"I Am Not Scared" Project
"Do not judge me without know"
Tomás is a fairly studious 15 year old boy. The gestures and expressions he uses when talking are seen by his classmates as “effeminate”, and for that reason some of them are reluctant to have much to do with him. But he isn’t particularly worried about that because he is usually surrounded by good friends. Last year an older student joined the class to repeat the year’s syllabus after having failed the previous year. The new student, Jaime, would not leave Tomás alone. He called him “poof”, “girlie” and a whole range of other insults. He even threatened one of Tomás’ best friends, a boy called Juan, and made fun of him just for being with Tomás. That made Juan stop hanging around with Tomás to such an extent that he did not even want to see him. Tomás could not stop crying. He was sad, and moreover he could not understand how his best friend could treat him that way. In the meantime his mother and his sisters consoled him and tried to cheer him up. The other day his mother went to talk to his school tutor. The tutor told her that these things were normal at this age but that she would talk to Juan and also to Jaime and the rest of the class. In the next tutorial, the teacher spoke to Juan about friendship and the value of being different. Juan listened to her attentively. Meanwhile, Jaime made rude signs at Tomás. Tomás felt better after the tutorial, but he was still frightened. Just imagining going out into the playground, or having to get changed in the sports changing rooms made him tremble because it was especially on those occasions that Jaime slapped him on the back of the neck, pulled his ears ad made fun of him while the other boys in the class looked on without doing anything to change the situation – possibly because they were scared. One day, when he got back after the break, Tomás found a note from Juan asking him to meet later that afternoon in his house to talk. Tomás went to Juan’s house. When Juan saw Tomás him, he embraced him and asked him to forgive him, explaining that he was frightened and fed up with people making fun of him too but that in his chat with the teacher he had realised how unfair the whole business was. From that day on, Juan and Tomás have been closer than ever and now they never even listen to Jaime's insults.
Regarding the strategies adopted by the different people involved to deal with this case of peer abuse: The answers given by the students coincide with regard to the actions of the bystanders: They did very little, if not nothing at all, but because they were frightened. They watched, but they didn't go to tell anyone or try to separate Tomás and Jaime. Even Tomás’ best friend stopped supporting him. Others sided with Jaime, leaving Tomás completely alone. The strategies adopted by the teachers were: The initial response by the school tutor is very common, but in practical terms it is really quite unfortunate because it gives abuse a veneer of normality. Admittedly the chat improved the situation in the class for both Tomás and Juan, but it did not solve the problem caused by the bully: it merely alleviated Tomás’ loneliness. The strategies adopted by Tomás’ parents were: To support the victim and seek a solution at school. First they tried to console him, and then went to speak to the teacher to clarify what was going on. Give him affection. The text makes no mention at all of any action taken by the school counsellor. It mentions only the reaction of the teacher, and that was only after the family went to tell her about their son’s situation. In the text it seems as if at the beginning the teachers were unaware of the problem.
The students, parents, teachers, principal and school counsellor believe that this situation influenced the learning and teaching process in the classroom. They also agreed on the consequences. Any situation which interferes with convivencia (harmonious interpersonal relationships) in the classroom has a negative effect on the students’ academic performance. However, when a case of bullying is detected there is an opportunity to work towards avoiding this type of situation. The victim of bullying cannot concentrate on his/her school work; the bully cannot concentrate either; many of the bystanders do not feel at ease in the class; and the teacher has to explain things and impart the lessons in a tense atmosphere. When the victim’s and the bully’s attention is focussed on their own relationship, other students are unable to feel calm, comfortable and focussed on what is going on around them. The rest of the group also reacts in accordance with what they see or what is happening, although the experience of being an onlooker may have a greater or lesser impact on each individual student’s learning process. Victims of bullying often refuse to go to school, using stomach-ache, nerves, etc. as an excuse. They lose their ability to concentrate on their studies and, above all, the situation has a very negative effect on their adolescent self-esteem.
Regarding whether or not the situation affects the students’ motivation (interest, effort, etc.): Those questioned think that it does affect motivation, and their answers coincide: Being in an atmosphere where some students are rejected is not the same as being in a good atmosphere. It demotivates students. They will end up thinking about leaving the class so that people will leave them alone. They feel pushed aside and marginalised by the others. A crisis situation such as bullying represents a crisis within the group. The group itself is harmed. There is a very negative effect not only on the victim but also on the bystanders; they may even show symptoms associated with certain levels of anxiety. The victim feels so bad that he/she sees absolutely no point in studying. The bully also loses motivation to study because his/her attention is drawn towards something else, and I think the classmates who reject the victim are not as motivated to study as they should be because they are witnessing a problem that could happen to them. The bully could be someone who is good at putting his own learning process to one side, and who acts that way either all the time or only on occasions, depending on his reasons for bullying. In a negative, violent atmosphere it’s not likely that students will feel motivated to play an active, positive role at school.
