As a teacher, you're almost guaranteed to have a bully in your classroom at some point in your career. Some forms of bullying have changed over time, as playground taunts have spread to social media. But one thing is for sure: bullying is a serious problem that can have serious and lasting effects on victims.
Here are some important things about bullying you should know to help all of your students—even the bullies.
Further Reading: Help! I Really Want to Like My Students. But I Don't.
1. Bullying Is More than Bad Behavior
Students tend to act out in various ways in the classroom, but not every bad action is bullying. According to stopbullying.gov, behavior must be unwanted and aggressive, occur repeatedly, and involve a real or perceived power imbalance to be classified as bullying. Because bullying involves a power imbalance, it's a form of abuse.
As of 2015, all 50 states have enacted anti-bullying laws, stopbullying.gov reports. But the problem persists. Thirty percent of students admit to bullying others, according to stopbullying.gov, while 70.6 percent of students and 70.4 percent of school staff have witnessed bullying at their school. While not every bad behavior constitutes bullying, bullying is still a pervasive issue in our schools.
2. Bullying Peaks in Middle School
According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in five students is bullied at school. Girls (23 percent) report being bullied slightly more than boys do (19 percent). While bullying occurs in every age group, bullying happens most often in middle school. Thirty-one percent of bullying occurs in sixth grade, more than any other grade level.
Bullying looks different at different ages. Physical bullying is more common in elementary school, Child Trends says. During the middle school years, students report relational aggression as the most common form of bullying; these students may be intentionally excluded or ostracized, threatened or intimidated, or have rumors spread about them through word of mouth, social media, or texts, Verywell Family says. Teachers might not see this type of bullying outright, but they might notice when students are left out of a social group they were once part of, or students who appear depressed.
High schoolers also report relational aggression as the most common form of bullying, but they experience it less often.
3. Bullies Target Students Who Are Different
Despite years of schools promoting social and emotional learning programs and anti-bullying initiatives, most students who are bullied are bullied for being different or perceived as weak by their peers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the primary reasons for being bullied include physical appearance, race or ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, and sexual orientation.
Teachers can help these students by observing their behavior and how they interact with their peers. Giving these students special roles in your classroom can help other students view them as valuable peers and reduce the temptation to target them. Assigning a buddy or partner to these students can also help them develop allies and feel included and supported.
4. Bullies Might Not Be Who You Expect
Don't make the mistake of thinking your most charming student couldn't be a bully. Some bullies are teachers' pets. Some are popular and bully others to maintain their social status. Other bullies are more socially isolated; have low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety; or are easily peer-pressured. These students might be more aggressive and lack empathy for others.
Many bullies target others because they've been bullied. These students tend to experience psychological issues from their bullying experiences that last into adulthood.
Children are also more likely to bully others if they lack parental involvement at home, are aggressive or easily frustrated, think badly of others, have difficulty following rules, view violence in a positive way, or have friends who bully others, according to stopbullying.gov.
5. Intervention Is the Best Prevention
It's impossible to know about everything going on in each of your students' lives at all times. Your students will do things in your classroom or online that you won't observe. But that doesn't mean you can't do anything.
The most effective way to combat bullying behavior in your classroom is to make it uncool. Teach your students to stand up for others who are being bullied. Try creating an inclusive classroom community of students who stop bullying when they see it. Research by stopbullying.gov found that 57 percent of bullying stopped within 10 seconds when a peer intervened.
6. Talking with Students Can Help
The more you talk with your students, the more likely they are to report bullying. Make sure that your students know that it's safe to come to you when they see or experience bullying. Facilitating open discussions with your students about current events, social media, and the climate of our country can help students relate their experiences to larger issues. The PACER Center's National Bullying Prevention Center provides resources for elementary, middle, or high school students and resources on traditional and cyberbullying prevention that teachers can use.
Further Reading: When and How to Seek Help for Struggling Students
Bullying in schools is a persistent problem. Knowing these things about bullying, teaching your students to stand up for one another, and making your classroom a safe space are the best things you can do to reduce it.