DESCRIPTION OF THE EXPERIENCE
Five years ago, Portalegre, Portugal - “Li”, my 13-year-old student, was one of the best students and human beings I have ever met or worked with. Even her name was beautiful, though I cannot let you know about it, here!... Anyway, so you can get a clearer idea of this 7th grade girl, I will tell you what she was like, as a person and as a pupil.
She was quiet but energetic, polite, respectful, discreet, intelligent, wise, hardworking, honest, cheerful, nice, helpful ... she had all the humane features a teacher might ask for! Nevertheless, after a few months, Li began to feel uncomfortable and unhappy, though none of us teachers could notice the difference.
There was this boy, “Zom” who was just Li‘s reverse; he was her rival. He was a mean boy, envious and he couldn’t stand her being so much better than him, at everything, so he would make fun of her, and try to make her look stupid and awkward whenever he could, always being careful for no one to see or hear what he was doing. Zom enjoyed provoking everyone and many feared being his target. Taking advantage of the situation, this bully made his classmates support his stupid attitudes against Li. It was either them or her and for many, getting rid of Zom’s “fire zone” was the first aim to be achieved, no matter who might suffer from it. Being in her early teens, that hard period for young people, when being made fun of is your most frightening nightmare and it is so easy to look and feel ridiculous in front of your peers, Li could hardly ignore such behaviour. And she suffered, alone, silently, fighting against her will of running away never to be seen again...
Only in the 8th grade did I realize something was not well. Li seemed to have changed. She lost her concentration and couldn’t follow most of the lessons. At least she didn’t seem to know the answers even of the easiest questions. The classmates would even laugh at her failure.
One day, I had her mother called and she was really worried and miserable about the situation. She explained Li had asked her and made her promise she wouldn’t tell the teachers a word about the way most of her classmates treated her. Actually, ever since the beginning of the 7th grade, some of them relied on her for getting homework and tests done, and were nice to her when alone, but they kept making fun of her and mocking her with no regret whenever Zom was around. He was the leader, and things would go smooth only when he was absent. Her mum had only understood the situation thanks to her son, Li’s big brother, who had had enough of his sister’s suffering, despite her requests for silence. He had told their mother what was going on and together they were looking for a solution, making sure they wouldn’t break Li’s confidence on both of them. She felt desperate and she was almost ashamed of being such a good student, with such high marks. Sometimes she would even pretend not to know some answers in order not to be mocked at. All she wanted was to be unnoticed and she’d do whatever she could to make them forget she existed.
By being asked to go to school, instead of looking for the teacher, she found a way to share her concern and ask for help, without “betraying” her daughter. I knew Zom wasn’t a nice teenager, but I had never imagined he could be a real bully. And Li...? Who could have imagined she was a silent victim of bullying?
Very cautiously, I talked to him alone, not mentioning Li or any other students, but I made it clear I had understood the kind of person he was, and I was going to call his parents and warn the other teachers about his attitudes towards his classmates. Unless in the following two weeks he could prove to me I was wrong, I would make him pay for all the suffering he had been causing to so many people for so long. I even threatened Zom with the police, reminding him that attitudes like his had already been considered a crime, since too many young people had committed suicide as a consequence of being bullied. He, and others like him, deserved to be arrested for being the murderers of those victims.
His first reaction was to deny everything and try to blame others... I was harsh on him and told him I would solve the situation right away, since he didn’t want to use the chance I was offering him of changing and proving his regrets. I was crossing the classroom’s threshold when he called me and asked me to give him that opportunity after all.
This was what I was hoping that would happen, but I nearly failed! Fortunately he believed I knew more than I really did and he started behaving differently on that very day!
One day, when he happened to be absent, I had the chance of talking to the other students and I was pleasantly surprised by their reaction. When they understood I knew the kind of things he did, they started feeling confident to complain about a hundred rogueries of his towards almost all of them. Even his “closest friends” admitted being afraid of him but having no courage to fight him back. It was easier to join him than being against him – so they did and behaved just the way he wanted them to...
Li said no word, but I could read her relieved expression. From then on, she was our “good old” Li again. All my colleagues got an idea of the things he could frame up and were aware of possible tries of his ...
Zom had his punishment: no one feared him any longer and no one trusted him or tried to be his friend. He had no choice but to become different and adapt.
I want to believe he became a better human being, but I’m not that positive about it. At least he stopped harming good people he could have destroyed!