bully

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One Slice of My Life – Entry 6

Published April 19, 2014 by Vida Caramela

IMG_0227It’s been about two months since I wrote about the incident with the “mean girls” at my job, and how I planned to file a formal complaint about them. Well. I wrote a letter to my union, sharing with them what had occurred and requesting their assistance in handling the matter. I shared the letter with my supervisor, the “big shark”, who assured me, “don’t worry about it”.  I have to tell you the truth, I thought that they were going to retaliate, and that it would get ugly. I was advised by my union rep. not to say anything to any of them. and I didn’t.  I admit, I was paranoid at first. I thought for a minute, that they were giving me the cold shoulder when I entered the building, but by the end of the second week, it was just a pleasant “Good Morning”, and that’s all. Now, it’s even more collegial than that. It’s quite a lengthy story, but I think it’s worth the telling.

I had to stand my ground once again. This time with a couple of fathers who did not like the grades that their children got on their report cards. This one father wrote me an email that was clearly intended to intimidate me into changing his daughter’s grade. I don’t think you can truly understand unless I share a bit of it with you, so here goes (the names and dates have been changed to protect the guilty. he, he):

Dear Ms. Caramela:

        How come 93 + 101 + 95 + 95 + all completed assignments, homework and participations = 60??????????
        There is something very wrong with what you are doing to my daughter. If my daughter report is not corrected and given to her tomorrow, I will not only come that School X and make a scene, I’ll report this on going issues to the Board of Ed and all the media outlets that I have connection with, including 1010Wins, New York Post and the likes.

        You are failing my daugher and I know it’s all you this marking period as I know every single one of my daugher’s grades.

        If necessary, I’ll take an attorney and file a case against School X if this is not corrected tomorrow, March 20, 2014.

        VERY DISAPPOINTED OF YOU AND SCHOOL X FOR LETTING YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS!!!!!
Enough!
Mr. Z

Here is my response:

        Dear Mr. Z,

        I shared your concerns with Mrs. Y, the head of guidance. She informed me that she was going to set up a meeting with you to discuss your concerns and to find a way to help Jane to improve her performance in her class. The strategies  that we have tried in the past have not resulted in any improvements. She continues to score well on exams, but she struggles with  meeting assignment deadlines, and she continues to exhibit a pattern of missing assignments. Please contact Mrs. Y to set up a  meeting. She can be reached at 555-555-2255, extention 5555 Thank you.

        Sincerely,
        V. Caramela, Teacher

Here is his response to my letter:

        THIS IS NOT JANE’S ISSUE! THIS IS YOUR ISSUE!
        You are not telling the truth!
        She gave all her assignments in on time and were there were not graded on time.
        DO NOT POINT THE FIGURE TO MY DAUGHTER!!!

        My daughter’s performance is execellent.
        If you do as much as to point the figure to my daugher on this, it will be a media mess for School X.
        I had enough of you FAILING my child.  YOUR JOB IS TO TEACH…

        I REALLY BELIEVE YOU HAVE TOO MUCH ON YOUR PLATE AND YOU FAIL KIDS BECAUSE YOU GET AWAY WITH IT.

        IT HAS TO STOP!!!

        I’LL REACH OUT TO THE MEDIA IF MY DAUGHTER REPORT CARD IS NOT CORRECTED TOMORROW!

I did not respond to him after that. Instead, I notified the administrators and gathered the necessary documentation. Well, he sent one more email after that, all in caps, basically saying that I had done the same thing to his daughter the previous marking period. The next day, he showed up at the school. The administrators spoke to him. They pretty much left me out of it. The head of guidance only asked me if I had all my records. When I assured her that I did, she said “Okay”, and that was all I heard about it until I was called to my supervisor’s office and asked to give an account of what had transpired. I told my supervisor what happened, and she said that she was going to set up a meeting. On the morning of the meeting, the parent emailed us to cancel the meeting because he was ill.

