Teachers Corner: Bullies

Sorry for basically having played dead last week, but work was intense and long and I had a cold. I still do bbut I only feel like almost dying, not completely.

Sign for the national anti-bullying month

Ever so often users on FtB remember the bullying they received in  their school days and say they wished the adults back then had done something. Now, teachers are adults whose fucking job it is to stop bullying, and I can tell you, it’s fucking hard.

There’s basically two kinds of bully: the loud and violent ones and the smart and sly ones. You can now guess which type is easy to deal with. When somebody calls someone names or becomes aggressive, we can act quickly and without hesitation. You broke the rules, I saw you! Or heard you. Whatever. We can now both talk to the kid about why the behaviour was wrong and deal out sanctions. that kind of bully will usually go for the obvious low hanging fruit of calling kids fat, stupid, gay, you know the drill, and because they basically insult everybody, nobody will side with them.

And then there’s the smart bully and I can tell you, dealing with them is more than complicated. Smart bullies are like ice bergs: 70% is under water. The kid is rarely at the centre of conflict, but always in its periphery. They try to “help”. I have one who mysteriously showed up in a couple of “let’s try to talk about this and solve your conflict” meetings. And they often seemed so very reasonable, trying to mediate, until I and my colleagues caught up and excluded them from  such talks unless the conflict was especially about them.

They still and increasingly try to stir up shit by pulling strings and spreading fake concern about some thing or other.. They choose their victim very carefully. Usually it’s the simple kids with a short temper. Kids that they know will react loudly and who will therefore be in the wrong (yes, sorry, but you need to control your temper as well). Kids for whom the idea of a double take is one too many. And most importantly, kids who have little support in their peer group, though these kids will often do double shifts by being the victim one half the time and the partner in crime the other half of the time.

When conflict is finally here, the victims and co-perpetrators will wear their heart on their sleeves. The bully will operate with plausible deniability. They will even publicly condemn bullying, do a “I was wrong” speech and thus shift the responsibility. And as a teacher, my hands are pretty much tied. I cannot sanction behaviour that I cannot prove. I cannot sanction stirring up shit, the little needle pricks that will make kid A ill disposed towards kid B until the situation escalates over something minor. I cannot protect the victims who will good-heartedly and good-naturedly accept a fake apology only to be pulled into the next drama the very next day.

The only thing that can stop that kind of bully is a peer group that shows solidarity towards one another. It#s easy to call on adults to intervene, but reality is complicated.


  1. Jazzlet says

    Urgh, manipulative little shits. Sorry it must be so frustrating knowing what they are doing and not being able to stop it.

    Hope the cold clears up properly jolly soon, it’s been hanging around far too long already.

  2. voyager says

    I don’t know how kids can be expected to recognize Machiavellian manipulation, let alone come together to deal with it. It’s often difficult for adults to mange people like that. Where do these kids learn how to be so manipulative? It seems such sophisticated behavior for a child.
    Glad to hear that you’re past the dying stage. I hope the rest of your symptoms go away soon.

  3. says

    Endless bullying in every part of society had something to do with my becoming self employed around 30 years ago. Sanity retained but poor, way it goes.

  4. rq says

    Eldest usually ends up being the victim/co-conspirator. It’s hard. Because I know who the sly bullies are (“He’s my friend!” except friends would never say that to you), and it’s exactly how you say -- the plausible deniability and exaggerated politeness are squeezing out their ears, they try so hard. And they lie while smiling. Definitely career politicians, exactly the kind that we don’t need anymore.

  5. says


    I don’t know how kids can be expected to recognize Machiavellian manipulation, let alone come together to deal with it.

    I think that if they stopped their own bad behaviour of stoking fires and thriving on drama, most subtle bullies would run dry quickly.

    Because I know who the sly bullies are (“He’s my friend!” except friends would never say that to you), and it’s exactly how you say

    Yep. In the last instalment of drama I first talked to victim and bully. Then victim and co-conspirator and the victim completely took over the narrative of the bully, defending the bully.
    But this time we got the bully as they were told firmly by me to stop spreading that lie and a colleague caught her saying that exact lie the very next day.

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