The Bully goes down

The Bully goes down

During my third year of teaching in the 1968-69 school year, I had a class of 27 seventh graders. This class was respectful and generally well-behaved and the year was a good one for us all.

But, there were two boys in the class who seemed to have a problem with each other, so some drama and contention existed. Both boys were tall for their age and pretty strong as well. John was the shorter of the two and was probably a bit heavier as is broad shouldered and solid. Michael was taller than anyone else in the school (including the teachers) and not quite as solid.

John was a white kid and I don’t think he or his family were bigots, but there was quite a bit of racial prejudice in those days (Black is beautiful had just started and the equal rights amendment was only 2 years old). Michael was a black kid, we say African-American today, though that term is certainly not accurate since he wasn’t an Egyptian. This is one of my pet peeves that we continue to try to segregate each other using terms such as Native American (of which I qualify - after all I was born here!). 

Wait, I got on a soap box there, let’s get back to the story. Michael’s dad was the preacher at one of the two United Methodist Churches in town. He was well respected and a very Godly man. He had taught his children not to fight and herein lay the problem. On top of that, Michael was shy and timid and I think a bit humble.

John would constantly pick on Michael, maybe this was racially motivated, but I never saw any indication that John did it for that reason. I think mainly it was because he was a bit of a bully and he knew that Michael would not fight back. Michael would come to me and tell me that John had done this or that, and I always had to tell him, that I had not observed the activity and he had to settle his own battles. He always replied that he wasn’t allowed to fight and I always promised to try to keep an eye on John.

One day, while teaching a math lesson, I suddenly needed a drink of water. The fountain was just down the hall and though I wasn’t supposed to leave my class unattended, I felt that 30-45 seconds would not hurt. As I returned to the class, I was just in time to see Michael punch John on the jaw and knock him down. I could also see that there was no major damage to either boy, but now I had a dilemma; how do I handle this situation?

There were several choices that would be in keeping with the school policy: a) send them both to the office for fighting, b) handle the discipline myself with a detention, c) have a conference with their parents.

I did none of those, seeing that the issue was probably resolved; I said “Hey, what are you two doing out of your seats? Get back where you belong”. Then “Class open to page xx of your math books and let’s continue”.

Somehow, I had developed a pretty good instinct for teaching and handling a classroom of 12-13 year olds and this was no exception. John never picked on Michael again, Michael’s dad never learned that his son may have disobeyed, John was not hurt except in his pride and the class learned that leniency is allowed. For the rest of the school year, the two of them became friends and I never had a single discipline problem with either of them.

Davdan @ 2008-2018