Possible effects on the students’ results. Those questioned think that the students will be afraid of the bully and will not be able to help their classmate, because they will be afraid that they too will be bullied. Academic grades will be lower because of the tension in the group and the students’ concern about the bullying. They will study less. There will be times when some aspects of the learning process will be affected by some students egging the bully on or letting him lead them on. In some cases bystander students might feel powerless; they want to help but they don’t know how. In other cases they might just feel indifferent. Some think that if there are any students who have absolutely nothing to do with the students involved, they will not be affected. But those who are linked in any way with those involved might be affected by the situation. If the climate of convivencia (harmonious interaction) degenerates, educational results usually get worse, even if the merely formational aspects (content) are not affected. The results are bad for everyone. For the victim and the bully, because they are not in a fit state to study, they are concerned with other things; and for the bystanders because the tension that builds up in class also affects their concentration on their studies. The general atmosphere deteriorates, there is no group cohesion and everything to do with the group’s social life is affected negatively. Students just go along with the one who wields power in the classroom, and avoid becoming victims themselves at all costs. They are more worried about these unfair relationships than about life at the school in general. The situation has a negative influence, because the climate of convivencia is directly proportional: the better the climate the better the results, the worse the climate the worse the results. Self esteem goes down, they feel isolated, with no friends, sometimes they are scared to ask for help in case the bully finds out. Results can get worse, above all those of introverted, shy students who tend to keep themselves out of the limelight.
Regarding potential problems of classroom integration: All those questioned believe that there will be problems of school integration. Juan stopped talking to Tomás because he was frightened Jaime and others would keep insulting him. When Juan was with Tomás, he too was rejected. Bullying victims are marginalised instead of being helped to integrate, the same as the bullies. Almost everyone sides with the villain so that he won’t hit them or insult them... The teachers think that despising classmates causes problems of school integration. At least, peer empathy disappears. The victim feels isolated. The victim does not want to have anything to do with the others through fear that the situation will be repeated. The bully may be considered a bad person and rejected by his peers. The parents think the situation prevents the student from developing normally, growing, feeling secure, enthusiastic and keen to participate, and feeling like one of the group rather than like a weirdo who is different from the others. Victims, because of their suffering, and bullies do not usually feel part of the group. The bully, the victim and the bystanders do not feel as if they form a group. The bully and the victim do not feel integrated in the school. The counsellor points out that isolation or social rejection by the group has a negative effect on the adolescent who has been rejected. He/she feels different from the group and incapable of integrating. They find it hard to make friends.
With regard to the possible impact of the bullying in adult life, as manifest in forms of social behaviour, everyone thinks that bullying does impact adult life. The students think victims will be afraid of making friends, and will be much more introverted, shy and insecure in their life. The bully, if he follows the same path, will become an aggressor and will do a lot of harm to others. The indifference of the others may lead to feelings of remorse in the future. It may also depend on each individual’s personality. The teachers say a bullied student lacks the self-confidence to stand up for his/her rights. Victims may later become bullies themselves, or not participate in anything because of their deep-rooted resentment. The trauma they have gone through may affect their relationships with work colleagues or neighbours, for example. They will always be afraid that someone will reject them, and they will avoid meeting people. The school principal thinks that if the student overcomes the situation he/she will be psychologically and morally stronger... The bully is usually a failure in their social life, because in the long run people will avoid them. The moral dilemma may make the others reconsider their docile, self-justifying, cowardly, accessory social attitude. The parents say our life is a process, a road; we learn along the way, and there are obviously risks, but lack of social involvement is not only due to having gone through this type of situation, although it may be a long term consequence. They may feel resentful because of the little support they received at the time. The school counsellor says that adult life may be affected in extreme cases, but only in extreme, serious cases. In most cases, young people who have been victims of some type of school bullying pull through with time. But bullies, if their conduct is not corrected and no action is taken, may become young adults ignorant of how to behave properly in other places, with little respect for others, unable to accept a negative response contrary to their own particular interests, etc.
Regarding whether or not the situation affects the atmosphere at school: The students think more cases like this may arise, there could be a breakdown in convivencia (harmonious interaction), classmates will not be respected and the atmosphere will be worse. Other students might not be able to integrate for fear this might happen to them, there will be a lot of tension, because Tomás could be made fun of by a lot of people and different students will feel frightened. The teachers say there will be non-included students; the bullies will impose their arguments; the safety of the bullied student will not be guaranteed. If one particular student imposes their arguments and instils fear in others, then that will affect everything to do with participation and the expression of ideas. That would facilitate social exclusion, and hinder growth and peer support... The principal thinks that for the school to work the following three conditions must be met, and in this order: the students must attend, they must feel at ease and they must take an interest in what goes on in the school. The parents say that all of us – parents, teachers, students - contribute to the atmosphere that exists at school. All students should feel comfortable and safe to be able to express their opinion and function freely and naturally alongside others. The counsellor thinks the atmosphere at school is affected because “cliques” emerge for and against the antagonists, and this is noticeable in class. The climate of democracy in class is also affected, because it is often the student who leads and controls the others who ends up having their own way and getting what they want because nobody dares to stand up to them.
