I was severely bullied as a child, long before bullying or cyberbullying was even considered a thing. Back in the early eighties when I entered school, kids were still educated according to “old world” education standards. Kids kept their mouth shut unless asked to speak. They never dared talk back to an adult, etc.
When one thinks of bullying in schools, they rarely think of the teacher being the bully. Alas, I grew up in these times and got stuck with “Ms. Butters” from kindergarten straight on up to grade three.
It was a nightmare!
I think there might have been a month or two at the start where she was kind, but I won’t state that to be fact. Only the bad stuff remains in my memory. To be fair: I was rambunctious, loud, and didn’t like to sit down for more than five minutes at a time. When you’re like this in the face of a staunch disciplinarian, you either get in line or prepare for the onslaught to come.
I didn’t see the onslaught coming; I was only five.
An early for kindergarten at the time actually, but I knew most of the kids already and was considered a fun little dude by most. I could write all the incidents that led to my constant persecution and social embarrassment, but it would take some time and this post would get way too long. I wanted to be the class clown — I loved attention and loved making people laugh even more.
Ms. Butters didn’t like that, and every time I tried to tell a joke, she soon started make fun of me, or send me out to sit in the hall. This only happened a few times before I’d smartened up and learned to raise my hand, but it wouldn’t stop the bullying.
“You have to put this outta control kid on Ritalin, right now!”
Ritalin was the drug of choice for wild children like me back then. They figured it would help get me centred on listening and schoolwork, rather than socialising and joking around. Thankfully, my mother didn’t agree, much to her credit.
Instead, she came to an agreement with Ms. Butters and the principal that I would start raising my hand when I wanted to say something. They all agreed I would settle down, and stop disrupting the class. However, the bitter old goat pretended I didn’t exist whenever I tried to be good.
I was a kid, but that didn’t matter — she was mad mom had ignored her sage advice about putting me on drugs. It’s strange to imagine a fifty-something woman holding a grudge against a bright smiling kid, but she did. With my troublemaker label, I didn’t even have to be disruptive to get punished from then on.
This teacher started teaching the kids around me they would be praised if they made fun of me. If you could find something to say against me, you’d be treated with the utmost respect for the remainder of the class. Soon, I started to rebel: “Screw it” I would have said had I known the phrase “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”
The “Special Room”
It’s a creepy thing to tell people about to this day, but it’s true. At some point, my desk was moved permanently into the cloakroom (we still called it that back then.)
The majority of the kids in my class had been conditioned to dislike me, and I’d actually turned quiet at this point. I never said a word unless asked in class, hoping the bullying would stop for just one day. However, I’d been involved in a playground scrap one day, and punishment had to be dolled out somehow.
The final kid being dealt the strap (Ie., Corporal Punishment) had happened in my school two years earlier. Knowing what I know now, I think I’d have gladly taken the beating. Despite punishment in such matters being the principal’s job, Ms. Butters was kind enough to offer a suggestion. “Let’s put his desk in the cloakroom, so he won’t cause any more trouble with other kids.”
Bullying by isolation: What a great way to socialise an already traumatised kid, right?
The cloakroom had no lights. There I sat for the remainder of the school year, only allowed out for lessons. Study time and any fun stuff the class did, I was to sit in the cloakroom. Except when movies were being played, as Ms. Butters didn’t want me catching a glimpse — then I’d sit in the hall.
I remember feeling really left out and alone, especially whenever laughter rang out. On and on this went until grade three.
Every teacher in the school knew me to be a bad apple, thanks to this one teacher. When trouble happened on the playground, kids learned quickly they could blame me and no questions would be asked. I had two more teachers in the school after Ms. Butters, and she made sure to let them know how best to deal with me.
It’s funny to look back and reflect, even though the experience turned me from outgoing and funny, to shy and quietly reserved in social situations. Funny how much things have changed in the education system today. Occasionally, I wonder if I was “before my time,” as my outgoing nature would have been applauded today, even if my disruptive nature would have required some gentle coaching.
I’ve made major strides as I’ve moved further into adulthood, such as learning to trust and NOT judge people I don’t know. However, it is tough to imagine that my life wasn’t irrevocably changed by this early conditioning, by the scariest bully I’ve ever known.
Ms. Butters: I’ve learned to forgive, but sadly will never manage to forget…
Share your own experiences in the comments, or feel free to contact me.
If you’re currently being bullied or know someone who is, check out Stopbullying.gov for links to help and advice.