A boy at school gets laughed at for calling me pretty
April 24, 2015 10:12 AM   Subscribe

How can I help him get over the fact that the boys laugh at him for this? I am a teaching assistant in a secondary school, and he dreads seeing me for this reason, and therefore gets quite anxious when I teach him.

I am 23 years old (f) and work in an all boy secondary school. There are about 1000 pupils, and 10% have a special need. I mainly work with pupils with special needs but also offer extra support in Mathematics and Science to bottom set classes who struggle with those subjects. So this means I join some classes a few times a week and work 1:1 with the pupils while the teacher is in the class giving the lesson. There is one class where they are all around 14 years old, no special need, and the teacher makes me sit with a few of them during the lesson. Apparently in March, one boy called Bart told the others that he finds me pretty. Since then all his peers call out my name during all their lessons, even when I am not around. When I am in the class they laugh, make comments, and constantly say his name. Two weeks ago it was so bad that he ended up sobbing on the floor. The teacher spoke to them about it and told them off, but he gets very anxious when I join their class or even when he sees me. He skipped last maths lesson. I can tell he dreads seeing me, because although it is not so bad anymore, they still laugh and make comments.
What can I do/say or have another teacher do or say to make the boys stop sniggering and make Bart comfortable with my presence? Even if one solution is to stop supporting Bart and that class, they would still make comments because they see me all the time and apparently remember things for years and still talk about them.
posted by akita to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you punish the little shits?

Start cracking down on the misbehavers. You don't want to single Bart out, but these kids are causing a disruption to your class. Someone is calling out his name to taunt him? That kid is interrupting. Send him to the principal, give him a demerit, whatever the policy is at your school for breaking the rules. Making comments? Demerit. Laughing behind his back? Demerit. Don't just do it for when they pick on Bart, do it every single time a kid acts up. Nuclear option. Make it very, very clear that you are not to be trifled with. You need to make your classroom a safe place for the students.
posted by phunniemee at 10:29 AM on April 24, 2015 [13 favorites]

I would speak with administration to find out if there is any anti-bullying procedures in place.
posted by elf27 at 10:32 AM on April 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

The boys are bullying a kid with emotional vulnerabilities, possibly intellectual disability. The teacher has to take a stance against bullying in her class.

The student needs a diferent tutor, but the boy also needs some counseling from someone besides the teacher or you, so he can understand about boundaries, and not sharing secrets with unworthy bullies. He should be informed that finding someone attractive is healthy and normal, nothing to be ashamed of. But he should remember teachers are at work and they can't respond to student attraction.
posted by Oyéah at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think you can (purposefully) interpret their behaviour as implying that they do not think you are pretty. This would, naturally, be upsetting to you, and I’m sure you’d want to find out the truth of the matter. Provided the little shits like you and don’t want to make you feel bad, you could act out your hurt in a way that puts them into the position of publicly stating that they do, in fact, find you pretty, and are terribly sorry that you would think otherwise. Which pretty much takes the wind out of their sails when it comes to bullying anyone else for thinking or saying the same.
posted by davidpriest.ca at 11:06 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The teacher absolutely has a responsibility to stop this behavior - the buck stops with them. There isn't much you can do about it as a guest in the classroom - if the teacher isn't already in control of their classroom, it's unlikely they will become in control just because you ask them to. You can try as many psychological tricks as you want, but in the end, the classroom needs an authority figure to protect Bart, and it sounds like there isn't one.

Whatever you do, make sure you have an unambiguous, timestamped, verifiable paper trail showing that you notified your superior (and their superior, if possible - not just this teacher, but their admin too) in no uncertain terms that you have observed a student being bullied - if possible, with a record of all the times you observed this. I don't know what jurisdiction you work in, but in the US, anti-bullying legislation is getting tougher, and you may get in significant trouble if something happens to Bart, and you don't have a way to demonstrate that you reported the bullying.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:10 AM on April 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

I would take the bull by the horns. In an ideal world the school or the teacher would play a leadership role, but it's obviously not an ideal world. The best teachers are the teachers who communicate directly and effectively with students and do not let the message get diluted by processes and chains of command.

The next time you're in the class just ask the teacher if you can make an announcement.

And then really fucking mad. Not emotional. But raise your voice. Project your voice to the back of the room.

Ask the WHY they laugh whenever your name is mentioned. Tell them you HEAR the stories even when you're not around. I DEMAND you stop. Do I MAKE MYSELF clear?

Make sure you're looking at a number of them in the eyes.

Keep it loud (remember, it's parade-ground projection we're talking about here, not screaming) and keep it short.

And then go take your place.

It's the only way to address the problem without further humiliating the student. Make it about you, make it primal (in the sense that we're primates), and then just forget about it.

If they test you, walk up to two of them (never a good idea to put just one student on the spot because they don't want to lose face) and do the parade ground thing again.
posted by Nevin at 1:35 PM on April 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

And they are not "little shits." They are just children who need someone to lead them.
posted by Nevin at 1:38 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is really the major task of the world - to figure out ways to get people to feel empathy for each other. If it was as simple as punishing or lecturing, this problem would be solved by now. But it's not. The other kids, the bullying ones, get to feel a sense of group membership and cohesion because they are aligned against someone, who they have made "Other." Most likely the other kids find you pretty as well. By mocking the one kid who said it, they get some distance from their own vulnerability.

