Teaching Feminism: We Can’t Always Stop Bullies

Welcome to Teaching Feminism, a series about equality in the classroom. Teaching feminism is about so much more than teaching girls. We need to teach all of our students to respect everyone, no matter what. Teaching feminism talks about just that. Have your own story about these issues? Share it here.

I’m a teacher, and I can’t stop bullies.

This is a terrible, horrible admission to make, but it’s true. As much as every seminar on school violence, student suicide, self-esteem and bullying tries to empower me to stop bullying when I see it, I can’t.

Okay, that isn’t entirely true. I can stop some of it, especially in my classroom or from my view of the hallways. When I see a student picking on another student, using language that is offensive, or becoming violent in any way, I can stop it right then and there. Very often, though, especially once students reach high school, bullying doesn’t take place in front of adults who have the ability and authority to stop it. High schoolers are great at hiding mischief, and, in this digital age, most bullying takes place on students’ social media pages rather than out in the open.

I can’t police my students’ social media profiles, nor do I want to. Therefore, unless a student comes to me with a problem, there is often no way of knowing that they are being bulled. Furthermore, the classic signs of bullied students — they stop doing their work, sleep during class because they don’t sleep much at home, etc. — don’t always show. Many students do a great job of putting on a good face in class because they don’t want anyone to know how much they are hurting emotionally. Many bullied students turn around and bully someone else because they just can’t take it anymore.

What is a teacher to do, then, when bullying becomes invisible? The best thing I can come up with is treating the emotional wounds and empowering the bullied student rather than punishing the bully. In fact, in most cases, I believe this is a better way of dealing with bullying than just punishing the offender. The unfortunate nature of bullying is that, if we stop one bully, another is usually lurking around the corner.

For our entire lives, even into adulthood, we deal with bullies on a daily basis. Whether it’s a cat-call on the street, a discriminatory employer, or someone at work who tries to pawn their work off on you, bullies exist outside of the classroom. When there’s no one there to stop it, how do we deal with it? Most of us, as adults, have been able to build up the necessary self-esteem, or ego, to bolster us against such attacks.

Students, however, have not always been afforded that opportunity. We need to give it to them. Instead of focusing on the bully, focus on the bullied. Tell them good things; help show them how awesome they truly are; give them healthy coping mechanisms for handling bullies when they encounter them. That way, when they are bullied — which they will be, without a doubt — they can deal with it without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as harming themselves or worse.

If the best we can do is give students a sense of their self-worth, and make them know that we are proud of who they are as people, we’ve already won a huge part of the fight against bullies. Too often students cite being bullied as a reason for horrible things such as school shootings or suicide. If we can’t always catch the bullies, what we can do is help students realize that their lives are worth something, and that violence — whether against themselves or others — is never the answer.

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Photo Credit: trix0r


Karl Murphy
Karl Murphy5 years ago

Erica B - nice!

Erica B.
Erica B5 years ago

Unfortunately, depending on the type of bullying being done, sometimes "talking" your way out of it doesn't work. In 7th grade, there was this boy in my classes who always called me a dog...and I wasn't even bad looking. He singled me out because I was a straight A student, was very artistic, and shy. When name-calling didn't get the proper response, he resorted to sexually harass me. He sat right in front of me in math class, and would whisper to me things like "I want to play with your cl#t." I was horrified, he refused to stop, and told my parents. My mom gave me permission to smack him in the face the next time he talked. So the next time "Brian" whispered that crap to me in math class, I smacked him hard across the face. He yelled out to the teacher and told her I hit him...you could see the red hand print on his cheek! I just said, out loud so everyone could hear me, "Brian was making lewd remarks and wouldn't stop!" Needless to say, he got detention and I earned respect.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

The teacher offers really good advice -- positive reenforcement to change behavior, instill self-esteem. Children are very well formed by their parents by the time they go to school, whether with positive qualities of kindness and empathy, or with traits of meanness. Bullying is the flip side of low esteem, in my opinion. Standing up for oneself with bullies, can sometimes cause them to back away, because their intimidation doesn't work as well on self-possessed individuals. I'm not intimating that this is easy.

Wendy Schroeder
Wendy Schroeder5 years ago

Children need to learn to deal with bullies. I fight back. They are cowards deep down.

Karl Murphy
Karl Murphy5 years ago

I see some of the comments mention 'telling a parent of the bully' or 'writing it and reporting it' and things of that nature.....
Depending on location and the type of bully you are dealing with, most would call this a 'rat'. No one respects a rat, especially bullies. Ratting out a bully will just get you in more trouble than ever, and won't even get you the support of other bullied kids.
Kids in my area even have shirts saying 'snitches get stitches' and the red circle with a slash through it with 'snitching' written inside.

Erica B.
Erica Beglin5 years ago

I totally agree with the teacher about creating a sense of self worth in people being the key to helping to stop bullying. It is the way we each treat people from birth to death which either makes them feel valued or worthless. If we have a sense of self-worth the bullying can be countered and the bully will probably stop. Bullies are usually people whose power is only shown through cruelty because the have no pride in themselves as worthwhile members of society. If we all tried to be positive rather than negative our communities would be much happier places.

Marianne Good
Past Member 5 years ago

It should be reciprocal respect between one another and appreciation for each other.

ali a.
ali a5 years ago

Look this up and petition and tell your friends.

For watching enactment video(8min) go to:

Jessica Larsen
Janne O5 years ago

Zanada M, the rest of your story is missing. Can you please post the rest?

Mary Carpenter
Mary C5 years ago

They should be taught from Pre K that this will not be accepted. Sadly too many parents scream when their children are corrected. When they are told their brats are bullies. Oh its just what kids do, they scream. And we should start firing people at school for not reporting and doing something about it. As soon as we get serious about it, it will stop. There will always be bullies, but its gotten out of hand and violent. Not your standard bullies any more.