[bit of a warning about descriptive talk about aspects of bullying]
"So, I want you to split into groups, I'll give you a topic each and then you choose one boy and one girl in your group to present your topic in front of the rest of the class" I declare and I see most faces light up. I smile. I know the question that's on the tip of everyone's tongue now. "You can form the groups yourself but please, boys and girls equally. And include everybody. We're complete today so with thirty people, I want six groups of five, okay?" I see nods all around the class and nod back so the kids get up and look around, finding their friends and sitting together in little groups. Once most of them are teamed up, I spot one girl that's stayed in her seat the whole time and she's staring at her book, nobody's looking at her, at least not obviously. Students think that the teacher doesn't notice this but I notice right away that the only looks that go her way are sneaky as if to see if she's still alone, some even laugh at her in their little groups and it makes me sick and it makes me sick to know that this is my class. I, of course, have hoped that nothing like this would happen here but can you show me a class where something like this isn't the case?
I look down at my seating chart because I'm still not 100% with the names, then I look up into the class. "Are we not in year eight, guys? Can we all do the math?" I call and all eyes snap up at me. "What about Melanie? I see a few groups of six, what's that about? There, we're only got four! You don't have to spend the lesson with your best friends, you're supposed to form groups in which you can work. So we can either do fair group work or we can do this in a super dull way in class, everybody working by themselves, how about that?" "Come over to us, Melanie" Brandon, who seems to be the most pupular but not the brightest guy in class, says, rolling his eyes. She looks at me with doubt in her eyes, then grabs her stuff and goes over to him. The girls at the table laugh andas I watch the group, I can see that they're loading all the work on her. I know that she probably doesn't want me to defend her so publically one more time so I just let it be, I let her present the topic, together with Brandon and give her the good grade she deserves, not being that nice to the others because it's only fair and I know what Mrs. Fisher said, you have to know what the students deserve.
Once the bell rings, I wait for Melanie to pass my desk and hold her back. "Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?" She nods slowly and sits back down in her seat as the others pass, obviously unable to not eye her curiously. But the thing about that girl is that you're not going to talk to her and ask her "What did Miss Nicholls say? Why'd you have to stay?" because they don't want to speak to her so they'll never know. I know that I have to adress this now and I also know that she welcomes a talk with me, even if she despised me, purely because it will mean that there are a few minutes less of her having to be alone during the break. Once everyone has left, I walk over to her and sit on the chair in front of her. "I'm sorry I called you out like that" I say. She shrugs. "It's okay." "Why didn't you get up to find a group?" She avoids my eyes and stares down at the table that's scribbled all over. "No one wants me in their group." "Brandon?" She laughs but it's more sarcastic. "He only feared having to do his work alone because he can't do shit." I laugh too, genuinely. "Is there no one you'd want to work with? Not everyone in this class is like Brandon." She shrugs. "I was new last year, didn't fit it and it's been like this ever since." "Didn't your previous teacher do anything?" "Mr. Tarker? No" she says, looking just as sarcastically amused as she did when I talked about Brandon. I try to stay calm and deal with the scumbag later, concentrating on helping her. "I know you probably don't want to tell me about this and maybe you don't even take me seriously because you think I'm just trying to talk to you about this because I feel sorry for you. Let me tell you, I don't feel sorry for you. I can just relate to you. For a good year in school, I had no friends and I told everyone who asked that it was my choice. But whenver someone called my name without making fun of me to ask me a question, even if it was just what the homework was, I was so happy to be included for even just a second, that ... I knew I was lying to myself, saying I didn't want to spend time with anyone." "They make fun of me, no matter what I do. I could be playing soccer just as well as Brandon and they'd make fun of me, simply because it was me." "No, because you're a girl" I say with a half-smile and that makes her smile too. "Keep this between us but I know how Mr. Tarker can be, he's a bully and he probably was a bully in school and never changed. And I can say, he probably didn't care, maybe he didn't even see it. And I also understand if you didn't want him to see it, either because you had a crush on him or because you just knew he wasn't going to do anything about it anyway. But let me tell you, that I care. And if you want help, if there is anything I can do for you, if it's just talking ... let me know. And I'll be here for you. And I won't tell the others to stop picking on you because let's be real, I am not able to stop them. But you've come this far. There was a girl in my year, when I was in school and she started skipping school because of something like this so she ended up having to redo the whole year. And it was such a waste because she could've graduated a year earlier, you know? What I'm saying is, they're just kids that you're never going to see again. Since graduation, I have seen none of the people that I hated in school, ever again. You've probably heard this a lot and it's true: What happens in school, besides friends and grades, doesn't matter. It doesn't define you, no one will care if people picked on you in school once it comes to the time after school. And you are going to be so much stronger than other people after school ... if you get through this and I wanna help you get through this. I don't want to just watch it happen. I've seen your grades, they're good, you're a good student. So, is there anything I could do for you?"
She sighs and looks at me and I know that she's debating with herself in her head. No matter how many teachers say that they're there for you, you always see them as someone distant, a teacher will never be someone you can trust. But I feel like because of telling her something she can personally relate to, as cliché as it is, she will see that I understand her because I do. And I know what I wished my teacher would've done for me. "How do you think you could help me, Miss Nicholls?" she asks, sounding a little desperate. "I don't know, I just noticed that you sit by yourself a lot and today made me want to ask you about it. If you don't mind the situation as it is, that's great. That's amazing. But people your age don't seem to think that way yet. Once everyone grows older, it's not gonna be that big of an issue anymore, Melanie. But right now ... I could help you get into another class, if you want that. But I realise that seems like giving up. What do you do in your break?" "I usually sit around in the library and do my homework. Because that's where no one is." "If you wanna talk, not about this shit only but ... about anything, just have lunch with someone, I'll have lunch with you. I realise having lunch with a teacher sounds lame but it's just an offer. I know that you think I'm under the impression that I get you and get everything you feel but I'm just trying to relate. And you don't have to be embarrassed with me." She takes a deep breath, then nods slowly. I feel like I'm young enough for her to see that offer as not too weird. "So, how about you tell me what you want and I'll go to the bakery? So you can stay here and not be stared at because I told you to stay back." She nods again and smiles. "Thanks, Miss Nicholls." Not only is that the first moment for me realising I've made a change compared to other teachers but it also teaches me the lesson of not letting the students form their own groups because as happy as the ones with their friends are going to be, the ones without friends are going to be even more down.
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Super Girl ✩Humor
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