3 Things to Know About Bullying Before You Assault Someone at Your Child’s School


Robert loves his daughter. When she told him she was being bullied at school, he contacted the school to find out what was being done. He was dissatisfied with the way the school handled the matter. So he went down to the school during a varsity basketball game, marched up to the Principal during half-time and in front of a packed gymnasium, threatened him by saying, “If you don’t take care of this, I’m going to mop the gym floor with your ass!”

Robert had a hard time seeing my point of view when I told him I felt that his actions weren’t the best way to handle the problem. He got angry and bellowed about being a father and protecting his daughter. I tried to make him understand that I could sympathize with him since I’d had hundreds of daughters to protect over the years. But you can’t protect your daughter if you are in jail. It might be a valiant piece of paternal showmanship but it is rarely effective. The smart play is to get a better understanding of what you’re up against and work from there.

To start with: three things to know about bullying:

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Sex Education #2: Condoms

Hand holding a condom isolated on whiteDifficulties with sex education

It’s hard to imagine the power of bad information from the home or the street until you experience it.  All too often we teachers, trying to present a lesson in as clear, believable and understandable a fashion as we can, wind up seeing our best efforts swept away by some student’s belief that has no bearing on reality or science.  Sex Education often shows how much bad information is floating around out there.

I always start early in any discussion of reproductive biology by making sure I am on safe ground.  I frequently would ask, “Am I telling you to have sex?”  To which I’d expect a resounding, “NO” from the class.  Then I’d ask, “Am I giving you permission to have sex?”  To which, I’d also be expecting a “No.”

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John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things” and the Hero of Second Grade

7.28.14 Sax iStock_000028194066_SmallJohn Coltrane

I was on a John Coltrane kick.  You know, that bebop jazz saxophonist who led his own band and worked as a side man with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others.  I played “Trane’s” greatest hits album for my Special Ed. class while we did art.  I especially liked his arrangement of My Favorite Things from the musical The Sound of Music.  So when I taught second grade, as part of my student teaching, I came up with a lesson using My Favorite Things and it turned out to be more fun than a trip to Disneyland.

This lesson had everything: art, cross cultural awareness, music, physical movement and self-esteem building. And it made one young boy a hero in the class.  Here’s what I did.

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I Was Bullied

7.28.14 Sad by Bully iStock_000020165037_SmallI was bullied.

Were you bullied?  It seems like everyone has experienced some form of bullying or they know someone who has.  I was bullied.  My students found it hard to believe.  They mostly saw me as either a powerful, stern, loving father figure or a cruel task master (hey, some kids don’t like to be told to get to work).  But seeing tough old Mr. D. as the object of bullying?  You’ve got to be kidding!

Yes, I was bullied throughout my childhood.  Bullies have always given me the impression of being insecure cowards who feel they have a right to make themselves feel superior by putting someone else down.  They give themselves reasons for their actions which are really only lame unjustifiable excuses for cruel behavior.  Somehow, I appeared to have the personality and habits which gave every bully in my neighborhood and school a lame excuse to go after me.  That is why, as an adult responsible for the safety and welfare of my students, I was merciless with bullies in my classroom.  So, how was I bullied while growing up; and what did I do to survive, you ask?

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The Laughable Paradox of Naive Sophistication

Sexy baby pink patent platform high heelsNaive Sophistication

Some adults (parents, teachers and pundits) believe that today’s teens are very sophisticated (see my posts on sex education).  Some adults (mostly parents and politicians) believe that teens are still very naive (or you could say innocent).  What I have observed is a strange combination of both.  This can lead to very comedic situations.  And although this concept of naive sophistication applies to both boys and girls, the following narrative is about the girls.  Now don’t get upset.  This probably doesn’t apply to your daughter but it most probably applies to the girl sitting next to her.

The most glaring example of this laughable juxtaposition of worldliness and naiveté can be witnessed in the teenaged girl who comes to school in the morning dressed as if she was looking for love in all the wrong places on a Saturday night and then she flops down a ‘Little Mermaid’ backpack, takes out a ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ pencil and begins writing in her ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ notebook.

A more subtle example of precocious sophistication can be found in the lyrics of the Eagles song ‘Lying Eyes’ in which they sing about “girls… [who] find out early, how to open doors with just a smile.”  This is a story of just such a smile; but it didn’t work on me.

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Responsibility, Repression or Status Quo: Criteria for Policy Decisions

7.14.14 Status QuoiStock_000019973407_SmallResponsibility for reform

Over the last 25 years I’ve seen a lot of educational reform movements come and go and there has been little overall improvement. Experience has convinced me that the reason that educational reform movements show such little improvement is because responsibility for reform is always directed at teachers and only at teachers. This narrow focus on teachers releases all other stake holders from any responsibility.

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How I Got Gangsta’ Street Credit Without Getting Shot

7.8.14 Credit Cards & Benjamins iStock_000016074423_SmallGangsta’s

I taught the most hated and feared course in the curriculum to the most hated and feared students in the district.  For twenty years, I taught Algebra at a CDS school.  Community Day Schools (CDS) are ‘last chance’ alternative schools.  We’d get the most troubled, the most violent, the most at risk, the most hard headed, the unluckiest (personal problems or behind in credits), and the saddest (as well as the sweetest) teenage students you could possibly imagine.  My novella What Happened to David describes in greater detail the challenges these students face, but for right now just accept that I regularly had some very difficult clients.

