Lifelong Learning Programme

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Teachers Experiences

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A bullying experience at São Lourenço School
Helena Castro
Lower and Higher Secondary
School bullying
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!

Comments on this Teachers Experience

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Date: 2014.08.19

Posted by Murat Topal (Turkey)

Message: Bullying sometimes illustrates that a child does not have the ability to deal with disappointment or he/she does not have the chance to talk about the problem. We can understand that the teacher did an appropriate thing. He let the students have a sentive feeling, emotion or attitude towards their friend. He was able to prevent a likely big space among the student and her friends. As teachers or would-be-teachers, we should be careful about what we are doing in order to prevent this kind of problem because our world is changing as my colleague mentions. The people are becoming more aggressive and violent. We can see the same problem on little children. Because of that situation, we had better make some plans about the way our students, in fact, all the children respond to the situation in an appropriate way. We can have some students some of them are successful and unsuccessful. It is also possible for them to envy or to be jealous of one another. I also believe that the unsuccessful students support the one who is also unsuccessful and tries to cause the successful student to lower his/her motivation which they believe the successful one will fail and they will be the same. They can believe that because they can feel alone perhaps because the teacher can ask other peers of the successful student to applause for him/her since he/she does something good or gives correct answers to the questions that are asked by the teacher, which results in great enviousnes. From my point of view, the teachers should behave the students fair so that they will not feel envious and hurt one another in terms of not only physical, but also emotional. That is to say they have an attempt to bully him/her. Another fearful thing about that kind of situation is that the students who are bullied feel alone and keep waiting for the solution silently. They cannot do anything on their own for the fear of being bullied more fiercely. To put it in a nutshell, teachers should find the best solution for the problem that will make both the bully and the victim. I believe that teacher can come over those problems in cooperation with the families of the bully and and the victim successfully.

Date: 2014.06.05

Posted by Julien Lecomte, Gilles Fossion and Erika Benkö (Université de Paix) (Belgium)

Message: We have based this comment on our experience as supervisors in the pilot project “well-being units” in schools.
This pilot project is part of a project that brings together three ministries (Education, Health and Equal chances, Youth and Youth Aid): “the policy regarding well-being at school will be thought in the long-term. It will be integrated in a global well-being project modulated according to the context and needs. It will foster interactive methods built in partnership with young people” (from
In this framework “Université de Paix” assisted ten schools during two years. We are recognised as a youth organisation. Our specificity is violence prevention and conflict management. Our interventions fostered dialogue between the different stakeholders at school or related to school, including the students, the teachers, the headmasters, counsellors and other professionals who work occasionally or not with the school (speech therapists, psychologists, etc.), parents, the parent association, associations to promote health and protection of environment, the municipality, etc.

Reading the experience, we distinguish different levels of intervention:

- Informing teachers on the phenomenon of bullying and scapegoat (here, the problem student eventually becomes a scapegoat) – prevention and awareness level. To this must be added an exchange of thoughts on how to welcome new students in a school, in a class, etc. The whole educational team can define common ways to manage and guide group dynamics.

- Carry out activities in the classes:
* On the one hand, activities to better know each other, learn to “live together”, create links between students (general prevention)
* On the other hand, activities on the following themes: group norms, discussion on the dynamics of bullying, etc.

- In this specific case, assisting every person seems important, whether these are victims or the bully, not only to preserve their self-esteem, but also to help them develop more appropriate attitudes.

- Still during problem resolution, gathering all the stakeholders is important: not only the bully and the victim, but also the witnesses, the “others” who may unconsciously support bullying (because they are watching, laughing, not trying to make it stop...). It seems interesting to question everyone’s responsibility and have a systemic view on the problem, which is also a way not to stigmatise people in a role we want them to abandon.

- Finally, an “external communication” dimension, toward the parents, on what the school sets up and why.

Date: 2014.05.30

Posted by Gabriela Adomnica (Romania)

Message: Bullying is oftentimes a symptom of not being able to face your frustrations or not having the opportunity to let the steam out. It is a good thing that the teacher made the pupils regain a sensible attitude, but, in order to prevent a relapse, should never forget how far this could go. We live in an increasingly aggressive world, so we should be prepared and get our students prepare mechanisms of appropriately reacting to it.

Date: 2014.05.19

Posted by Conceição Vasco (Portugal)

Message: The bullying cases at the S. Lourenço school have become more frequent. Sometimes it is difficult to recognise symptoms and signs in students. Each one of us should keep bullying at the back of their minds, when there is some kind of significative change. Fortunately thanks to the teacher this case had a happy ending.

Date: 2014.05.16


Message: The story of our collegue, Helena Castro is similar to mine: we have got, on the one hand the victim, a polite, respectful, kind, honest , hardworking student and on the other the envious bully who can’t stand to be inferior to her in intelligence and so he tries to throw discredit on her, by making fun of her without being detected by the teachers. Moreover the bully finds the support of his classmates because he needs the admiration and approval of the group. In fact from the bully’s point of view, only belittling the qualities of a weak person, it’s possible to strengthen and consecrate his prestige and strong personality. Therefore the adult’s main task is to deny the consent to the bully and to suggest him new ways to seek his affirmation and self confidence. Lì like Angel are victims who suffer silently, alone and only a sensitive and careful adult can catch on the uneasiness that the girls try to hide. At school ,the colleague Castro was the first person who realized something was wrong with Lì and she tried to solve the problem immediately, she informed her colleagues, Lì’s family and she faced the bully by herself. In my opinion , all the Consiglio di Classe (school board of governors) should co-operate in order to recognize the problem, understand the problematic situations, and adopt shared strategies of intervention . According to me, the key to face the problem of bullying is the adoption of an integrated school policy that is a co-ordinate plan of interventions which involves all the scholastic members and where the adults (parents, teachers and school attendants) undertake the responsibility of the relationship with students. In order to prevent bullying, it’s necessary to agree on clear and understandable rules of behavior. Moreover it’s important to state respective sanctions and above all undertaking to make them respect uniformly and unanimously. Bullying in fact spreads fast where there aren’t any rules or when it’s possible to break them. For this reason it’s absolutely necessary that there are disciplinary measures which are indisputable and reliable.

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.