You Have My Word

Less than one minute. That’s how long it took for a potent mix of anger and sadness to envelop me. What caused this you may be wondering? I was watching the documentary, Bully (

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Among the memorable images of the movie were:

–the red rimmed eyes of a grieving father

–the helplessness of a mother whose son is being bullied,

–a child declaring, “ Pretty much a good day for me would be people leaving their hands off of me.”

According to, bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior that is intentional, hurtful, (physical and psychological), and/or threatening and persistent (repeated). There is an imbalance of strength (power and dominance).”

While the majority of bullying takes place in the hallways, lunchrooms, school buses, and play areas, it also occurs in the classroom.

As a high school English teacher in an inner city school in Brooklyn, I have witnessed teasing that has crossed the line into bullying. I strove to combat it. I did not always succeed.

“Kerwin” (made up name) was a child in my classed. Kerwin was overweight. He did not dress fashionably and was very quiet. He was a capable student. However, his absenteeism negatively affected his grades and the amount he was able to learn.

Kerwin was part of a challenging class that included some unruly students. Days would go by,and Kerwin was left to his quiet self. However, the teasing could start at any time. And it got personal – faggot, pussy, piece of shit, and more. I called the parents, talked to the deans, and gave the class and the offending individuals lectures on respect.

I’d like to think I did everything I could to stop the bullying. I’d like to think that if I were Kerwin’s parents, I would have been appreciative of the teacher’s efforts. But I’m not sure.

I’m not sure because I’ve also been the parent. My older son has been bullied – he was hit and harassed on the school bus and at recess. My wife and I addressed this issue in multiple ways. We talked to members of the school administration, contacted the family of the child who was bullying our son, and gave our son instructions on how to handle the situation. Despite all this, the situation was ultimately out of our hands. We were helpless and had to rely on others to watch out for our son. It was a sickening feeling.

I don’t like feeling helpless – I’m the kind of person who always wants to think there is some action I can take to make things better. When kids are in school, the only concern they should have is how to achieve their potential. They should not be worried about making it through a day without being pushed, prodded, beaten, or worse.

Doctors have the Hippocratic oath where they promise – among other things – to treat the ill to the best of their ability. Policemen take an oath as well.

I believe it is time to create an oath for educators. As part of that oath, we will promise to do our best to teach your child. We also will watch out for your child so that he or she will feel safe wherever they are in school.

Let me be the first to pledge. You have my word.

Now it’s your turn. What will you do to make it stop?