"I Am Not Scared" Project
Τhe confrontation between two women
On Tuesday 26th May 2009, at approx. 18:30, and while the students were in their classrooms, loud quarrelling between two women was heard coming from 2nd floor corridor. Upon her endeavor to find out what was happening, the school secretary saw a 1st year student (Mary) coming down the stairs in tears. Judging from Maria’s appearance, i.e. dishevelled garments and hair, red face etc., the secretary understood that, beside a verbal fight, there must have been a physical fight between the two women as well. Upon asking Mary what happened, she answered “nothing’ and left the school. Mary was absent from school for the following two days.
The secretary immediately informed the Principal of the incident, who called Mary on the phone but there was no answer. When Mary returned to the school two days later, on Friday, the Principal called her to his office in order to investigate into the causes of her suddenly leaving the school, as well as the reason for her 2-day absence. Mary was very reluctant to give clear explanations. However, from the little she revealed, the principal deduced that a strong dislike and bickering had developed from the beginning of the year with another female student in the same class (Helen). This, however, had escaped the notice of the teachers. The Principal engaged into a deeper investigation of the matter, first with the class students and later with the teachers as well as the school counsellor.
Following a detailed discussion of the matter and the exchange of views and opinions, it became obvious that this was a clear case of school bullying, involving physical and psychological violence at the expense of Maria.
Aiming at combating this phenomenon on the one hand, as well as resolving the situation between the two students, the following actions were decided:
• The school counselor would first see each of the two students involved separately, in order to investigate the real causes of Helen’s hostile behaviour. Similarly, she would investigate into Maria’s reluctance and avoidance to talk about the physical and verbal abuse exercised on her. Finally, both students would be involved in a common session, with the aim of resolving and enhancing communication between them.
• The school counselor, in cooperation with external specialist colleagues, would organize and carry out a seminar at the school, so as to provide both the school students and the teachers with more detailed information on the phenomenon of bullying and ways to encounter it.
• The teacher in charge of the specific class would undertake a discussion with the students so as to clarify the causes and/or conditions that triggered such behaviour.
• A further teacher meeting was arranged as a follow-up to the progress of the investigations being carried out at various levels, as well as the results of such attempts to be discussed and evaluated.
Maria (27 years old), an only child, had been raised in Agrinio, Etoloakarnania, but was living for the past 8 years with her parents in Athens, as her mother was working as an apartment-house janitor. By means of various conversations with her, it became apparent that her mother was particularly oppressive and demanding from Maria. Maria herself, however, declared that she lacked the special abilities or talents to meet her mother’s expectations. Nevertheless, she had decided that she would first complete junior high school and would then continue her studies at a Vocational High School.
During the first few months at the school, Mary was not particularly friendly or communicative with her other fellow-students, and as she declared, she was not interested in making friends at the school, but wanted to obtain the Junior High School Certificate with a “good mark”.
After the Christmas Holidays, however, she made some attempts at “belonging to the group”. As it later became obvious, in a few instances, she undertook the role of the bearer of news and/or rumours, without however realizing that she was being used by others or that such behaviour, - that of the “spreader of rumours” - would only bring contrary results to the ones she herself wished for.
The tension and dissatisfaction among class members that followed, isolated her even more, while Mary’s main concern and constant anxiety was to keep these situations secret from her mother because, as she declared, her mother would “kill” her.
At all costs, Maria tried to avoid encounters with Helen, which would unavoidably result in tension. She often chose not to engage in arguments with her, or would disregard Helen’s provocative and offensive comments against her. At other times, Mary chose to enter the classroom after the teacher, or would leave the classroom before the bell rang for recess, thus avoiding a face-to-face an encounter with Helen.
At face value, Maria appeared as a quite person interested only in her progress at school. Slowly, however, there appeared some negative sides to her personality, which possibly resulted from the family and social environment she lived in. These negative traits in her personality required special care in the manner she was to be handled/treated both as an individual and as a student. Some of the more general characteristics were introversion, obsessions and rigid points of view on various matters, distrust of others and strong insecurity. However, she did not create problems to the smooth running of the school.
Concerning the incident at hand, she herself could not explain the dislike which Helen felt for her. Maria did not feel she had harmed Helen in any way whatsoever.
Helen, a 37 year-old married woman with two daughters, exhibited a strong personality. As it was later proven, through her discussions with the psychologist counselor, she herself was a very insecure person bearing obvious psychological signs of an oppressed woman, experiencing family abuse both at her paternal as well as her own family.
Concerning Maria, Helen was often heard saying that she “could not bear the sight of her” and would often brag that she “would soon succeed in throwing that ‘idiot’ out of the school” She took every opportunity in making silly faces at Maria, and would often intimidate her by bullying her around. These tactics resulted in almost completely isolating Maria from actively participating the educational process.
