to this day

I am frequently overwhelmed by my power in the classroom. Sometimes, I feel the weight of being the only chance a kid has.

Yesterday at school, I was on cafeteria duty. I paced up and down the lunch tables, opening ranch packets, picking up snippets of conversation here and there. When something caught my eye. I slowly walked over to a table, trying not to disrupt the conversation taking place. The power of observation, the power of waiting before acting, is often my greatest ally. It was a boy, not in my class, talking to my newest student. She was staring at him intently, fingering her pepperoni pizza. I have learned, through the last few months, that the slightest gestures often mean something is wrong. Those small fingers, nervously picking at the crust, was what grabbed my attention. Slowly, I walked up behind him, and heard him discussing a dog. Something about a dog and pizza. I was so close to walking away, to letting it go, but something about all the kids just staring at him, listening to him, told me that I only knew a fraction of the conversation. My little girl looked up at me and nervously smiled, and that was it. I drew her aside and said, “What was he saying?” She looked embarrassed, and said, “He was calling me fat.”

“How did he say it?” I asked her.

“He told me that I eat more pizza than a dog. That I take two whole boxes of pizza and take them to my bedroom and eat all of it. That’s why I’m so fat.”

It’s like a beast welled up inside me. And it was angry. I was angry at all the boys and girls who ever said that, and other cruel things, to all the other boys and girls. It was heartbreaking. She didn’t even cry or seem upset. It was like she had accepted his words, swallowed them, digested them.

I told her that it was an absolute lie. He is lying to you, don’t you believe it for a second. I don’t even know what else I said. I just remember the desperation in my voice, trying to convince her to spit his words back up. Don’t let yourself be poisoned.

I brought the boy to the behavioral support staff and she told me, “He is so low, he has no clue that what he said was mean or hurtful.” Maybe. Maybe he has been called names, and the person who called him names was called names, and that person was called names, and that person. I don’t know.

I saw this video today, and it saddened me beyond belief. It saddens me that for some kids, school is not a safe place. It saddens me that teachers can be perpetuators of bullying; ignoring, pretending like we didn’t hear, like it was a joke, like the kid is too low to understand what he is saying, or just move the bullied student to the back of the room and act like that fixes everything.

It doesn’t.

Check out To This Day Project if you’re interested in learning more.

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