OPINION: Teacher apathy


Justin Farris

It’s seemingly the nature of the beast that some high school students will verbally harass other students. The question is when Manual teachers see it happening in real time, what do they do about it? Can targeted students count on their teachers to step in and do the right thing; or are they left to fend for themselves?

After questioning numerous Manual teachers about how they handle verbal bullying and harassment, their responses were by and large reassuring. Their insight and stories reveal just how important student safety is to each one of them. Respect for one another is non-negotiable in each of their classrooms.

Mr. Garrett teaches AP European History and AP World History in room #124, which is located off to the side of the first-floor Center Hall. He talked about a lonely student from several years ago. She constantly got the best grades in the class, left smiling while others stared dumbstruck at their scores. 

In one instance, she sat beaming, bouncing up and down in her seat. Garrett’s class was difficult, but she was proud that she’d been able to score well. Some of the other students turned to her, sneering, and began to lowly and angrily complain. They glared at her score and back at their own, scowling. They turned back and started to insult her.  She receded into her chair as her smile turned down. 

Mr. Garrett noticed, waited until the end of class, and then quietly pulled the perpetrators aside. He asked simply if they were messing with the girl, and the boys answered in the affirmative, heads bowed and mouth downturned. He gave them a stern warning and made it clear that future incidents would have serious consequences, then let them go.

Garrett continued on. “I’m diplomatic before I slam the hammer down.” He closed by saying that he always seeks to verify the truthfulness of the claims before taking more serious action, like calling home or writing the incident up.

One floor up, in Center Hall, Mrs. Rich teaches physics in a wood-floored room with posters all over the walls and a shark wearing a grad cap above the door. One day, a student in the rear corner whispered harshly to another. 

The targeted student was just trying to get through the day, as he had been struggling academically recently. The insults from the next table were hitting a sore spot, and the victim was trying to keep composed in front of the other students.

Ms. Rich sees the harassment and calls out the offender. She speaks briefly about respect and kindness, and closes with, “That’s not the way we do business around here.” She won’t allow someone to be put down in her class.

Down the second floor hall and around the corner, Mr. Richards teaches Algebra 2 and 3 in an average-sized room with student work on the walls just across from the new Honeycomb. Mr. Richards’ approach is different. When he hears what is likely to be bullying, he will curtly cut off the offending remarks and get back to work. Then, once things have quieted down, while the class is working on their homework, he’ll call them over and talk. He’ll ask about how well they know the person they’re messing with and hear them out before he makes a decision or doles out punishments. After all, everyone makes mistakes, and in Mr. Richards’s words, “Even if it’s wrong, you don’t want to embarrass them in front of everybody.” Mr. Richards listens to all parties involved and makes an informed decision

Clearly Manual teachers care about their students and will not accept bullying and disrespect. While each has his/her own approach of addressing verbal harassment, all of them handle the issue quickly whenever it arises in their presence. They do so because, as Ms. Rich so eloquently stated, “That’s not the way we do business around here.”

Thankfully, there doesn’t appear to be a problem with teacher apathy or indifference when encountering student-to-student harassment at Manual. On the contrary, Manual students from all backgrounds can trust in their teachers to keep Manual a safe and open environment for growth, acceptance, learning and self-expression. Manual staff are fully dedicated to making students feel comfortable in their classes. Students are not being ignored by teachers and teachers act accordingly when harassment occurs.

Featured Image Citation: “Classroom lone student” by keith elwood is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic. No changes were made to the image. Use of this photo does not indicate photographer endorsement of this article.