IN THE CLASSROOM: SURVIVAL TIPS FOR TEACHERS
I’ve met so many teachers just like you--hard-working,
dedicated professionals, people who care deeply about giving
their students the academic tools to succeed and prosper.
I applaud all of you. I understand first-hand how difficult
a classroom can be. Sometimes, there are more hidden landmines
in the halls of a school than in the fields of a war torn
I can’t tell you how much I respect each of you for
your patience, commitment, and courage. I know there are probably
moments when you feel frustrated and helpless. What too many
parents and students tend to forget is that teachers are human,
too. They’re far from indifferent to the pain and hurt
they witness all too often in the classroom. I remember my
teachers. Each of them did their best and I thank them for
that. But there were only a few who I can honestly say made
me who I am, who filled me with pride and purpose, whose words,
though spoken years ago still resonate with me today. Why
did only a few make such a difference, even though all of
them put so much heart into teaching my fellow classmates
They realized that school wasn’t just a place for academic
lessons, and that ultimately, it would be the life lessons
students learned at school that they would carry most into
adulthood. These were the teachers who taught me as much about
compassion and strength as they did quadratic equations, who
showed me the path to self-respect as eagerly and effectively
as they pointed out the path to the War of 1812 or the road
to the industrial revolution.
Why am I telling you this? Because the greatest life challenge
every child faces the moment they board the school bus is
the need to fit in. I’m not telling you anything you
don’t already know. Kids need to be accepted
by their peers the way you or I need food and oxygen to survive.
But fitting in is not without its perils. You’ve seen
it a million times. One of your students is branded the outcast
by the cool crowd. Perhaps it’s the chubby kid with
glasses, or the shy geek who sits at the back of the class.
Maybe it’s even a gifted student, someone who’s
so far beyond her years that she inadvertently alienates her
You watch as these sad, lonely misfits get picked on, laughed
at, and tormented day after day by the popular crowd. You’ve
tried everything to help. You’ve sat down with the dean,
the principal, the school counselor—to no avail. You’ve
talked with the parents of the victims, the parents of the
bullies. You’ve told the victims that they should ignore
the teasing, that they were being abused because the other
kids were jealous of them. Yet, despite all your efforts,
you can’t stop the abuse…or the pain.
So, now, you find yourself on this website, hoping that maybe
you’ll get the answers you’re looking for, or
at least, comfort and validation.
I’m so glad you’re here. I can help you. I know
precisely what the outcasts in your classroom are going through.
From 5th grade through my senior year of High School, I lived
in fear. I was different than the other kids at school. I
couldn’t do the things you have to do to be considered
cool. I didn’t want to make fun of the special ed students,
humiliate my teachers, or smoke cigarettes in the bathroom.
If I saw someone being made fun of, I would stand up for them.
Great qualities to have when you’re an adult. Not so
great when you’re a kid. As a result, every day of school
was a living, breathing hell. The popular kids physically
beat me, laughed at me, teased me—their cruelty knew
no bounds. In my New York Times best-selling memoir PLEASE
STOP LAUGHING AT ME…, I describe what I went through
and how I survived it. It wasn’t easy reliving my past,
but I’ve been helping thousands of kids, parents and
teachers since the book’s release, and that makes it
all worth it.
Now, I want to try and help you. Outlined below is advice
that I share with teachers and educators at workshops and
speeches I give at schools throughout the United States. This
advice isn’t based on academic knowledge. I’m
not a psychologist or mental health professional. What I am
is a SURVIVOR. I remember how my teachers responded to my
pain and circumstances. I remember the initiatives they took
that were effective and why, and those that didn’t work
and why. I wish when I was going through it all, there would
have been someone like me back then telling my teachers all
those years ago what I’m telling you right now. I give
you the benefit of my experience. I hope that somewhere in
my observations, you discover some of the insights and answers
| • If there is a situation
occurring in your classroom, don’t jump in unless there
is something physical happening. Instead, create a distraction
that includes the target, such as, “Oh, I need help with
the erasers. John, can you help me?” Be careful not to
appear as if you are choosing the target to be “teacher’s
pet.” That will only make them even more of a target.