With regard to the victim’s thoughts about the reasons why he is being bullied, the students say he thinks he has done nothing wrong and so he told his parents. His parents then told the tutor. He thinks he is different from the others and that is why he is excluded and bullied. He feels bad because he is insulted for no reason. He will feel useless in society.
Regarding the help the victim thinks he would find useful, the students expressed the following opinions: The help of his family and friends. In this case, his friend’s help would be best, because it is them who have offended him. The best help would be for the class to stand up to Jaime and defend him, it would also help if the teacher did more to solve the problem and if Juan hadn't stopped talking to him. Leave the school. It would help him if a student talked to the bully and persuaded him that it was wrong and he should leave off. Support from everybody and ignoring the bully. They ought to take strict measures against Jaime. They should move Jaime away from him. He thinks it would help to have more friends around him, to follow him and support him. His friend should stop Jaime from hurting him and always be at his side, and never leave him. Have friends who understand him and support him. They would prevent him getting hurt even though the family helped him. I think the victim thinks there is no solution because he is scared, but the only thing to do is to stand up to the situation. If you say that’s enough that's it, and if you don't, you can always report it.
Regarding why the bully acts in the way he does, they think it is because he thinks everyone has to be like him. Because of the atmosphere in his family or just to have fun. The bully considers himself the leader. He’s been brought up that way and he is a bad person. He wants to feel popular and important, and so he takes advantage of the weak. To play the joker and because he thinks not everyone is like him. He is intolerant and can’t accept a personality or a way of life that isn’t the same as his. He is stronger than the others and so he feels important. He knows he’s not alone, because he knows that even his companions and friends insult the victim and they know the victim is alone in this.
The students think that the bully chose that specific victim rather than anyone else because he was a bit different from the others and he considered him weak. He doesn’t like the way he is or his gestures, and also he’s got it in for him. He must think he’s more defenceless and vulnerable, and because he hasn’t got many friends he has nobody to defend him. Because he thinks he acts inappropriately and he wants to differentiate himself. Because he is a bit effeminate and in society some people make fun of him.
Regarding the bully’s remorse, the students think the bully does not regret what he has done but he might in the future.
The bystander students knew what was going on, but did not do anything through fear.
Regarding what bystanders thought about the causes of the bullying and what they did. They think there was an older person in the class who made people respect him by insulting Tomás. They didn’t do anything because they were scared. They just went along with the bully. Those who saw the situation saw that it was bad but didn’t do anything because they were scared something would happen to them. The cause would have been Tomás’ vulnerable, weak personality. They didn’t do anything so that they wouldn’t be made fun of too. They turned a blind eye because they were scared of Jaime.
Regarding the teachers’ awareness of what was going on: Some think the teachers found out when the mother told them, and others think that they already knew because when there is an “effeminate” boy he will always be rejected by some of his classmates.
Regarding what they did to find out and understand what was happening. The teachers say that when a case of bullying is detected the actors mentioned above (Head of Studies, the school’s Prevention Office, the Departamento de Convivencia [office for harmonious interaction], the Counsellor, the parents) are informed immediately. They intervened in class. Someone should talk to Tomás to give him some support; to Jaime to make him understand that his conduct is reprehensible and may be punished; to the class, when neither Jaime nor Tomás is present, to get the students to let Tomás know that they support him. Find out through the family. They should act by talking personally to the people involved and with the students in the class, like for example the Class Representative. It would be a job of fomenting convivencia, with the tutor. They took the situation seriously. If a problem of this kind is detected, first the victim should be talked to and offered more specialized help to solve the problem, such as a tutoría de convivencia (meeting to talk about harmonious relationships), also involving the school’s Counselling Office.
Regarding the help contributed by other teachers: The teachers think they should have been counselled by the actors mentioned above. The text only mentions what the tutor did. The other teachers don’t seem to have helped.
It appears that the principal was not aware of the problem, although ideally he ought to have been.
Regarding the principal’s role in this type of situations, the principal of this school thinks that the principal should always be informed about emerging situations and the measures being implemented to deal with them. Ideally, he should take part in the decision making, because he has a global view of the school’s dynamics, of similar situations, of what can and cannot be done, etc., and he is the person ultimately responsible for everything that goes on at the school. But it is also desirable that tutors, teachers, counsellors, etc. should be involved in these issues. For that to happen, the principal must know how to involve them. Families often want to speak to the school management. Whenever this happens, they should be attended correctly and informed of the measures being taken to provide security for those who need it and establish clear limits for those lacking behavioural criteria, in order to guarantee a safe environment in the whole education community.