Anyway, back to the story of the “mean girls”. The day after I got the threatening emails, it was Open School night. (I always have about twice the number of parents waiting to see me than time will allow). At the end of the night, one of the mean girls came and reported to me that the scene outside my room was priceless. To this day, I don’t know what she meant by that. She said,” . . . but you were appreciated, I can tell you that”. I didn’t know what that meant either. Then the following day, open school day, a parent showed up demanding that I see him right away, even though other parents had been waiting the whole time to see me. He had come and gone a few times, each time forfeiting his place in the line (that’s the rule, and a sign was right over the sign-in sheet as a reminder). He threatened to go to my supervisor. I told him he could, and asked him to set up a private appointment with me and guidance. He yelled, “No, I’m going to see you today!” Well, he waited until the last parent had left, and he came back. Technically, the conference time was over, but I saw him anyway. He made all kinds of accusations at the meeting, ranging from me giving a quiz on a day of the week when it was not best for his son because of domestic issues, to me only calling him when his son misbehaves, to his latest suspicion that I must be losing his son’s homework (this excuse seems to be the preferred one, these days, over the dog ate it). So, I calmly reminded him that we had spoken on several prior occasions about his child’s academic performance, and that I had informed him that his child was not turning in his assignments regularly, and that he was scoring low on tests no matter what day of the week it was. He continued to badger me, and I stayed firm, confident, and resolute in my intention to settle the issue. The phone rang while we were at it, and I did not answer. Well, it turns out that one of the mean girls realized that something was going on when she saw another father pacing back and forth in front of my door. She had the office call upstairs and when I didn’t answer, and one of my coworkers reported  that the same parent who was in my room had tried to intimidate him earlier, they called the head of security who had gone home for the day, to come back and handle the matter.  I think they got concerned because the parent is a really large fellow (over 6’3″), and last year he was arrested during an altercation with his ex-wife in a pharmacy. I didn’t feel physically threatened by him, but he must have gotten to me emotionally, because the meeting had lasted almost an hour when the security agent came and put him out. I was completely drained.

After that day, it was not only a pleasant “good morning”, from my former tormentors, but it was conversations about not letting the parents get away with intimidation tactics, speaking up about it more, answering the phone in my room to let people know I’m okay, pressing charges on parents who threaten me, etc. It kind of makes me wonder if I’m being made a pawn in another battle that’s been waging between the parents and the administration. I sure hope that’s not it. I just find it difficult to believe that their  concern for me is genuine. (Kind of reminds me of the mean girls in the movie Carrie, acting all nice before they dump the pig’s blood on her head.)

It’s just really odd the way the behaviors have changed towards me so dramatically. Whatever I’ve asked of the “big shark”  lately, she’s granted, which is a complete 180 from her response to me last year. In a future post, I plan to tell all about the miracle that turned the tides for me. I can’t say for sure that this one event changed everything, but it certainly set the ball in motion, and I am grateful for each and every moment of peace that it has brought. No matter what, though, I will continue to pray for peace, prepare for battle, and persevere through whatever comes. That’s how I’m livin’.

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One Slice of My Life – Entries 1-5

Published March 8, 2014 by Vida Caramela

IMG_0227(For those of you who’ve seen my blog before and checked out all of my pages, you’ve seen at least part of this one before, but it’s been updated recently, and I’ve decided to display all future updates in posts as well.)

I’m calling this new series “One Slice of My Life”. It’s all about me, and my personal struggle with bullying.

Get to know the person behind the posts as you read each portion of this, one, slice of my life.  Hope you like it :-)

