Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Just Want Him To Be Safe

[Update: Mom says the school responded very well to her concerns in a parent-teacher meeting. They said they will talk to the gym teacher and insist that he find other methods of encouraging my brother to be physically active, saying that it's inappropriate to punish the entire class for one student.]

My family is currently living in two separate towns for work-related reasons. My mother and 13 year old brother are in one town, while my father and I are in another.
Yesterday morning, my brother called us in tears. It turns out that the day before had been a very bad day at school. My brother is a big boy, built like a football player, and slightly chubby. He's also not much into physical activity, and not very well coordinated (though far better than I am).
He's told me about his gym teacher drinking protein shakes and giving them lots of fitness advice. The same teacher is also his science teacher, and tends to spend an awful lot of science class teaching about the body. He seems to be completely obsessed with being fit.
Anyway, the day before yesterday, they were running laps in gym. My brother is not a good runner and never will be, because of his build. And this class, he was the slowest and the first to tire. His gym teacher decided to keep everyone running laps until my brother made it through an entire lap without needing to stop. Of course, this was a losing battle, given that the more you push yourself, the more tired you get. My brother eventually ended up lying in a fetal position on the ground, too tired to move. At this point, most of the rest of his class started taunting him, and the teacher praised them for 'encouraging' him.
Another thing about my brother: he is extremely sensitive. He's one of the most caring kids I've ever met. He is very much a people-pleaser, and unlike me, he often doesn't stand up for himself. He is the one in my family least likely to show anger when I have a meltdown, even if it was a conflict with him that set it off. I have to be careful when I ask him for favors because he has trouble saying no to me.
My brother is typically the first one to come home, since his school lets out before Mom's work does. This day, he came home extremely upset. Apparently he kind of trashed the place, for example smashing a piece of fruit on the ground. Then he went on World of Warcraft and talked to people in the guild some of his characters belong to, and they comforted him. (An aside: Video gamers are stereotyped as socially isolated, but for many people, multiplayer video games put them in contact with some great friends they'd otherwise never have met.)
Now my Mom's going to have a meeting with the school, hoping to sort something out, but I don't know if anything will come of it, given how resistant schools are to criticism. Meanwhile, I'm feeling worried. My brother had a lot of school problems last year, and he's having problems this year too. He's been getting down on himself a lot lately - a couple weeks ago he was criticizing himself for being late to school. (He walks to school, and my Mom leaves before him. If he arrives early, he has to wait in class without anything to occupy himself, so he leaves at the very last moment. I suggested he bring along paper and a pencil, because he likes to draw. But the big problem there wasn't his lateness, but his reaction to it.)
I keep thinking about myself, when I was just a year or two younger than he is now. I understand that he's not me, and isn't having nearly as much trouble as I did. But I wonder how much he just keeps inside, rather than telling us. I wonder if he's going to loose sight of happiness the way I did. And I desperately want to protect him from that - but I'm not his parent, just his big sister.


Blogger Jesse the K said...

The teacher bullying is hard enough to deal with, but when the teacher encouraged the students to join in I was screaming inside.

I don't have any answers, just to let you know your concerns make sense to an outsider, and that you are a good sister to keep your brother's welfare in mind.

(Here from Dave's Blog)

10:01 AM  
Blogger Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

I don't have any answers either. But I always find it extremely disturbing when an ADULT bullies a young person ... and especially when the ADULT actually ENCOURAGES OTHERS to bully the same person too. That is just reprehensible. If it were up to me I'd fire him. Or at any rate, would do something to send a very clear message both to him and to other teachers that you just don't engage in bullying and you just don't encourage others in engage in it too.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing the school is probably the kind of place where bullying is not taken very seriously or he already would have gotten the message to not do this sort of thing.

Might there be other parents at the school worried about bullying issues? If your mother could identify them, perhaps they could team up to pressure the school to improve its policies in relation to bullying.

5:30 PM  

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