• Be an adult
friend to both the target and the bully - each for different
reasons. This doesn’t mean to dish advice. What
I mean is to be sure that they feel listened to and loved.
Then you may offer suggestions. Some questions that you could
ask to begin the conversation with the bully are: Are your
struggling with anything right now? Is there something going
on at home? You could ask the target if they’ve shared
any of this with their parents or counselor, and then encourage
them to do so.
• Students targeted as victims of bullying know that
if they retaliate physically, the bully will pretend to be
the victim and the responsible adults can sometimes be fooled
into believing that the target is the bully and the bully
is the target. The (real) target is then punished by the
teacher as the bully looks on, enjoying every moment. Once
the teachers turn their backs, the bully starts in on their
• Provide empathy training for both the students
and the parents. Encourage your administration to invest
in this valuable tool. I would be honored to visit your school
to teach this valuable technique.
• When you’re dealing with parents, be calm,
even if they’re not. Before you say anything, listen
to them. Before that, listen, really listen to their child
– your student. Take notes during every conversation.
Be empathetic – place yourself in everyone’s shoes
before you respond. Remember, you are the only one who sees
all sides of any given classroom situation.
• Take the time to learn about all of the different
community programs in your area. Work with the school’s
counseling center to recommend after-school activities to
the parent. By creating another social outlet for the student,
they have the opportunity to make new friends and become more
confident. A confident child is harder to bully. The parents
will be grateful, because they often do not have the time
to look into everything that is available to them. It also
shows that you have a personal interest in their child. To
make this easier, divide the task of learning about the community
programs among the teachers.
• If school administrators fail to take action or
offer support in your quest to rid your classroom, maybe there
is nothing more that you can say. Please, show them this
site. I am a survivor. I’ve lived through eight straight
years of constant physical and emotional abuse that landed
me in the hospital on several occasions. My book on the subject
is the first by a victim, and it went straight to the New
York Times best-seller list. I understand. I’ve prepared
this site, as well as designed seminars and workshops for
school staff, students, and parents. I would welcome the opportunity
to come and spend the day/evening at your school.
• Start a PLEASE STOP LAUGHING AT ME… support
|Before concluding, let me leave you
with something. It is often difficult to be honest with ourselves.
I have assembled a list of characteristics that schools that
are proactive and reactive to bullying contain. Go through the
list, and ask yourself the following questions Which category
does your school fall under? If it’s reactive, now is
the time to take a leadership position and change that.
1. Recognize and deal with such instances immediately, firmly,
2. Recognize the feelings of the victim. Assures that students
and parents are aware of state and local laws regarding bullying
3. Practice compassion for the bully and the victim, realizing both need love and support for healing to begin.
4. Work with parents, teachers and students, making all three vital groups aware of the anti-bullying policies and procedures in the school.
5. Emphasize communication between counselors and students and work with counselors and students to help them reach students in need effectively and efficiently.
1. Deny that bullying exists.
2. Ignore it altogether.
3. Try to justify it.
4. Rationalize it.
5. Handle it inappropriately.
6. Sweep it under the rug.
7. Blame the victim of bullying.
8. Blame the parents of the victim of bullying.
9. Make lots of impressive noises but take no substantive
10. Spend large amounts of taxpayer's money on lawyers to
fight legal actions for their negligence. The primary objective
is to protect the school against bad publicity.
For as long as you teach, there will always be bullies and
there will always be targets. I encourage you to hold your
students accountable for each action they take, and for every
word that comes out of their mouths. Be accountable for yourself
and your own words and deeds. Students are watching you closer
than you think, and they do listen and remember even the most
I also encourage you to check out the survival page on this
website. It provides contact information on organizations
that specialize in anti-bullying strategies and solutions.
With warmest regards,