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Lily Eskelsen's picture

I hardly ever met any movie stars in my 6th grade at Orchard Elementary in West Valley City, Utah where I taught a generation of girls and boys. But I saw movie stars and TV stars, directors and script writers the other night at a function sponsored by the Creative Coalition, the National Education Association and professional wrestlers. Seriously.

And the topic was very serious. It would have to be to bring together such a diverse group. The topic: Keeping kids safe from bullies. As I was explaining the tremendous interest educators were getting on this issue, a fairly jaded friend of mine remarked that this was simply the “fashionable” cause of the moment.

She’s wrong. I know she’s wrong because I talked to the writer of a new film the NEA is helping to promote called, “That’s What I Am”.

I have never met a more sincere, concerned individual. He knows this film will be important to the children who see it. I talked to one of the young actors who plays a bullied teen.

He knows that his role is one that thousands of students will relate to. I talked with an executive from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) who spoke eloquently about why her organization was touched by the stories of the real victims of real bullies who were not pretend characters in a show.

This is not a “fashionable” cause. It’s an ageless crisis that has been ignored for too long.

The film gets its name from the courageous teacher played by Ed Harris who is encouraging a budding writer. He says, “Say it out loud. Say ‘I’m a writer. That’s what I am.’ He tells him that he’ll begin thinking like a writer. Another student says, “I’m a singer. That’s what I am.” And so on. The point is that if you say it, you act it.

There are children today who have to remind themselves every day, “I’m a human being. That’s what I am.” They have to remind themselves because they are not treated like human beings with hearts and souls. They are tormented and frightened and threatened. And if we are human beings, we will make it stop.

There are always three parties to bullying.

There’s the bully. There’s the victim. There’s the bystander – and the bystander often unwillingly helps the bully, whether they mean to or not.

Parents and teachers and school support staff and neighbors and relatives have to speak up. We have to intervene to stop the bully, yes. We have to intervene to help the victim, yes. But we also have to reach the bystander, the witness who doesn’t want to get involved. We have to make the bystander understand that silence errs on the side of the bully, never the victim.

There are amazing resources for adults who want to make a difference that have been developed by teachers. You can find free teaching materials at BeaStarAlliance , and bNetsavvy, and NEA Bully Free Schools.

But the materials aren’t just for the classroom teacher. A recent survey by the NEA on bullying showed that all members of the school staff needed and wanted more information and training. When we do this right, it makes a difference.

One activity showed students a map of the school campus and asked them to put green stickers on places where they felt safe and red stickers on places they didn’t feel safe. Green stickers were more than likely to be seen in the classroom. (and the nurse's office). Red stickers were more likely to be in the lunchroom, the hallways, the bathrooms, the playgrounds. That’s one way to get information from students on where we need more adult supervision.

Our survey said that custodians and lunch workers and para-professionals needed and wanted more information on how to help. All of us want to help.

The survey said the 98% of people who work in any part of a school believe it is their responsibility to intervene when they see bullying. We are willing. Now we want the tools to be more effective.

Educators and parents and after-school camps and church groups and scouts and babysitters and anyone who loves and cares for children in any capacity needs to know about bullying and talk about bullying and help every child understand.

Tell them, “You are a human being. That’s what you are. And that’s why you do not deserve to be bullied. And that’s why you will not be a bully. And that’s why you will not be silent before a bully.”

Take these tools. Use them.

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