Dear teen Tonya,
You’re teacher’s pet, you push yourself to get the best grades, you over-extend yourself to help others, and try to be perfect – which isn’t possible, by the way, but that’s for another talk. You are a people pleaser and are used to most people liking you. But guess what? Not everyone does, and you have to be okay with that. What you don’t have to be okay with is a particular teacher treating you a certain way.
Yeah, that’s right. A teacher.
You will start playing the trumpet in fifth grade because you love music. Are you the best at it? Nope. Do you get much better at it by the time you’re a freshman? Not really. But you love music so you stick with it. And that’s when your band teacher starts calling you out in front of the entire band, but not in the same way he does it with everyone else. There is something different in the way he does it – almost like he’s making fun of you. Your face burns with embarrassment in front of the older students, but you tough it out. You practice until the insides of your mouth is like raw hamburger meat from your braces cutting into your flesh. You try, because, again, you like to please people and you want to succeed.
Eventually, by your sophomore year, your band teacher is now humiliating you during every class, pointing out that younger students are better than you. You go to a tiny rural school, so everyone sees it and word travels fast. He knows you are a straight A student and he raises his voice to you repeatedly about how band is just as important as your other classes.
One day, in an individual lesson, he tells you that you can’t be practicing enough, because if you were, you’d better. He accuses you of not trying. And that was it. He finally broke you. As much as you tried to hold in the tears, they came anyway.
You went home that night and did something brave – you told your mom. And that was the right thing to do. She spoke with the principal the next day, the teacher was dealt with, and you were excused from the class since it was almost semester break.
Did people spread rumors? Did people talk, including teachers and adults? Did that teacher give you looks that could kill? Yes, yes, and yes. You were made to feel like you did something wrong, like you were at fault for the way this teacher was treating you, yelling at you in private. You wanted to shrink away and disappear.
I’m here to tell you now, you don’t have to feel that way. A teacher is someone you should be able to trust. A teacher is someone you should be able to talk to about bullying, not the one being a bully. You did nothing wrong by reporting a teacher who was tearing you down and attacking you on a personal level, in a public and private setting. Don’t let someone tell you that you aren’t good enough. Do exactly what you did: Try, try, and try some more. And you don’t have to accept others demeaning you – even a person in an authoritative position.
You have to remember this lesson because eventually you’ll have your own kids who will deal with bullying of their own. One of your future sons, who has a life-threatening food allergy, will have a classmate shove a peanut butter cracker in his face, telling him to eat it – knowing it could kill him. Like before, you’ll have to confront a teacher and principal, and deal with people talking. But your future son wasn’t a teen when this happened. He was just a kid. And this was a life or death situation.
You will use what happened to you to relate to your son and deal with the administrative staff head on. You will use what happened to you to be an advocate for your son and all children with food-allergies in your school district. And you will use what happened to you to help write new school policies about bullying with food-allergens and create a change for the better. You will draw from that hurt you once experienced to help others.
You’ll be okay, Tonya. Just remember: Never. Stop. Trying.
I pledge to take a stand against bullying each and every day. #One Voice
~Tonya Kuper, author of Anomaly
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