By Ian Jones @IDJONESPHOTOG
Trigger Warning: Bullying)
A couple of weeks ago, the obituary of my sixth grade teacher appeared in the newspaper. It set off a lot of emotions for me. Perhaps the strangest emotion I felt was …relief, to be honest. During the year I was in his class, I was bullied. For me, it was as predictable as the sunrise.
Bullying is not a new phenomenon. It was happening in society long before I was bullied thirty years ago. While there’s more of a media spotlight on it these days, I’m sure it will continue to happen, although more in the shadows. (Google “cyberbullying”.)
According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, while only 10 U.S. studies have been conducted, all have agreed that the disabled are disproportionately bullied. We are two to three times as likely to be subjected to it.
My bullying started two years before, but it escalated during his class. I remember at least three kids who taunted me regularly, although there was definitely a ringleader.
Some days it would be about my need for a haircut, but mostly it had to do with my disability. It seemed like if there was an excuse for it, they’d find it. My grades suffered, go figure.
Having positive adult role models is important for all kids, but if the victim can’t confide in someone about what is happening, there could be serious repercussions.
In my case, it was rumored that my teacher was a heavy drinker. Whether or not that’s true, I can’t say.
All I know is he didn’t think very highly of me. His attitude was that since I was disabled, I would amount to nothing in life. If he’d cared, maybe the situation would have calmed down.
As I remember it, my abuse was rarely physical. I remember being called “it”. I remember the haircut remarks. I can only remember one instance where I was actually hit, and when the ringleader threw my crutches across the room to humiliate me.
There was more, I’m willing to bet, but I don’t remember some events my parents told me that happened during that period, so I can’t be sure.
Victims rarely come forward in bullying (But then, it’s rare for any victim to come forward). They fear retribution. Apparently, I was in the brave 36%. I remember the stare down in the principal’s office. My coming forward did nothing. It was my word versus his, and of course, he denied it. The school district did nothing.
Finally, I remember deciding that as a protest, I’d stay home. I missed the end of the year party, but if it meant not being around my tormentors, that was OK by me. My parents had my back during a really bleak time, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
I was lucky. According to the Ouch Blog, one student was so affected she started self harming. Some have been driven further.
I’m glad to say there was a happy ending to my story. The next year, I started junior high at a different school from most of my tormentors. I know that most people go through hell in junior high, but I had the time of my life.
I’d say “rest in peace” to my sixth grade teacher, but since he didn’t give me the time of day, frankly, I don’t feel obliged.