“Dogface! Dogface! Dogface!” I can still hear those chants sometimes in my head. I was in sixth grade. I rode the bus home. The bus is always where the bullying was the worst. They called me dogace. They called me ugly. They called me fat. They organized a whole day where they ignored me.
I sat down at the lunch table and an entire table of kids got up and moved. They wouldn’t sit next to me.
I spent months, no years, wondering what I did to cause them to lash out at me. What was it about me that made them hate me? It’s been 15 years and I still have no idea.
Maybe I was vulnerable. I had a parent with cancer. Maybe I was overly emotional. I cried a lot. Who knows? It eventually tapered off and stopped around grade 10, but I will never forget how it felt. I will never forget saying my prayers every night and adding in “Please don’t let anyone make fun of me tomorrow.” It was devastating. I didn’t want to go to school. I used to wish to become sick.
As bad as it was to be made fun of by my fellow classmates, it was just as bad when the teachers ignored it. I can distinctly remember teachers looking the other way. Ignoring it. Telling me to ignore it and they’ll stop. Telling me that the boy who dedicated an ad in the school paper to the best man he knows -- me, (I’m a girl) only did it because he liked me.
“You’re egging them on by crying. They just want to see you cry. Stop reacting and they’ll stop,” one teacher once said to me.
So now here I stand, 15 years later at the front of my own grade 7 classroom. I can’t guarantee the children in my class won’t be bullied. But, I can damn sure guarantee that I won’t ignore it.
I won’t pretend I don’t hear it. I won’t let it slide because the bully’s mom is a fellow teacher. I won’t tell a child in my class to just ignore it. I won’t say, boys will be boys. I put a stop to it.
Each and every time I hear it or see it, I put a stop to it. Yes, this does interfere with class time. Yes, this does get us off track. But, I won’t allow for a child in my care to suffer the way I did.
I don’t want my students to pray to get sick so they don’t have to come to school like I did. I want my students to enjoy school. I want them to understand that it does get better.
I thought I was so ugly and horrible that no one would ever love me because that’s what a 12-year-old told me. Now, sitting here with my child and husband, it’s easy to forget that feeling. But, I won’t.
I hope I’m showing my students that their lives aren’t defined by middle school, high school, or college. And I hope that I’m teaching them by example that it’s never OK to sit idly by while someone else suffers.