ERYN Hanckel was having a bad day. A former teacher, she wanted to return to her old profession, but the stacks of admin and red tape in her way was proving too much to bear.
After 16 phone calls and three and a half hours being passed between four different departments, Eryn was beginning to wonder if it was worth it. As you do, she went on Facebook to have a bit of a whinge, and then received this message.
“Hey Eryn! Just read your status and I’m so glad you’re reapplying. You honestly had the biggest impact on my schooling! And I’ll never forget what you did for me to stop the bullying — you made me enjoy going to school again and I can never thank you enough for that.”
It was from Melissa, a student she had taught nine years earlier.
As March 16 was the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, we thought we’d share Melissa’s story, and how a teacher can really make a difference when it comes to our kids.
BULLYING IN 2009
Cast your mind back nine years ago. While smart phones and Facebook weren’t quite what they are now, bullying was still able to follow children from the playground into their own homes via messaging services.
This is what was happening to Melissa, who at that time was in grade five.
“It was a friendship circle that had turned nasty — certain people weren’t ‘allowed’ to be friends with other people and everything I did was not good enough,” Melissa told Kidspot.
“ I was not “allowed” to wear certain clothing etc. It also followed me home. Back then we had ‘MSN’ and a lot of messages were also coming home — some of them quite nasty considering the issues were quite small. At one point I was even threatened.
“This situation will sound so petty to most adults however at the age of 11, this was making me extremely upset at school and at home and I was refusing to go to school some days. I know looking back on it now, I cannot believe I let those things get to me. However, I strongly believe that this situation has made me stronger as a person.”
NOTHING WAS BEING DONE
Like many 11-year-old girls, Melissa turned to her parents for help, but she was also petrified of making the bullying worse.
“My parents had pursued other options at the school to attempt to help me, however nothing was resolved,” she said.
“My largest concern at the time was making the bullying worse for being a ‘dobber’.” However Eryn handled the situation in a way that it didn’t look like I had said anything.”
A TEACHER’S EYE FOR DETAIL
Meanwhile, Eryn was starting to pick up on the undercurrent of what was happening in her class. She realised one of the girls — the ringleader — was forbidding the other children to wear Nike shoes, saying only she was allowed to wear them.
“The girls all seemed happy and friends for the most part. Then I was talking to my dad and he has known Melissa’s dad since he was a kid and he told me in passing how she was being bullied by her friend- good old frenemies,” Eryn recalled.
“And of all things it was about wearing Nikes. This one particular girl said only she was allowed to wear them and everyone else had to get her permission from what I remember. Like these shoes were expensive, and yeah, the kids’ families had money, but they couldn’t just not wear the $150+ shoes because one little cow said so.”
WHAT ERYN DID
“I observed for a few days, I think I even pulled Melissa aside discreetly and asked her. Then I sat all the girls in year five down one lunch time and told them I knew about hormones and frenemies — I was there myself in high school and whilst the shoes might be different the bitchiness wasn’t.
“I told them these exact words: ‘I am king ding-a-ling in this classroom and only I will dictate what can and can’t be worn’.
“I’ll never forget the face of the ring leader — she knew I knew and that I was talking about her. And as with prepubescent year five girls who are all about looking good and saving face I scared the crap out of them all — I told them bullying won’t be condoned and if it continued I would call their parents and tell them what was happening and they would be dragged on stage at the weekly assembly to example themselves.
“I expected it to take more than that to sort it but it didn’t — that was that! I had parents come to me over the next few days to thank me. I was disappointed I didn’t realise how bad and widespread it was in my own classroom but damn kids are sneaky. And this was before every kid had an iPhone!!
“It was pointed out to me that this was a mere few weeks into me being their teacher (I was replacing their teacher who was on maternity leave) and they didn’t full trust me yet. They did after that — I knew EVERYTHING going on with all the girls in year five.”
‘SHE CHANGED THE WORLD FOR ME THAT DAY’
While this incident took place nearly a decade ago, Melissa has never forgotten it.
“Eryn did have the biggest impact of my school because of what she did for me,” she said.
“I will always remember year five as being my most difficult year. I’m unsure where I would be if she didn’t intervene. Although I know it would have been a long time before I began to want to go to school again.
“She literally changed the world for me that day and it’s good to know that even something as small as me showing my appreciation to her nine years down the track has made a difference to her.
“Eryn’s help has continued to benefit me, obviously as well as the help from my family, I learnt how to stand up for myself and how/when it is appropriate to do so. I’ve turned into quite a confident person who is able to defend themselves if a similar situation was to arise again.”