  1. Getting my dukes up is a challenge, because it means always having to be alert, to plan ahead, and  to react quickly. None of this comes naturally to me. With effort, I’ve managed to “stay alert and plan ahead” pretty well, but I’m still not sure how to get the “react quickly” piece going. (Apr. 2013)
  2. On the positive side, things do seem to be getting better for me in my own personal struggle with bullying. Where I lack swiftness, I think I make up for it with determination. (May. 2013)
  3. It’s been almost 8 months since the shark lady at my job has shown any form of aggression towards me. Finally I can say for certain that the bully that plagued me for nearly seven months is no longer on my back.  I attribute it mostly to a miracle from God (I’ll tell you that story another time), and partly to the fight I put up by following all of the advice I posted in my blog. Yes, I was my own guinea pig, and I didn’t just survive the experiment, I triumphed. (Jan. 2014)
  4. I don’t consider myself a shark slayer, a title used in the movie Shark Tale, because the shark still lives, and she is still sinking her teeth into my coworkers each and every day. She’s just not sinking them into me — for now. I will never put my guard down. I will keep my dukes up at all times (Feb. 2014)
  5. Now that the shark is off my tail, regrettably I find myself in an equally vexatious circumstance that, once again, involves the “B-word”, and I’m not only talking about the word “bully”. This time, instead of a shark I’m up against a school of nasty piranha, a small group of women at my job, who have chosen to harass me. They mistook my smile and courteous manner for weakness, and began an insidious attack. This clan of grown up mean girls makes open remarks about my appearance as I pass them in the mornings. They watch me throughout the day to find something that they can use to get the shark back on my case. I didn’t want to appear overly sensitive, so I ignored their behavior for two months, and finally, one week ago, they went too far. They lodged a formal complaint against me for wearing a visible bandage. They told my supervisor that I was a risk to others because I was bleeding all over the place. When the supervisor came to investigate, he could clearly see that they had lied. I filed a formal complaint with the powers that be, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to discourage any future such encounters.(Feb. 2014)

From Victim to Advocate

Published August 14, 2013 by Vida Caramela
Advocate Against Discrimination

Advocate Against Discrimination (Photo credit: FreePride Foundation Project)

Jamie Isaacs, was a victim of intense bullying for many years. For her, the bullying began when she was in the second grade and continued until the end of the seventh grade, when she transferred to a different school. Jamie considers herself to be a survivor.  She, has not allowed tragic circumstances to spell her defeat. She has emerged from being a victim to being an activist, and has written her story in a book entitled, “In Jamie’s Words”. Jamie shares her experience with bullying every chance she gets. She speaks out, so that others who are suffering will know that they are not alone.

Jamie’s struggle started with one tormentor, her best friend, who turned against her. Other participants, were recruited until their numbers had reached a total of 22. The relentless persecution she endured was painful for her and her entire family. When she and her parents reached out to school leaders for help, they did not receive it. Eventually, she changed schools, but soon realized that the same bullies that tortured her, were targeting her younger brother. She then reached out to her County Legislator, Jon Cooper, who at the time was making efforts to stop cyberbullying, and she shared her struggle with him. He in turn asked her for her input in the drafting of new legislation on cyberbulling. Jamie felt a sense of empowerment and a strong desire to do more, so she founded the Jamie Isaacs Foundation For Anti-Bullying, a not-for-profit organization that helps young people know that they are not alone, and provides assistance to those being bullied. In February 2012, she was honored as a role model by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who introduced resolutions commending her for fighting against harassment and cyberbullying

By helping other victims of bullying, Jamie has found her strong inner voice. and is presently working with both local and state legislators to pass strong anti-bullying laws. The Jamie Isaacs Foundation has been named one of the TOP 10 Charities by Lifestyle + Charity Magazine!

On the Foundation Website, its mission is stated as follows: Our mission is simple… To save the lives of victims of bullying. We do this through intervention, and educational presentations, nationwide, to both students, and teachers and administrators. We present programs that help to raise awareness of situations where bullying is occurring.  After attending our presentations, students will have a special understanding of the effects of bullying. Teachers and administrators will have a better understanding  of the signs of bullying, and how it can be stopped. Our goal is to help children and their families overcome the devastating effects that bullying can have on kids, and their entire family. Some of these services can include representation by an advocate or even attorney where needed.  It may also include counseling and psychological services, all provided by a third party. We will assist in finding a therapist to fit each families financial needs. In addition, if the victims family is left with no other option but to formally withdraw their child from the school where the bullying is occurring, we will assist in negotiating a lower tuition, or tuition assistance to make it easier for the family to move their child to a safer place quickly.

