Teachers’ responsibilities must include protecting students from bullying

The Southerner

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By Nile Kendall

Early Sunday morning when I read a story about Bobby Tillman being beaten to death at a Douglasville house party, a mix of emotions rushed through my body. Anger, sorrow, disbelief—but the only thing I could actually say was, “How?”

How can a group of teenagers beat an 18-year-old boy so badly that a bone breaks in his body and pierces his heart? How can 60 eyewitnesses just stand there and allow that beating to happen? How can a group of boys be so angry with life that they can beat an innocent bystander to death?

While bullying has always existed in our teenage society, it seems as if recently things have gotten much worse. I can’t help but wonder what is going on and who is to blame.

While the blame can be placed on many factors, the key to curing this epidemic lies within the schools. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey, 1,900 instances of bullying were recorded in Atlanta school districts during the 2009-2010 school year. In those cases, 30 students were expelled, sent to alternative schools or placed in other classes, which is what the Georgia law on bullying specifically requires.

The law also states that teachers or other school employees, must report to school principals any time they see or suspect: (1) a bully, (2) an instigator of bullying or (3) a student who is a target for bullying. I have never seen a teacher at Grady take these actions to stop bullying despite times when I’ve observed a student being taunted relentlessly in a classroom.

I assume that teachers believe that because their students are in high school, they’ve become accustomed to the occasional teasing, but because Eric Mohat’s teachers did not speak up, he ended up taking his own life.

Mohat, a 17-year-old senior from Ohio, was taunted mercilessly in school, being called “gay,” “fag,” “queer” and “homo.” According to ABCnews.com, the taunting took place in front of many of his teachers, but most of the harassment took place in his math class. His teacher, an athletic coach, was accused of failing to protect him. While Grady is perhaps more tolerant than most schools, this could easily happen to a student of our own.

With the recent outbreak of “bullicides,” professionals have been quick to place blame on the parents of these bullies. While parents do play a pivotal role in shaping the character of their child, the child’s peers also play a significant role in influencing their actions.

Marlene Snyder, development director for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, says that teenagers are heavily influenced by their peers. According to Snyder, if your peer group says that pushing, beating and killing others is acceptable, you may choose to do it despite being taught differently at home.

While this may sound crazy, studies have shown that for some teenagers, being excluded is their No. 1 fear, and it has led to at least 30 student suicides in America in the past six months alone.

Many parents don’t know exactly how their children act away from home. They may act one way at home but a completely different way once they get to school. I know that I don’t use the exact same language at school that I use at home around my parents.

Teachers, however, see how students treat others while they’re in the classrooms and hallways, which is why they must step in and tell authorities when they sense a possibility of bullying. It is the only way this problem will be rectified.

This story won second place in the Editorial Column category of the Southern Interscholastic Press Association Mail-In Contest on March 4, 2012.

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