causing an outpouring of compassionate responses and prompting support from, among many others, an NFL quarterback from Tennessee. “So I got the chance to spend the day with my new best bud Keaton,” wrote Jarrett Guarantano, quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. “It was unbelievable to get to know him and realize that we have a lot in common. This dude is very special and has changed my life forever. Now I have the little brother I always wanted! God bless you my man.” The Tennessee Titans and their quarterback certainly deserve our thanks and applause. Unfortunately, not all bullied children come to know that compassion and caring does reside within most people, and within every community. A postscript to Keaton’s story continues to be written, with more social media reports coming out that have only served to bring additional bullying to this boy and his mother. Of course, as I cannot even begin to fathom the extent to which my own 7th-grade students in Yangon control their own social media worlds apart from parental or school guidance, I’m not surprised. In my early years overseas, I had the opportunity to lead a “week without walls” trip to the Himalayan foothills for a trekking, rock climbing, and rappelling experience. Within five meters from the ground while rappelling, one of our high school boys, who was known to be at least a verbal tormenter of classmates at school, found himself twisted, spinning, and dangling. Stuck in that position, he couldn’t complete his descent. Crying out in panic, the lad was quickly untangled with help and continued to the ground without incident. After withstanding moments of terror that were certainly not part of the deal he signed up for, my student was reflective and understood the episode as an opportunity for growth. No doubt he was also aware that no one was making fun of him; his classmates had his back and cared about him, knowing that any of us could have been put in that very same frightening position. Over the years, the messages that I share with bullying victims at the various schools where I have worked are easy to formulate. I offer praise and express admiration for the act of standing up for oneself, for seeking out an adult who can help, particularly one whose job it is to do just that. I also mention to victims that they may very well have to be strong a second time, in the event that the bully acts again. In severe cases, the bully may be asked to seek other scholastic options. What of the bully, however? Our opening definition does state that “serious, lasting problems” may also be in store for the child who preys on others. I always call upon Eagle Spirit here at Yangon International School, imploring the bully to see both the need and the benefit of doing the right thing for him or herself. Often service can be an answer for such students, and a readily available option as more and more international schools embrace service learning. Eliminating bullying is a main focus of our student council organizations. Of course, I will always throw into any conversation I have with a bully, “Are you OK?” Of course they are not, but often I find getting to the pain being suffered by a bully is key to finding the right approach in helping. Why I’m here, I think. Jeff Johanson is the Secondary School Principal at Yangon International School.

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