As far as champions go, Jamie Isaacs is the real deal.

When Targets Take Aim

Published August 5, 2013 by Vida Caramela

Bl archer

Check it out! I have a little story to tell. It’s about two little girls in the same class who sat at the same table. Each time the teacher gave an exam, one of the girls  got a really high score, and the other a really low one. The little girl with the low scores was often teased by one of the other students at her table but never by the little girl with the highest scores. The girl with the highest scores was modest about her achievements and  never lorded her over the other students. One day the teacher gave an exam, and the girl who usually scored very low got 100%. The girl who usually scored very high got an 85%. When the tests were returned to the students, the little girl with the 100% threw her paper in the face of not the student who teased her, but the girl with the 85% and said, “In your face, sucker!” The little girl with the 85% began to cry and said, “why do people always do that to me?” The teacher asked the girl who had the !00%, if the other girl had ever teased her, she said no. When the teacher asked her why she did what she did, she shrugged her shoulders.

Now I ask you, how believable do you think this story is? Why would anyone who has experienced the pain of ridicule, turn around and taunt an innocent bystander? Would it have been more believable if the girl who said, “in your face, sucker” was directing it at the  bully instead of the bystander when given the chance?  It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But, it did happen. In fact, it happened in my classroom, and it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time with children, and yes, with adults as well.

No matter how often we are reminded of the “Golden Rule“, somehow, we are all guilty at one time or another of forgetting to follow it.  For example, we may not like it when people call us names. We may cry “foul” whenever someone else labels us with words that are derogatory. But, here’s the kicker, the minute we figure out a way to “pay it forward”, we do Just like my little student did. Even when we know how much words can hurt, because we were/are the victims of hurtful words ourselves, we still manage to adopt derogatory language into our vocabulary and excuse it by saying, Oh, that’s just how people talk where I’m from. We don’t mean anything bad by it.

This is a common trap, but here are some clues that can help you to recognize when you are using derogatory language.

You may be using derogatory/divisive language when:

  1. people tell you that they are offended by it.
  2. the individuals that you are labeling do not use the term to describe themselves.
  3. the term is being used inaccurately (look up the definition).
  4. the true definition reduces the ones being labeled to something less than, or other than human.
  5. the expression you are using was first adopted by individuals who did not hold the ones being labeled in high regard.
  6. there are more accurate words already in use to describe the person or group, but you have  deliberately switched them out for something less accurate.
  7. the language strengthens a mindset of “us” and “them”, i.e. is divisive.

Here’s my advise. Stop and reflect a bit whenever you hear yourself using  the type of language I have described above, and making excuses for it. Think about how much you sound like the racist, sexist, homophobe, or bully who chose inappropriate language to label you.

Now, name calling is just one example of how we twist the Golden Rule so that it reads, “Do unto others because they did unto you.”  Just because you’ve been a target, or part of a targeted group, it doesn’t mean that you have  earned a license to shoot blindly from a seat of pain and anger into a crowd that includes innocent bystanders with the hope of hitting someone who hurt you.  We all need to find a way to rid ourselves of the pain we have suffered, but there’s a big difference between releasing it and unleashing it.

So, here’s the moral of the story:

If you’re not careful,  you can easily become what you so despise.

But, there is a happy ending to this story.

I spoke with my students and made them aware of the impact that their behavior was having on others. I took the little girl who had become both a target and a bully aside, and pointed out to her that she had hurt someone else in the same way that she had been hurt.  She quickly apologized, and I got the sense that she had learned an important lesson that day, not just about what she had done, but also about how easy and seamless the transformation from target to bully can be.

Lastly, I charge myself and others with the following:

Become a deliberate practitioner of behavior and language that promotes unity, not division;  that encourages, but does not offend.

This is a war, y’all!

