Department of Foreign Languages
University of Nizwa
In an ideal world, bullying would not exist. It should never be tolerated or ignored in classrooms in our schools, in the workplace, or in our society at large unless you lived in the 1530s when “bully” meant sweetheart, “a term of endearment applied to either sex” according to the online etymological dictionary.
Learning the difference between right and wrong starts with our family, our upbringing, and is also informed by religious teachings. No religion supports bullying as a proper way to treat anybody. But, what if kids, for whatever reason, come to school and do not conduct themselves in an appropriate manner? Bullying is often associated with the young, but no teacher or elder would assume that nasty habits will all of a sudden be dropped at a certain age and that everyone will mature and turn into fine, gracious, decent human beings with impeccable manners. For those students that somehow tend to cross the line between the acceptable versus the unacceptable, education and conditioning in the classroom may be their only hope to learn how to properly conduct themselves in personal and public arenas and, thus, be more likely to have better success in the business world and in any personal relationship that they enter into.
Education about bullying ties into the "politeness strategies" that can be employed in EFL classrooms. Many students, especially young ones, are shy, reticent, and apprehensive about openly speaking out in class, even just to give answers to teachers' questions in their native tongue. They fear they may have the wrong answer and that they are going to be ridiculed if they do. These fears are only magnified when students have to communicate in a foreign language when they are unsure of the very words and/or grammar they need to use to answer correctly. But, bullies just do not stop ribbing because of a wrong answer. They may pick on other students because of the way they speak, dress, act, or look. Or, maybe they pick on somebody because of their family, or the neighborhood they live in. Or, maybe, the bully does not think that person belongs to the "right group" or social class. Maybe, the bully's target is the opposite gender or somebody who has the misfortune of having some medical condition or disorder or disability.
How are students supposed to learn or communicate effectively (develop the 4 or 6 or 20 Cs of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, citizenship and culture) if they are in a classroom feeling discomfort, stress, worried and fearful? How are they supposed to concentrate on the material that is being taught and fully engage in the learning process if they are full of anxiety? Teaching respect for others and how to speak and behave properly are some of the most important gifts a parent or teacher can give to children. How are students supposed to overcome their inhibitions to communicate effectively if some other student in the classroom is ridiculing them or their answer, their speech, their clothes or style of dress, the way they walk or look, their "background" (family, neighbourhood, ethnicity, social class, religion, etc.), or some quirk or habit?, and so on. The list could go on and on.
There has to be a "system" or "method" in place of dealing with bullying and, conversely, teaching and conditioning students towards more acceptable ways of speaking and behaving, and even thinking. Well, teachers will never be able to control what students are thinking to themselves, but as a teacher, you can control your classroom. You are in charge of the curriculum and of marking. You are in charge of praising and rewarding students for good behaviour and of not rewarding them for bad remarks or behaviour.
What do you do when two students sitting beside each other are always talking and causing disruptions and trouble? You separate them. One has to move to a desk right in front of the teacher, while the other can stay where they are or maybe moved to the back or beside a person they do not particularly like or want to be associated with. What do you do if one student gets physically violent against another student to the point of putting the innocent victim in the hospital or causing Post-Traumatic Stress? That student should be expelled from school for a while and, for the rest of the year, not get the same recognition, or praise, or treats that the other students do when it is appropriate to give them out - the birthday acknowledgement on a birthday and the muffin with the icing and the class singing "Happy Birthday" to the birthday boy or girl, the Eid gift, Ramadan gift or Christmas or Easter candy or treat before they leave for holiday or some other religious ceremony or celebration, or maybe for accomplishing a particularly time-consuming or challenging or arduous task or project, or working quietly and orderly for the month, or whatever it is that a teacher does to reward good behaviour.
Most students are not absolute "winners" who do not need any validation from teachers. Most students, or at least young students, need to have their self-esteem built up, as well as their confidence so that they become more comfortable, productive, engaged, and able to listen and concentrate on the material the teacher is teaching. Bullying is counter-productive to learning in the classroom and to fostering a healthy working environment, threatening and damaging positive face – the desire to be liked, appreciated and treated as a human being. It is toxic behaviour that needs to be nipped in the bud whenever and as soon as it rears its ugly head.