School transitions are trouble spots

By Hayley Beitman
Staff writer

Most people are familiar with classic “first day of school” movie scenes where freshmen are portrayed carrying seniors’ books, doing their chores or being pushed around.

The transition from middle school to high school, or even elementary to middle school, can be a difficult one, already filled with changes and uncomfortable situations. The American Civil Liberties Union has worked to eliminate racial and gender hazing, and protect children who are the most vulnerable, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

An 8th grade history teacher at a private middle school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. shared his views on the difficult transition to high school and how pressures to fit in are a factor. He said that bullying is a problem in all types of schools, in all grades, in all social groups.

He said the major reason for bullying is that kids go from being “top dog” of their school to the bottom of the social ladder.

“They often do or say things that they normally wouldn’t do, or say, just to fit in.  Middle school is all about fitting in.  As much as the parents want their children to be pushing themselves academically, the main priority for many middlers is to fit in,” he said.

“The social peer pressure is really intense and can get normal, nice kids to do some really cruel stuff for a cheap laugh or acceptance into a ‘cooler’ group.  I can think of hundreds of examples of this happening.  Sometimes it’s innocent, and sometimes the situations leave lasting scars. Fortunately, we haven’t had the cases of suicide as a result of bullying here, but it’s a genuine fear that we have around here.”

One way he feels this can be prevented is for teachers to monitor more closely and for smaller group activities like advisory and homeroom. “In tight-knit communities like ours, and this is probably true in many private schools where the class sizes are small and the parents are really involved, kids don’t have as many opportunities to be sneaky and to do things without being caught also, because of programs like advisory and having counselors on staff, students typically have someone that they can talk to about the bullying and it can get squashed before it gets out of control.”

He attended a public school himself where the classes where huge, teachers were distant and counselors were overwhelmed with more serious cases where bullying had escalated. He found that often, the quieter bullying is harder to control in private schools. “I think it often flies under the radar here a bit because it often isn’t the blatant in-your-face type of bullying that you see in other schools.”

Social media bullying and cyberbullying were two points he said are very hard to monitor and punish. “We see that here quite a bit, someone writing something about someone else on Facebook or Twitter or other places like that.  Kids creating ‘I hate BLANK’ pages and getting people to “like” it.“ Teachers, who are computer savvy themselves, say that middle schoolers have gotten way too advanced and smart with the new technology. “You just can’t patrol it. It’s something that schools try to monitor, but almost always fail miserably.” Education is one way he feels can really help students understand the consequences of their actions. “We try to educate the students on the impacts of social and cyberbullying and try to get them to understand the lasting pain they can cause and the paper trail that they can often accumulate because nothing is ever really deleted from cyberspace.”

“As far as what I was taught in college about bullying, well, it wasn’t a whole lot.” The problem is that many teachers were in school more than 15 years ago before bullying was a buzzword. “My education classes sort of glossed over the issue.  We were taught to take advantage of ‘teachable’ moments, but to be very careful not to get too involved in some of the personal issues that students sometimes wanted to open up about.“

He said that now that bullying is such a hot topic, it is a topic at every educational conference and is part of lots of in-service and professional development around the country. His friends who teach in Vermont, New Hampshire and Ohio often talk about how their schools are trying to crack down on bullying.

As a teacher, he feels that unless it is very blatant and in your face and in the halls or classroom, it is extremely hard for teachers to identify bullying or do anything about it.

He said that sometimes it’s a group of kids giving another student the cold shoulder or just shutting them out of their normal social circle, which is very hard to reprimand. He doesn’t see bullying getting worse but he has seen it change over the years as a teacher. “It’s tough to watch, but you just have to try to talk to the individual being shut out and remind them that it really isn’t the end of the world and that in a couple of years … maybe even months or weeks, this dynamic will change and to remember what this feels like and to never be a part of a group that does this to someone else.”

2 Responses to School transitions are trouble spots

  1. […] School transitions can be a time of trouble Posted in: Cyberbullying […]

  2. BudB says:

    This is such a tough time. I have seen all kinds of reactions to these transitions. From the kids acting out to fit in with a bad crowd, to the teens acting out to get kicked out so they don’t have to deal with whatever is troubling them there. It is important for guidance counselors, parents, and any other school staff to look for signs of this happening.

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