When I first started teaching there was a news story that broke about a child who had hung themselves because they were being bullied. The note left by the child blamed teachers for not spotting and then stopping what was going on. I remember going into school on the next Monday morning, a scared NQT, and scanning the room of my tutor group. I wondered if any of them were waiting for me to see that they were suffering. They all seemed pretty much as normal – some sullen and some jokers, some quiet introverts and some bossing the space. I was 23, I barely knew if I was feeling alright or not.
Time and age have given me better scanning techniques. Sometimes there will be a significant change in the child who is being bullied, sometimes there will just be the slightest exaggeration of anxious behaviours. The big changes – the going quiet, the spending time in your room at break and lunch, a sudden love for the library or refusing to come to school – these are gifts because they demand that you act and help the child.
But these are children, they do not want to be the one who tells on the bully. So, it might be that the quiet child who is always quiet is just that little bit more withdrawn. It could be that the joker in the class becomes even more outlandish. Whatever coping strategy they have been perfecting – it will be this that pushes itself forward. So, you have to ask. So, when the quiet child won’t make eye contact, ask him if he would like to come and see you are break. If the jokey child is being too much, suggest a detention and then sit and talk to her. You never know what you might find out.
You are sensing that spotting the bullied child is not a science. It isn’t. We work with people and people are idiosyncratic. The key to helping a child who is being bullied is getting to know them and presenting them with a person that they trust. Being there for the bullied child means being there for all the children you teach. Greeting the students at the door and smiling, saying hello to each of them and then noticing when someone can’t make eye contact or when one of the class hangs way off the back, out of the queue. Keep talking to your people in your classes – you will soon find that the signs for the individual become clear – then your next difficult job is to persuade them that you won’t make it worse… but that is for a different article.