Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (7 of 8)
After the last lunch period was over, I sent for Jordon. Earlier in the day I had visited Ms. Odum’s classroom. While I was there she told me about the teasing that Jordan has been enduring for weeks. Other kids were calling him a faggot. He was upset and she felt that he needed to talk to someone.
When he came to my office, I didn’t waste any time before getting to the point with him.
“Your teacher tells me you have been having a difficult time with some of the other kids. She said you needed someone to talk to you. So what’s up Jordon?”
“The other kids keep calling me names.”
“What names are they calling you?”
“I don’t know, names.”
“Are they calling you a faggot and gay?”
“How did you know?”
Jokingly I said, “I guess I’m a mind reader.”
He was tense. I tried to get to get him to relax.
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since last year.”
“It must be getting on your nerves.”
Jordon started to cry. I got him some tissues. He cried on and off for the rest of our meeting. He identified the boys who were teasing him. The main tormentor is Kendal. This boy a skinny stick of a kid. Jordon could easily snap him in two if he so chose to do so.
“Why do you think he keeps calling you a faggot?”
“I don’t know.” Jordon replied.
“Come on Jordon, I’m sure you have some idea as to why he is messing with you. I think you just don’t want to say out loud what you really do think.”
“He makes fun of the way I talk and walk. He says I act like a girl.”
“We’ve known each other for a long time, Jordon. I like you. You’re a great person. I think the way you act is just right for you.”
We talked for a while about Kendal. I tried to help Jordon to see that Kendal was treating him badly because Kendal felt badly about himself. “Bullies are always trying to make themselves feel better by trying to make other people feel lousy.” I continued to try to reassure Jordon.
“I’m afraid my whole life is going to be like this. People will always be calling me names.”
I felt a surge of anger as I considered how much power the Kendal’s of the world can exert over the Jordons. I tried to comfort him by repeating to him a line I had read in a book about bullies.
“It won’t be like this when you are an adult. Adults don’t bully one another like this. You will find plenty of people who will respect you and love you for who you are. I think you are a wonderful person. Together we can figure out some strategies for you to use when you deal with Kendal.”
“I don’t want you to say anything to him,” Jordon said.
“I agree, Jordon. I don’t think my confronting Kendal would be helpful. I do think it is helpful that we are talking now. You are showing that you are a courageous by talking to me. These are really hard feelings to share. Keeping all of this hurt caged inside of you wouldn’t be good. How about you I continuing to talk? I think it will help you to feel better to have some one with whom you can share your feelings.”
We talked for a while longer until Jordon managed to stop crying. When he was feeling more in control, I sent him back to his room.
After he left, I found myself thinking that I didn’t really agree with the line from the book that I had quoted. I’m not sure if anyone can ever escape from the reach of a bully. I sure have had my hands full with warding off the bullies. The threats and punishments of No Child Left Behind is a form of bullying. The attacks of Christie Sims and Ms. Yates are the attacks of a bully. I could relate to Jordon’s pain. I could also feel Armand’s pain and his mother Ms. Miller’s pain. When I think of all of the bullies that we all brush up against in our lives, I am overwhelmed with anger and frustration. I didn’t dwell for long on this thought. There were other matters, which need to be handled. I gave Ms. Miller a call and set up a meeting for the next morning.
I visited the eighth graders in the morning. I had a story that I wanted to read to them, a short piece by Paul Logan, called Rowing the Bus. It described a time from the author’s youth when he was bullied and how he stood up to the bully. It touchingly describes the regret he felt for turning his back on another boy who was being bullied. It is a powerful piece. I wanted to leave them with something to think about over the weekend.
I created a ruse when I introduced the story to the eighth graders. I explained to them that I wanted to read this story to the fifth graders. I said that they were having a problem with bullies and bullying.
“ When I’m finished reading this story, I want you to hear what you think. Is it a good story to read to the fifth graders. Will it help them to think about how they act towards each other? I want to hear your opinion.”
I was hoping that hearing this story would provoke the eighth graders to think about the bullying that was going on within their own group. I was trying to assist Jordon in an indirect manner. Perhaps after the leaders of the class heard the story, they would put some pressure on Kendal to get off of Jordon’s back.
The group was mesmerized by the story. There wasn’t a snicker or wise remark from anyone during the read-aloud. I could see through their reaction that they recognized themselves in the story. In the real bully story of life, we have all at some time played the part of the bully as well as that of the victim. The reactions of the students and their comments during the discussion that followed the read aloud confirmed my belief in their goodness. Everyone in the room was anti-bully.