A student once disclosed her shame of the bullying acts she had taken part in when she was younger. In our sixth form classroom she was a confident young woman well-known for leading youth groups and being a heady mix of popular, fun and hard-working. But things had not always been so.
In her early teens she had systematically terrorised several girls. One night she was so mad she tied one girl’s hair to a fence and beat her until she fell down in a pool of her own blood. Why? Because the girl had looked happy. In fact, that girl always looked happy. So my student, angry at the terrible things that had happened in her life, decided she wanted the happy girl to feel an inkling of the pain she endured every single day.
When she told me she stared at the table, clearly pained at having to realise the enormity of her behaviour.
And it is a horrifying story. However my greatest sadness is that some other adult surely must have been capable of noticing the angry teen in front of their eyes. They could have given her some opportunity to talk, draw, create something that could have communicated her anger. Schools are full of adults who are supposed to help young people – but do most of us provide space and time for this sort of help?
The details of my student’s childhood are horrific. Her bullying record was lengthy and though she was dealt with by many teachers- all doling out increasingly severe punishments – in the end the only way she felt able to express herself was by leaving another child in a pool of blood. Whenever I feel too busy to listen to a student, I remind myself of that fact.