Published: Sep 20, 2011 06:00 PM
Modified: Sep 20, 2011 06:00 PM
Eighth-grade language arts teacher Ryan Miller believes his lesson about bullying is the most important hour he spends with students all year. .
Over the past six years, the Davis Drive Middle School teacher has tweaked his lesson plan and incorporated tips from anti-bullying websites. "I'm a big believer in 'beg, borrow and steal' when it comes to teaching," said Miller. His message has evolved as he has collaborated with other teachers and his students, but his core goal has remained - helping middle-schoolers understand the lasting effects of bullying.Q:
What is the meat of your lesson when you only have an hour to get an anti-bullying message across?A:
The night before, I give 15 seminar questions out to the students so they consider things like: "What does it mean to be popular? What are some groups at Davis Drive? What does it mean to belong to a group?"
During the lesson, I trace a life-sized outline of a person on a piece of paper and ask the students to come up and write in marker some names they have been called (that are school-appropriate). Then wrinkle the paper where they have written. We then talk about how the person would feel about being called that name. I ask the students to walk back up, apologize, and try to get rid of the words and straighten out the paper. I try to illustrate that bullying leaves a lasting impression.
Almost all of the kids know the right thing to do if someone is being bullied - tell someone; a teacher or administrator. But I ask them, "What really happens?" They don't tell, and they don't stand up to the bully because they don't want to be "that kid."Q:
How do you tie your anti-bullying lesson into the curriculum?A:
We used to do a unit on Anne Frank, and I explained that if you don't tell, you're like the Germans who didn't do anything to help. Now, I tie the lesson in with persuasive writing. I ask the students to write a letter about "How to Change the Hallways at Davis Drive."
In my view, it's the most important lesson I teach all year. After our lesson, I have kids write names they have been called on note cards. Things on those cards would break your heart. I read them back, and the kids are blown away. It is a major moment when they realize that words hurt. For about three to five days after the lesson, the hallways are a completely different place.Q:
Are there lasting effects with the students?A:
I usually teach the lesson only to my classes, but last year, a student told her mom about it, and the mom went to the principal. The mom said every kid at Davis Drive needs to hear the message. I taught it to my kids first, then rotated around to all the [eighth-grade] language arts classes.
I have gotten feedback from some students and a bunch of parents over the past few years. I first taught the lesson six years ago, and I got an email three years later from a student who wanted to talk about how impactful the lesson was for him. I get a lot of parent feedback about the changes they have seen in their own children. And my own students tell me that they start to think more about what they do and say to others.Q:
What is the most meaningful part of the lesson for you, as a teacher?A:
I like to share stories that have happened to me or others. I don't share names, but I ask fellow staff members for stories about being bullied and being a bully. I read their experiences to the classes and share with the students that this teacher was bullied in, for example, 1978, and they still remember it. It leaves a mark. The fact that the staff is willing to share with me is hugeQ:
How much do you think you can change patterns of behavior at the eighth-grade age group?A:
I think the window is still open, and there is a moment when I can still catch them. I'm optimistic that we can fix the problem, or I wouldn't bother doing the lesson.Q:
In our technological age of texting and social media, do you touch on cyber-bullying?A:
Yes, it can be so prevalent. We do talk about why it is so easy - you don't have to see the other person's face when you bully him or her. It used to be that you had to be brave enough to go up and say it to their face.
Our librarians also do a good job talking about computers and protocol, and our school's officer, Officer Cherry, does a lesson on Internet safety. You can't take it back; once you say something online, it's out there forever.