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Dealing with bullies is a challenge adults face, too

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 12:00 am

Everyone knows that “bullying” is not cool. But can we realistically stop a behavior that’s as old as mankind by creating more school policies? How about additional statutes to the education code, along with the over 100,000 that already exist in California?

Keep in mind that bullying is not just limited to kids. It can be seen throughout adult life. The perpetrator could be a government agency, a family member — even a work colleague. This last point reminds me of a story.

It was 1978, and I had just taken a job as a school counselor at a comprehensive high school.

It was my first day, and the position was not what I had expected. After just completing a two-year internship for my state private practice license and being accepted for a post-graduate program in counseling psychology, I was ready to cure all of the world’s social and emotional problems.

But then, the rude awakening came! You see, during the pre-computer age, the first few weeks of a school counselor’s job was not saving mankind, but rather juggling massive amounts of paperwork — i.e., straightening out student schedules for the new school year.

With six classes (sometimes nine) per student, there were hundreds of possibilities that needed to be squeezed into already overcrowded classrooms. This task was governed by just as many rules and regulations as to whom can go here or there. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, and mistakes with “on-the-job” training were inevitable.

While I was in the middle of the chaos on that first day, a seasoned teacher burst into the office, slamming down a student schedule on my document-covered desk.

“You @%!” he yelled, as he cursed into my face with an angry look. “Any idiot knows that sophomores aren’t allowed in my class!”

Don’t ask me why. Was it 40-plus years of occasional victimization coming to a head, PTSD, or just being overwhelmed by the stress of the day? I still don’t know. But at that moment, I simply “lost it.”

I stood up, while my students gazed in awe, turned to the balding teacher, got a few inches in front of his face and backed the pompous instructor down a 50-foot hallway. During that time, others looked on as I made it loud and clear — coupled with the most direct language — that his rude and obnoxious behavior was not welcomed in my office — let alone my face!

That was probably not the most politically sensitive thing I could have done. He had been there for several years and had made a number of friends — especially with those in power.

However, it usually wasn’t my style to go and sniffle to the principal as to how poorly I had been treated. I assumed he would do nothing about it anyway. I was also concerned that he would just perceive the new guy on the block as being weak and ineffectual. I knew it was my problem, and dealing with it would be my responsibility.

But after that chaotic day, the unpredictable happened. The short-tempered teacher treated me with the utmost respect, and of course, I responded with the same degree of courtesy. I wouldn’t say we became friends, but we now related as cooperative and empathic work colleagues. There were no further unpleasant confrontations.

My conclusion from the experience is this: I hope schools and others — in their admirable interest to stamp out the age-old behavior of bullying — will keep in mind that kids will not always be tied to the apron strings of authority figures. It’s clear that intimidating behavior can happen at any time in life.

Most assuredly, development of the knowledge and skills for coping with this issue could be a valuable asset to any school curriculum.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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