Believe me, if this behavior hadn't coalesced around this boy's thinking of you as pretty, it would have come about because of something else. Humans can be awful - someone will be made a scapegoat for *whatever* reason.

I'm saying this not to get you to give up hope, but just so you understand that this is complicated. People who may be perfectly wonderful on their own will do all kinds of awful things to be accepted by a group. And the one who is excluded from the group will suffer. Sometimes that suffering leads to horrible outcomes, sometimes to wonderful ones (read the biography of virtually any comedian).

It's tricky to intervene, because it might make things worse. But I totally get that it's infuriating to just let things go without doing anything. Sometimes exercises or assignments that get people to take the perspective of an oppressed person can help. Sometimes it can work to figure out who the alpha kid is in the bullying group and working on him. Sometimes setting up reward/reinforcement schedules for pro-social behavior is helpful. If you're working as an special ed person, you have to find a way to get the teacher to do most of the heavy lifting, though.

If the child is getting increasingly anxious when he sees you, it may be important to find a way to meet with him and his parents outside the regular day to try to problem solve this.
posted by jasper411 at 3:06 PM on April 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Perhaps have the ones who laugh and make comments come and sit with you? If they are making noise maybe they need some "attention".

Unfortunately the die has been cast. Bringing attention to the treatment of Bart will just reinforce it. If the class Teacher agrees, try changing the focus of attention to the sniggering miscreants. If they cause a stir when you're around have them spend class time with you.
posted by moonlily at 1:11 AM on April 25, 2015

OMG definitely do not take the advice to ask the other boys if they think you are pretty. Appearing to use children to meet your emotional needs will just undermine you as an adult and professional in both their and your colleagues' eyes. It can also be badly misinterpreted in the most inappropriate way by themselves and by their other teachers/parents.

Calling out things to other students during class should not be tolerated, regardless of the reason. As soon as it happens, take the perpetrator(s) (one at a time so they don't have an audience or encourage each other) out to the hall and redirect. Explain neutrally that x behavior is not acceptable and that y consequences (whatever is the done thing at your school/you think will work on these kids) will happen if they do it again. And then follow through with it if they do. Don't argue with them if they say they were just kidding or laughing about something else; just unemotionally restate that this is the consequence for disrupting the class.

Seconding that it's ok to let yourself get angry if this behavior continues to persist. This is most effective if you already have a pretty good relationship with them and they don't see you mad that often -- when you do yell, they'll know this is a serious issue. Also seconding to document everything in case parents get involved. Actually, calling the parents of the ringleaders might not be a bad first step. It won't work for every kid, but there are probably at least a few who don't want to face consequences at home.

Maybe others have suggestions about what do about the times you're not there. I don't really have anything for you other than letting some of the staff members you trust know what's going on so they can keep an eye on the situation. Good teachers/aids/security guards will appreciate the heads up. Regardless, seconding that the classroom should still be a safe space from bullying, irrespective of what's happening at the bus stop or the lunch table.

I'm curious if this particular teacher is just a bad classroom manager since this has become a reoccurring issue. All my above advice assumes she will give you the power to follow through with consequences. When you come up with a plan, I would definitely run it by her ahead of time, so that she is prepared to back you up.

As for Bart himself, I would sit down with him one on one (when the other kids aren't around, obviously. Maybe have him called into the office?) and say that you know certain kids have been bullying him and ask him what he thinks the best solution would be. Say that he can be honest with you and it won't hurt your feelings if he doesn't want you in class any more (again, assuming you actually have the power to change your schedule). And then just listen to what he has to say and honor it as much as is within your power. It could be that just being able to make a decision for himself makes him feel better about the situation (or maybe not. Being a teenager is hard.). I wouldn't bring up the initial comment at all unless he does; he will probably be embarrassed enough just talking to you.

Finally, ask for help from as many people who are available to you who know the specific school culture and possibly the specific kids involved: the social worker, counselors, administrators, or any teacher with a good reputation. They will probably know what specific things will work much better than we do.
posted by Alexandra Michelle at 2:57 PM on April 25, 2015

We are not child psychologists, and we are certainly not anti-bully specialists.

Personally speaking, I'd go on "why is it not good to tell someone else 'you are pretty'?" Then segue into "treat others as you'd want others to treat you". Or would that be better in reverse? Get the kids to understand that bullying is bad because there's always a bigger bully somewhere?
posted by kschang at 11:24 PM on April 25, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all. I won't choose a favourite because they were all quite useful. I tried speaking to their class teacher, and he just told them all off which led to more giggles. In the end, I was in despair. I told them that I used to enjoy being in class with them and helping them, but now I dread it because of their silliness and it makes me not want to go anymore. This seemed to work! For the past two weeks they ask me for help and haven't been shouting his name anymore, thankfully. None of the teachers seemed to do anything about it, and it was getting quite bad.
posted by akita at 5:16 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Topics for Elderly Reminiscence Group   |   Metal Machine... Mystery? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.