Bullying*

I know I’m a little behind the times, but I was finally able to catch up on a bit of news that I’ve seen all over Facebook and Twitter over the past few days.

(The wee-bean went to bed at 8:30 last night. Tonight it was 8:15. WIN.)

When I first saw the headlines about Karen Klein, a bus monitor from Greece, NY, I was bleary-eyed while feeding the wee-bean at some ungodly hour. I made a mental note to look into it when I was in a more conscious state, and that time finally came last night.

If you aren’t yet familiar with the story, Karen Klein is a 68 year old widowed grandmother who earns a living riding a school bus as it’s “monitor”. Her wards are a bunch of intermediate students, and on one particular day these students began to verbally attack Karen as they rode home. I’ve included the video for you if you haven’t seen it, but I warn you, there is a lot of profanity in it, and by about 4 minutes in I was so uncomfortable and sad for this woman that I could barely stand to watch anymore. See for yourself:

I am horrified, and I teach high school.

Maybe I’m a little naive, and maybe I come from a small town, but I could never, ever have imagined that type of behaviour and language from a group of 12 year olds. I didn’t even know what some of those words meant until much later in high school.

Have things really changed that much? What happened to the image of the 12 year old boy (not yet a man) who wants to play baseball or street hockey, and still dreams about following in his father’s footsteps when he grows up?

This type of unprovoked, mean bullying makes me nauseous and frightened for the world that Ruby is entering.

And watching the video brought up waves of guilt.

I need to tell you something. I need to be honest about something.

I was a pretty fortunate kid. While I was never the most popular girl in school, I was smart, I played sports and I had the “right” group of friends. Growing up as one of the only Mormon kids in my school set me apart a little bit, but generally my friends were pretty understanding that I didn’t drink or smoke and didn’t judge me or mock me for it. And they easily could have.

I knew people who were ostracized for much less.

To this day I still think about a girl in my class in grade 7 and 8. Her name was Kimmy. She was tall and thin, and her clothes were always a little worn and never matched or fit quite right. She was a little shy and awkward, but I never heard her say a mean thing about anyone.

Instead, everyone said mean things about her.

She was the girl that everyone made fun of for those two years. If someone ended up with Kimmy as their partner in gym, they probably made an obvious disgusted face… that I’m sure Kimmy saw. She was the girl that didn’t have many close friends, the girl always on the fringe of activities because no one wanted to include her.

She was always nice to everyone, and while I know she tried to stay brave and positive, I saw her cry more than once.

While I never said anything mean to her face, I’m sure I said plenty behind her back. I was in the crowd when people made fun of her.

And I did nothing to stop it.

I could claim ignorance that I simply didn’t know any better, but my mother raised me to be kind to everyone. And I wasn’t. When you’re 12, you don’t think about how what you say and do affects someone. As Kimmy withdrew and became even more quiet, I never realized how our actions affected her.

As I graduated grade 8 and moved into high school, I forgot about Kimmy. I transferred schools twice and it was well into my post-secondary education before some random memory triggered a thought about her.

And since that moment I have never been able to forget her. I don’t know what happened to her, or where she is now. I have no idea if how we treated her during those years affected her deeply, but I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have.

Our class made her a social outcast.

And I feel so bad about it. Even now, fifteen years later, I hate that I was a part of that. I hate that my actions and my inactions hurt someone for a prolonged period of time.

And I hate that I can’t apologize to her for it.

I tried once to see if I could find her on Facebook, just to see where she is now… without success. For all I know she wouldn’t remember me.

But I remember her.

And she is part of why I will make sure that my kids understand that bullying–in all its forms–is so inappropriate. That bullying hurts people, whether they show it to you or not.

So, while I’m horrified that these boys behaved like this, I hope it serves as a major wake-up call. I hope their actions in those 10 minutes stays with them for the rest of their lives.

I hope they take this opportunity to learn from their actions and make steps to correct it.

Because 15 years later is too late.

I’m sorry, Kimmy.

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2 Comments

  • Applesandglue

    First of all, I couldn’t manage more than 30 seconds of that video. That poor woman. And those awful children. I’m with you, I wasn’t exactly nice to everyone when I was younger, there was a girl we weren’t nice to in particular… but I would’ve never said those things. At all. I guess the guilt that comes from that is good though, it’s a lesson we won’t forget.

  • Teacher Girl

    I was Kimmy. I was that girl all through middle school. I had no friends and came home each night and cried myself to sleep. I tried to kill myself. I was in therapy. It was hard, really, really hard. We moved to a new town when I started high school and I was able to start fresh, without any of my tormenters from middle school and it made all the difference in the world. I loved high school. Not that I was never bullied, but it was rare, and I had enough friends that I could deal with it. 

    My heart breaks whenever I see anyone being bullied because I know exactly how it feels. I hope that my tormenters in middle school one day feel the way you feel and realize how terrible they made my life. I hope they can teach their children to be different. I hope things change. 

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