I hated middle school.
That may seem ironic given my job--in case you're just joining us, I am a middle school English teacher--but it's true. I used to say that there was no amount of money you could pay me to get me to go back to middle school. Turns out, there is an amount, and it's not very much.
One of the main reasons I hated middle school is that, at times, I was picked on mercilessly. There were days I would fake being sick to keep from having to face my tormentors. Yes, there were two or three of the stereotypical bullies that would terrorize me in the locker room, or even the kid who punched me in my 6th grade ELA class without the teacher noticing. The teacher never addressed it, even after a girl told her what had happened.
But I was also picked on by my 'friends'. I wasn't great at making friends back then, so I would gravitate to anyone who would hang out with me. And as boys tend to do, we would make fun of each other. I always felt, however, that I was getting it far worse than I was dishing it out.
You know what, though? I survived. I made it through middle school because of amazing parents and some really kind people who mentored me and made me feel welcome at the school. I know others aren't so lucky.
Bullying clearly is not going way; I don't need to work in a middle school to see that. Recently, I gave my students the opportunity to write a letter to their bully. I was so inspired by what one student wrote that I asked her permission to share it here. I am withholding her name, for obvious reasons.
You may think the things you do and the words you say mean nothing. But they hurt a lot. You have been constantly bringing me down to build yourself up. You have never been in this situation before. But let me tell you, it sucks. I know you think being popular, having lots of friends, and being pretty are the top priorities in life, but since I lost my top spot of popularity, I feel great. There is no worrying about what people think of me. Also, trust me, having three true friends is a lot better than 20 friends that use you to be popular. If I were you, I would stop talking about people and making fun of others. I have been your friend, so I know your way of life. So please stop. What you are doing to me really is terrible."
After reading this, I asked this student how it made her feel. "I feel really good," she replied, and I have no doubt that she meant it. So what would you say to your bully? If you have bullied, what would you say to your victims? I encourage you to write your ideas down and send them to the O. Henry Writing Project or share them on social media with the hashtag #lettertomybully. I will post some of those messages here and on my class instagram @mr.scho.class.
Or just write it down on a piece of paper and then crumple it up and throw it into the recycling bin. I bet you'll feel pretty good after, too.