Published April 29, 2013 by Vida Caramela

I cannot overstate the importance of sticking together in the fight against bullying. When you can’t stop the bully. Empower the targets. Be supportive. My personal effort to “practice what I preach” in supporting my coworkers, has brought me a great deal of satisfaction. I received the following email message from my coworker this week:

Hey, this is my last letter to you tonight.  It feels great to have you in my corner because I feel all alone most of the time.  I wish to talk to no one about my tribulations.  It is great you are there for me.  Thank you again.

We’ve got to stick together. That’s the only way we can win this thing. United we stand, divided we fall.  Let’s not stand on the sidelines while the casualty count continues to grow. Every target we can keep from collapsing under the pressure, is another victory for the cause. Viva La Resistance!

Put up your dukes!

Published April 15, 2013 by Vida Caramela

IMG_0008Strive for peace, but put your dukes up!  Can you do both?  While it may seem difficult, there are people who can, and some are very skilled at it. Of course, I’me using “dukes” (fists) metaphorically here for defenses. But, as with fists, if you walk around with your defenses up all of the time, you are likely to frighten away a lot of people. This will probably include both bullies and potential friends. So that’s not a good idea. When it comes to putting your dukes up, timing is everything. If you’re good at it you can sense an attack coming, and get your dukes up in a flash. This action usually prevents an attack from ever happening. When an attack has occurred, having your dukes up allows you to block your attacker’s blows, and to strike back if necessary. There are some people who are very good at this. I have had the distinct privilege of knowing a few. I’m talking about masters at “swimming with sharks”(See my post “Coping With a Brand New Breed of Shark!”). It’s hard to imagine if you have never seen one of these skillful individuals in action, but I’m here to tell you, they do exist, and are worth studying. They are living proof that you don’t have to be a bully to defeat a bully. You can defend yourself and still demonstrate a spirit that draws respect and admiration from those around you (eventually, sometimes even from the bully). I don’t know whether this ability is inborn or if it comes from years of tweaking and practice, but I’m willing to learn from those who have it . Here are some things I have noticed they have in common:

  • They have good self esteem. They believe that they deserve respect
  • They don’t beg others for acceptance, they embrace it when it comes
  • They don’t show fear. They never cower, hang their heads or tuck their tails
  • They are willing to stand up for others besides themselves
  • They are friendly, and helpful, so they have back-up when needed
  • They anticipate an attack,  and are always prepared.
  • They meet an attack with an immediate response. (usually not an emotional one)
  • They are proactive and take steps to avoid or combat future attacks

If you are not a pro, and decide to try some of the things I’ve mentioned above, be careful NOT to make the following mistakes:

  • Confuse arrogance with self esteem
  • Scoff at the need for acceptance, and have an I don’t need anyone attitude
  • Get up in the bully’s face or stage a showdown
  • Take sides with those who are clearly in the wrong
  • Go around complaining to everyone you meet
  • Confuse anticipation with being paranoid
  • Respond emotionally. Lash out at the bully in anger
  • Play your entire hand at once, or eliminate the element of surprise

These are more likely to get you in deeper trouble than to help you survive.

It’s Not Your Fault.

Published April 13, 2013 by Vida Caramela
A little validation

Drawing by Vidacaramela

Standing up to a Bully is never an easy thing to do.  It requires nerves of steel, and a thick skin. Whether you are the target of a bully, or an innocent bystander, chances are you will think more than twice before you act. It’s much easier to second guess yourself if you are the target, or to “blame the victim” if you are an observer. Since no one is perfect, the focus is shifted from the behavior of the bully, to the faults of the target. When this occurs, it needs to be recognized for what it really is… Fear.  It’s the battered wife who thinks she deserved the beating because she made her husband mad.  It’s the child who thinks she’s too fat, or ugly to deserve respect on the playground. Its the coworker who thinks his colleague who was humiliated by an administrator during the staff meeting, somehow earned it, because she’s new and she hasn’t been very friendly.  The truth is, a bully does not need a good reason to inflict pain. They get the sense of power when they do. When they can’t deal with their own pain, they unleash their pain on others, and fire at will. The devil doesn’t make them do it, and neither do the targets of their agression.