Working in a primary school, bullying is always a concern, and so anti-bullying week which took place last month is a big deal. Unfortunately, it was during that week that one of our Year 6 pupils came forward, having written a letter to her teacher outlining the bullying that she had been subjected to by two other pupils in her class.
As the acting headteacher, I found myself in my office telling her about my experience of bullying in high school, and that actually, even though I am a 31-year-old professional, that high-school mentality of someone thinking they are better than you, doesn’t go away.
I went to a well-known North London Jewish secondary school. I wouldn’t call myself a member of the “popular” crowd, I was just normal. I did experience bullying, a few girls (and boys) went out of their way to verbally abuse me on a daily basis. I can’t remember specifics, but I remember my dad calling the school a few times to complain and I remember how it made me feel.
it was that feeling of being so happy the few times they are nice to you, as you think that they actually want to be your friend, but then, not much later, they do a 180 degree turn and the feeling of loneliness continues.
However, what I told Rubab, the 10-year-old girl sitting in my office, was quite different. I told her of the strength she must have inside to always tell someoneif she is bullied, and that it doesn’t make her weak, and that it won’t get worse... well, not under my watch!
A few weeks ago, I was at one of my oldest friend’s engagement party. I was intrigued to see who would be there. I have only stayed in touch with a few friends from back in the day. I didn’t go to a “Jewish” university. I got my first job in teaching when I had just graduated at 20 and I moved to West London with my then boyfriend and now husband. I was walking through the living room with a friend when we saw someone we knew from school across the room, so we walked over. She was standing next to another girl, let’s call her Elle, who also went to our school.
Elle and I were never friends at school, we never had any classes together. She was very popular; tall and slim with long brown hair and olive skin. She had lots of friends and lots of boys fancied her. I don’t think she ever spoke to me when we were in school. In fact, I’m sure, she would actively ignore me. But in high school, that was kind of OK. As we got older, youth movement friends and university friends turned into mutual friends and I would see her from time to time. We would chat, discuss things in group conversations and acknowledge each other’s existence. She knew who I was. I knew who she was. I haven’t changed that much since we were last in a room together.
My friend was in front of me and greeted the girl we both knew. It would have been rude of me to ignore Elle, who was standing right next to her. So, I looked straight at her, ready to start the “small talk.” What happened next completely shocked me. I looked at Elle, she looked in the other direction, she then turned her head back around and looked straight over my head (I’m pretty short). She looked into the distance as if she was looking for someone. There was no eye contact and no acknowledgment that I was standing right in front of her. There is no way she would have not seen me. She chose to ignore me.
Now, I’m not saying that what happened was bullying. It wasn’t. But it gave me that flashback of the girls growing up from school, or in any North-West London bubble, who thought that they were better than me and would therefore ignore me. As I told this story to the pupil sitting next to me, she looked at me in shock. To her I am the acting headteacher of her school. The person who, when you are sent to her for something bad, means business, but when you are sent to her for something good, would probably do some sort of “high 10” or do a funny dance and give you a prize from the treasure chest. How could something like that still be happening to someone like her?
I wonder, why did Elle ignore me like that? Did she mean to be rude? Did she feel as awkward as me at the prospect of having the “so what are you doing now” conversation? Was it because I chose to attend a university in South London which is renowned for its teacher training course, rather than one in Leeds or Birmingham? Was it because I moved out of the area and over to west London? Was it because I have branched out and made new friends (most of whom aren’t Jewish)? Did she know that her actions would make me feel just like I did when we were at school? Or is it because, 15 years later, some people still have that High School mentality and think it is OK to ignore people?
If you are reading this article and you have had this happen to you, then at least you know that you are not alone, and that actually, we are probably the majority. But if you have done this to someone, I’d ask you, please think about the way that your actions can make others feel.