Friday, August 29, 2008


As many of you know, my almost 13 year old daughter has a situation with a "mean girl" in her middle school. The situation came to a head this summer and I ended up at school yesterday talking to her guidance counselor and the assistant principal. (More on this later.)

This issue with bullying has really made me start to think or rethink how we deal with bullying in the classroom. There are, unfortunately, countless stories of bully victims committing suidice or coming into schools with guns. And all of us, as educators, want to be sure this doesn't happen to our students. So we set in place bully programs and even create laws regarding safe schools. But here I am wondering how much of it really works.

Now I know, already, that many of my comments to this blog will tell me how fabulous your district's bully program is. Go ahead..tell me all about it. But I still doubt its success. You see, what I realized through all of this, what I have known for years anyway, was that bullying has nothing to do with the bully and everything to do with the victim.

When I am faced with a bullying situation in the classroom, I deal with both the bully and the victim. I am sincere and firm and caring and supportive. I do all the right things, say what I am supposed to say, and watch the incidences disappear before my eyes. I am brilliant. But now I think about my daughter and about Ryan Halligan.

Ryan Halligan was 13 year old boy dealing with bullies. He and his dad worked out some methods for handling the bullies and dad thought all was well. Especially since Ryan stopped talking about the issue. Turns out all was not well and Ryan ended up committing suicide.

Now I am not saying my daughter is heading in that direction. She talks to me all the time, has friends, laughs, enjoys life. But I also know how horrible school can be when one is a victim, having been there myself. And I really thought I would build my own child up enough that she would never be a victim herself. So what happened?

One of the reasons I was such an easy target in school is that I could never take a joke. Never. If someone teased me about anything, I cried. At home, at school, with family or friends. Eventually, I just walked around assuming I was being attacked. In fact, most of the pictures I have of me as a young child is one in which I am sulking. It amazes me that this was allowed to go on but parents then didn't quite get it. I was told to stop sulking. Okay, problem fixed.

Cut to adulthood and I realize that, even today, I hate to be teased. I take it all so personally. Sometimes I can handle it but most often I can't. And Ali has watched me not handle it her whole life. Because, you see, my husband loves to joke around. He is great at taking it. He laughs and sends it back. But I can't take it and most of the time end up insulted. So I started watching Ali and I see she is the same. Damn. And that is what makes her the perfect victim.

So now I have met with her guidance counselor and assistant principal. They made sure Ali is not in any classes with her nemesis. They assured me they would watch in the cafeteria and notify her teachers to keep an eye out for any signs of bullying.

But mostly we talked about how to get Ali to be more assertive. To learn to stand up for herself. To learn to handle it. And I have started at home. My husband and I do role playing with her. He's very good at this. I am not so. I have to fight with myself not to get hurt while we are role playing. Old habits are difficult to break. We also play games like telling "Your Momma" jokes. We make them up in the car. We change to "You're so stupid" jokes. She laughs, I laugh. She's very good at making them up. We are both learning.

Turns out bullying isn't about the bully. There will always be people who need to make others feel bad in order to make themselves feel better. It seems that in order to prevent bullying, we need to work with the victims. Maybe some social groups where the children just sit around insulting each other and coming back with zingers. I am hoping it works for my daughter.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Lee Baber

We often have conversations about how close we really are when we know each other only online. If all we know of each other is what we teach or what we plurk or tweet, then how much do we know of each other at all?

Two nights ago, I found out that Lee Baber had been hospitalized due to lung cancer. What I didn't know was that she had been battling cancer for four months. And this morning, I heard that she passed away last night. Quite soon after the news of her passing, the EdTechTalk community moved into action. News spread quickly throughout the community. People who were offline were notified, a collection was taken for her family, a memorial page was put up on the front page of the EdTechTalk site, a memorial broadcast was scheduled, and her family was contacted to participate.

The broadcast was wonderful. It occurred tonight and many people stopped by to listen, participate, pay their respects. I heard stories about Lee that taught me things about her I never knew. I didn't know she played the banjo. I didn't know she lived in the south. I didn't know she had a sister. I didn't know she wanted to act. I didn't know she took some time after high school before attending more than a community college.

So how well did I actually know Lee? I knew that she cared a great deal about people. I knew that, if I ever needed assistance with broadcasting (and this was quite often), that she was available, willing, and most knowledgeable to help. I knew that she was the go-to technical person in the EdTech community, if Jeff wasn't available. I knew that she had a soft, calming voice when talking me through a particularly tricky situation. I knew she loved her Mac but knew so much about how to get my PC working.

This isn't a lot of personal information. And, I guess, I never really got to know Lee as a friend or companion. But I am really glad I got to know her at all. She was a huge part of EdTechTalk. She cared about making it successful. She will be missed.