To Hell & Back: Bullying at Primary School

I recently posted about my desire to write about some of the tough experiences that have shaped my life. There will be several installments, including 4 different experiences with bullying. This is the first:

When I was 8 years old I was a super-blond, fair, blue-eyed, tall & lanky girl. We moved to a small community north of the Arctic Circle and the treeline, for three years. The community consisted mostly of native and aboriginal Canadians. A small minority of the population being Caucasian, most of whom moved into the community with their families to provide services such as health care, education, fire and police services. My dad provided police services.

My three siblings and I were mostly used to moving and making new friends. We settled in the first year without too much trouble. By year two I had become a part of the community at our little school and knew everyone, it seemed. I had a large circle of friends, and was active in many school and extra-curricular activities. I was always pretty quick with learning, and often finished my work ahead of time. My teachers offered me opportunities to do additional activities, sometimes in the form of worksheets, but also outside of class helping in the library, etc. and even planning one or two sessions in math for my teacher.

I don’t really recall where the trouble started, it was sometime in grade five. There are only a few details that stand out to me today. First, these were the days when students were rarely “pushed through”, but would get held back repeatedly when they didn’t meet the expected outcomes. I had a 15 or 16-year-old in my grade six class. I was eleven. I was actually one of the youngest in my class, and in some parts of Canada would have started a year later in school, so was up to a year younger than many of my classmates, in this case far younger still than some.

My bully was 15-16 year old Inuvialuit girl. She was a much older, tougher, and bigger girl than me. I was mostly pretty quiet, even reserved, but friendly. Initially I was approached with sneers and negative remarks. She didn’t like my hair, the way I looked at her, the clothes I wore, who my friends were, how smart I was… When those didn’t ruffle my feathers and get the reaction she was looking for, it gradually escalated. I was timid (in a way) and I was not about to be baited into anything that I knew I couldn’t handle. By no means was fighting an option in my mind. I would ignore her. I walked away. I bit my tongue. I was shaking in my boots most of the time.

There are two (of several) incidents I remember most clearly. Both occurred during “recess” while waiting in line to go back into class.

In one instance, I was chatting with my friends when she came up beside me in line. She started with the name-calling and baiting. I ignore her. She got in my face more, and I tried not to flinch. She kicked me in the shins, and I stood my ground. She started egging me on “Come on! Kick me back! Come on! Why don’t you fight me?!” A friend/cousin of hers finally stepped in and told her to stop, that I obviously didn’t want to kick her back or fight her, and to just leave me alone.

I don’t remember anything substantial happening to address this in school. I don’t recall teachers stepping in, anyone being called to the office. It was almost as if there was no supervision…

My mom was furious and went to the school to speak with my teacher about it. Something was done, but it doesn’t seem significant – the only memory I have of interactions with teachers about the bullying, was after the incident I am about to describe. Then my mother charged into that school and let my teacher know that under no uncertain terms was I to be punished for fighting back as she has made it very clear to me that I was not to stand back and take it anymore, but to stand up and protect myself! I wish that had been a real option.

The most memorable incident occurred when I was at or near the entrance to the school and Bully (who’s name I have, curiously, no recollection of) approached me again. Again with the name-calling and again with the baiting. When I didn’t respond she hauled off and slapped me, hard, wearing a frozen Beaver-fur mitten. This encounter happened with no one around and I was terrified that it wouldn’t stop at that. The LAST thing I was going to do was hit her back and give her reason to continue. I waited for her to leave. I suspect a bell rang or a teacher came to the door, I don’t recall.

These are pretty blatant and obvious bullying incidents. There were of course many more subtle which I don’t have any real memory of anymore. Fortunately for me, dad was transferred. We moved on to a new community and a new school and the bullying stopped, for a time.

Next stop: junior high – new girl amongst a number of consolidating schools, where the Cool Kids were no longer at the top of the totem pole anymore.

I don’t really have any solutions to offer, except that as parents we must be diligent, and that as educators we must not tolerate such activities.  Perhaps it would even be pertinent to look at what we are doing that might be cause for escalating some of these activities.  Have we underestimated the impact special activities might have outside of the controlled environment?  How can we offer support and still meet the needs of every child?

If you have a story to share, please do so in the comments below, or contact me via email, my contact form or Twitter. I am also happy to share my experiences with others who may be dealing with challenging times.  Feel free to share this post!

About Trish

family legacy curator, social justice advocate, blogger, amateur photographer, reader, cyclist, runner & swimmer, mom of two

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[…] previous installments see:  To hell & back, bullying at primary school and  Bullying, the next installment […]