Regarding the parent’s awareness of what was happening: They say they found out rather late. Only when the problem had gotten serious. They did not realize the importance and the real gravity of the situation. The victim’s family was aware, but the bully’s family was not.
Regarding how parents would find out about what was happening and what information they would seek: They think the first step is to talk to their child and cultivate a communicative atmosphere so that they would know their parents were there to support them and help them with any problems. They would seek help and information at the school: in parent-tutor meetings, from the other teachers, from classmates and from other people in the school who knew about the problem. Talk to friends. They would talk to the head of studies, the psychologist ... whoever it was necessary to talk to. They would also speak to the tutor and the person in charge of convivencia (harmonious interaction), although they might not be sure whether to call it bullying, conduct typical of that age group, a one-off episode, etc. They would also look for information on Internet. They think it is vital to communicate more with their children and to have more two-way information between the school and the family.
Regarding whether the situation could be altered: The parents think the situation could have changed. It should not have reached a stage in which Tomás felt so bad. It should have been detected earlier by the school and by the parents. Student tutorials in class should be used to discuss this type of issue. A personal project based on convivencia (harmonious interaction) should be implemented with both Jaime and Tomás. Tomás cannot solve the problem by avoiding Jaime; he has to learn to stand up to him with confidence and dignity. One single family is difficult. The task is more a question of raising social awareness. Involving and training not only students but families too in schools, right from primary education. The other students in the class should not have been so indifferent. Between them, they should have stopped the bully, so that he would have found himself alone and seen that it was not a good attitude. There are no magic formulae or infallible recipes. Reading the text, it seems that people reacted to the bullying late. The most difficult thing in bullying cases like this is precisely that of early detection.
With regard to what the counsellor would do: First, talk individually to Tomás and then to his friend Juan. Then I would talk to Jaime and try to come to an agreement with him. I would point out to him how bad his conduct was. If the situation arose again, I would coordinate with the tutor and get in touch with Jaime’s family to talk about his behaviour towards Tomás. I would then monitor Tomás to make sure he wasn't being insulted, to encourage him and always show him my support. I would propose tutorial activities on the themes of respect, friendship, differences, etc., to be worked on in tutorials.
To prevent this type of situation: Above all, tutorial activities based on case studies.
Regarding what could be done to improve communication and cooperation among students (and thus prevent school bullying in general). Talk to the students a lot. Encourage them to talk about experiences they themselves have had or have heard about, and how those situations were dealt with. Always take their experiences as a point of departure, and get them to think about the importance of dialogue and about attitudes such as assertiveness and empathy.
The different sectors in the education community are in agreement about the “negative effects” produced by cases of peer abuse both on the personal and social development of young people and on the learning-teaching process itself: they also agree that the establishment of an appropriate climate in the classroom/school is a decisive factor in students’ academic performance. But there is no clear consensus about how to address the issue, especially among professionals working in the education sector. A standard procedure is required for handling cases of bullying like that described, together with suitable information/training relevant to these types of situations. In this respect, a key figure is that of the school counsellor, because this is the person in the best position to develop programs that can offer a qualified, transversal response in these situations.
From a more practical point of view, the quest for suitable procedures for dealing with conflicts of this kind is hindered by severe shortcomings with regard to:
• The establishment of efficient, appropriate peer abuse detection mechanisms and appropriate channels of communication between members of the school staff. Here, preventive action should be considered within the framework of the Plan de Convivencia (Plan for Harmonious Interaction) and the Plan de Orientación y Acción Tutorial (Plan for Tutorial Counselling and Action).
• The adoption of immediate, urgent measures with both the victim and the bully.
• Channels for smooth, two-way communication with families.
• The application of disciplinary measures (Plan de Convivencia - Plan for Harmonious Interaction).
• Strategies for case studies with suitably specialized counselling (dedicated internal and external structures).
• Design and implementation of a Plan of Action. Monitoring and evaluation.
Given the seriousness of this situation, which is a clear example of traditional bullying harassment, I find it very striking that there is no strong intervention by the tutor. Since it is a problem that is affecting not only the victim and his best friend, but that is influencing the other partners in the learning process and their own welfare, as many of them also fear being victims of harassment. All this leads to very negative consequences to the environment in the classroom and the school itself.
It should also be noted as very reprehensible conduct the performance of other teachers, who knew the problem and did not help resolve the conflict. Before such situations, there should be a protocol for systematic as well as the development of preventive activities.
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I Am Not Scared Project
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