Now on the particular day I’m talking about here, my class was made up of all boys and equally divided between hard core gangsters and wanna be gangstas.  I run a tight, goal oriented, mathematics classroom but even the best classroom manager will tell you that some days, you just have to go with the flow.  Today the flow was going toward a contest of who had survived the most impressive wounds – usually from gunshots or stabbings.

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The Gun in My Classroom

6.27.14 Gun iStock_000016146459_SmallI see a gun!

‘It’s really there!  A pistol in his left hand.  He’s showing it to the girl sitting next to him.  Be cool!  I don’t think he realizes I can see what he’s doing.  Stay cool and think fast and figure out what to do next.’

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Teachers Are Older Than Dirt!

cracks in the land

Teachers can age quickly.

Let’s face it, teaching is a tough profession, and physically, it ages most of us very rapidly (those of us who stay with the profession may look old but we’re young at heart!).  Yes, there are those teachers who appear to have the sweet bloom of youth but that’s because they just recently got into teaching right out of college (time will take it’s toll!).   Review the lyrics to Don’t Stand So Close to Me by the Police or Hot for Teacher by Van Halen – sometimes the teachers are indeed young and attractive (i.e. hot).  But for most of us, once we pass 25 or 30 years old, we are considered by our students to be older than their grandparents.  And even though they may love us and respect us, it doesn’t help that children are such poor judges of age, along with being brutally honest.  Witness what happened to cute, classy, crazy Ms. Curtis (not her real name – but read more about Ms. Curtis in my novella What Happened to David).

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What or Where is Planet Reality?

saturnequinox_cassini_bigPlanet Reality

I use the term “Planet Reality” to signify our own experience with the world.  Too often we are all guilty of believing that what is true for one is true for all (this is particularly true in education).  I used to believe that what was true for one was true for all and it took me years to learn that it just isn’t so.

For example: Similar numbers do not signify similar experiences.  Growing up in Chicago, when the temperature was 40º F in February it seemed as though spring had sprung.  In Los Angeles, 40º F in February seems bitterly cold.  Teaching a class of 40 college-bound high school seniors in an affluent area requires some different skill sets than teaching a class of 40 middle-school students in the inner city.  I’m not saying one situation is better than the other.  They both have challenges and rewards (some are the same in each).  But there are also different realities because of the different experiences.  These differences are what drive the controversies over educational reform and teacher evaluations.

Teaching was a mid life career change for me.

I worked as a substitute teacher while earning my credentials.  During that time, and over the next 25 years, even after I was credentialed, tenured and then National Board Certified (NBC), I sat through hundreds of hours of classes, teacher trainings, in-services, seminars and colloquia.  And, time after time, I found that what was being said as “training” or “support” just didn’t seem to relate to or help me with what I was experiencing in the classroom.  I’m not saying it was all a waste of time.  I’m saying that too much of it didn’t relate to my reality, because too much of it was aimed at the top student achievers (those who were working at or above grade level) and not enough was aimed at those who were struggling (put into classes for which they lacked the prerequisite skills to succeed).  Too many tax dollars were spent on training that was no help and too often district policy and the pronouncements of political pundits was/is based on the false assumption that what is true for one is true for all.  And ‘all’ is generally assumed to mean those who are slightly below, at, or above grade level.

Debunking that assumption (and others) is mainly what this web site and posts are about.  Please remember, I love being a teacher and I love teaching.  I’ll give you plenty of reason to love teaching too.  But it isn’t all sweetness and light.  This particular post is an overview and any claims I make will be dealt with (explored and/or proven) in later writings.  This is just a taste.

I was told…

When I first started as a naive and relatively inexperienced teacher (I had taught music privately), I’d ask questions related to my current classroom experience.  I was frequently told that I simply needed more training.  After I earned my Masters of Education degree and achieved National Board Certification, if I asked a similar question, I was told I was being unrealistically negative or I was denigrating my students.  Let me give you some real life examples of things that happened more than once.

10.10.07 Assess #1010.10.07 Assess #17
Planet Reality Created

I started to get the idea for Planet Reality at seminars with other math teachers, particularly National Board Certified (NBC) teachers.  The NBC teachers were mostly teaching honors classes, while I, the only NBC math teacher in the district who worked  at a Community Day School (CDS), taught the most at risk and unlucky students in the district.  The other NBCs would share lessons about how their students were solving complex math puzzles and doing creative and involved projects.  When I shared that I was constantly looking for new creative ways to help high school aged students who thought that 3,000 – 1,588 = 2,588 (because they didn’t know basic math) or that 35 ÷ 5 = 0.142857… (because they used a calculator – even after being told not to), the other NBCs would give me a look that said, “What planet are you from?”  Welcome to Planet Reality!

Classroom management training always seemed to assume that every student you’d ever see would respect authority and you’d never be presented with a situation that had no good solutions.


For example: Your daughter is in my math class.  Suddenly another girl jumps up calls your daughter a bitch and starts pounding on her, ripping out her hair and tearing off her blouse.  Pandemonium erupts and the class forms a circle shouting, “Fight! Fight!” and worse.  What do I do?  Do I grab the girl who is doing the attacking?

What would you want me to do to protect your daughter?

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