In the end, not bearing the school society’s “silent” disapproval of Helen’s uncalled for hostile behaviour towards Mary, and not being able to take it out on any other scape-goat, Helen dropped out of school, using as an excuse that she had started working again.
From the very beginning of the school year, many students had become witnesses to various verbal episodes between the two female students, commenting that Helen was particularly provocative and offensive towards Mary. They failed, however, in each and every attempt they made at reasoning with Helen to stop treating Maria in such a hostile manner, most of the times for no reason at all. In the end, they stopped caring and simply scolded her and/ or disapproved of her behaviour. Hoping that sooner or later she would stop picking on Mary.
At first, the teachers had not perceived any of these disputes between the two students. Once, however, the Principal brought the matter to the teacher meeting for discussion, they immediately showed a strong concern, and with the assistance of the Psychologist-counselor, tried to understand the causes and the consequences of such behaviour.
It was considered necessary for the teacher in charge of the particular class to involve all of the students in a conversation, aiming not only at investigating the causes and reasons for such behaviour, but also to enhance their relationship.
When it was brought to his notice, the Principal took immediate action so as to investigate the reasons why Mary had left the school so suddenly and why she was absent for two days.
At the same time, he brought the matter for discussion at the teacher meeting. With the assistance of the psychologist-counselor, the causes and motives of both female students involved in the dispute were clarified. Similarly, the actions or corrective measures that were decided upon to be exercised by members of the Teacher Association of the school, proved to be of particular value in favor both the students as well as the teaching staff.
The students are adults
The sessions carried out by the psychologist-counselor involving the two students, the feed-back to the teacher Association provided by the counselor concerning these sessions, and the seminar on the topic of school bullying and ways to confront it, which was carried out at the school, all contributed in an effective way for the restoration of the smooth running of the school.
In this particular case, the presence of the psychologist-counselor at the school, on the one hand provided the opportunity for direct and effective action to restrain the phenomenon of bullying, while on the other hand, it contributed to sensitize and activate all parties involved – Principal, teaching staff, students. Moreover, the knowledge gained through the seminar concerning school bullying, was considered invaluable for both the teachers and the students.
In conclusion, the following are to be taken into consideration:
• The belated and chiefly accidental revelation of the particular incident should be rendered to the inability of prevention and confrontation mechanisms of similar incidents. As chief cause of this situation, we consider to be the belated appointment of teaching staff to schools. Also, the belated appointment of psychologist-counselors to schools is of similar significance. The presence of the totality of the teaching staff, as well as that of the psychologist-counselor, from the very beginning of the school year, would ensure the timely formation of a framework within which discussions could be carried out and, with the simultaneous completion of questionnaires at the beginning of the school year, as well as during the interviews of the candidate students - as foreseen by the Regulations for the Function of the Second Chance Schools. Such practices would provide information concerning the family and social background of the candidates which would be appropriately evaluated.
• Within the framework of Psychology Counseling, group sessions assist the smooth induction of the new students to the group-class and, in time, facilitate the development of such dynamics which allow the building and consolidation of a positive climate. On the other hand, they contribute to the timely diagnosis and confrontation of possible problems which occur in the relationships among students. Of course, among the duties pertaining to teachers, especially at a school for adults, all of the above are considered as part of their general educational duties, in a relationship of close cooperation with the psychologist-counselor.
• Of similar significance is the carrying out of the Teacher Association Meetings, at regular intervals, with discussion on topics not only of a strictly teaching interest, but also of a more general class climate, as well as on topics concerning the quality and the formation of the group spirit among class members, so that up-dating would address all of the teaching staff members as well as the school directorate.
• However, we ought to accept the fact that the group-class is an organism which is self-regulatory, often without requiring the intervention of others. Due to the fact that the students are adults, very often problems concerning relationships among them are resolved by them, either through discussion in which all members of the group participate, or through the intervention of those who have a “leader” role, the obvious motive being that of maintaining a smooth climate within which the procedure of knowledge and skills acquisition is favored. Naturally, that which is required both of the teaching staff and the psychologist-counselor, is the limit or the boundary which signals he need for their intervention when problems arise.
• A positive aspect in the particular case study is the activation and involvement of all stake-holders of the school, each with his/her own proportionate degree of participation in the investigation, the confrontation and resolution of the problem, as well as in taking the initiative for information concerning school bullying.
• The apparent “bully” becomes the victim, experiencing exclusion by the group on the one hand, while on the other, literally missing out on a “second chance” for re-induction in the educational system, with whatever this entails for the personal and social development of the individual.
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