Who Are Those Characters?

Are those characters based on actual people?

Someone asked me (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) a while back if the characters in my book, A Shattered New Start, were based on real people. That is a great question, and the short answer is no. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is a teaser.

I’ve worked with thousands of students, and hundreds of teachers, during my 35-years of teaching, and each person is unique in their own way. Having said that, there are definitely certain types of students and teachers. To answer the question, my characters are based on categories of students and teachers. I’ll start with the teaching staff at Rabbit Hill Academy, the setting for the book.

For convenience, I’ll refer to an article, What Is Your Teaching Personality Type? which uses Myers-Briggs personality types to identify types of teachers.

In A Shattered New Start, the Science teacher is what the article refers to as “a Purist.” These teacher types are passionate about education, zealous about their subject, have a positive and optimistic outlook, and often inspire both teachers and pupils to greatness. I like to think I was one of those teachers, however, I’m sure there are former students and colleagues who disagree. The science teacher in my book was based a lot on how I approached teaching. In my experience, these teachers were dedicated professionals who loved working with young people and wanted to make a difference in their student’s lives.

The Math teacher in Rabbit Hill Academy is what the article refers to as “The Teacher.” They are imaginative and observant, authoritative and patient, loyal and hardworking. These teachers take their job seriously.

“The Renegade,” in my story is the Physical Education (PE) teacher, as she tends to take her perfectionism and planning to the extreme. In A Shattered New Start, she is the ‘rookie teacher’ who fears failing and who is out to change the world. Most teachers start off idealistic and enthusiastic. I certainly did.

The English teacher is “The Inspirer.” These teachers bounce around the classroom shouting like maniacs about a subject, and imploring pupils to get involved. They are the passionate and energetic teachers, typically getting excited about a topic that students couldn’t care less about. In my experience, these are the teachers who like to be in the spotlight, are dramatic, and like to perform for their students.

The article called some teacher types “The Thinker.” The Social teacher in my school story is that. These educators bring a questioning approach to their teaching. In my experience, they try to get students to think. I’ve worked with many colleagues who taught this way, and I too liked to ask students thought provoking questions.

The Principal of the school is “The Supporter,” a leader with honestly good intentions and who works hard for school improvement and execution. The principal in A Shattered New Start is also “The Conventionalist,” who is honest and dutiful, and a role model. I worked with these types of leaders and those were some of the best years of my career. After all, the school principal sets the tone of the school.

For the students in my book, I’ll use the articles, 13 Types of Students…. and Types of kids in High School for reference.

The victim in my bullying (#bullying #antibullying) school story is what the article, 13 Types of Students, calls the “Intellectual Outsider.” They are the outcasts and are used to their classmates ignoring him. These students are often odd and distrustful, and usually very smart. The victim in A Shattered New Start has an impediment that makes him a prime target for bullies. I’ve comforted many victims of bullies over the years.

Neither article describes the victim’s best friend in my story. This character is very loyal, to the point where he’s jealous of anyone else his friend pays attention to. This is the friend who would do anything for his best friend. The label I would use for my character is “Hothead.”  These students become worked up easily and are seldom afraid to express themselves, often seeming aggressive to others.

 The Bully of my book, both articles refer to as “The Bully.” This is the kid that has no friends and appears very threatening. This article also has a type called “EMO.” These kids look sad or pissed off at the world. They wear the same clothes over and over again. EMO kids want attention and would do anything for it. I’ve had many of these types in my classes over the years.

The new kid in my story is the “Hard Worker.” The article, 13 Types of Students, says these students are highly motivated, know what they want, and know how to achieve their goal. They are not always the smartest student, but they try hard. In my experience, these students are positive, happy, self-confident, and pleasant to be around. These students I admired.

The annoying student in A Shattered New Start is what the article, 13 Types of Students, calls “Overactive.” This student always has a question to ask and comment to make. They often become irritating for both teachers and their classmates.  In my experience, these are the students who ask the very question the teacher just finished answering. These students would make their classmates groan and shake their heads, and frustrate us teachers.

Indian actress, Deepika Padukone, when she spoke about her battle with depression and anxiety said:

When you look at a person, any person, everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed their life. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are not signs of weakness. They are signs of trying to remain strong for way too long.

American writer, Nick Flynn says, “Perhaps everyone has a story that could break your heart.” I learned as a teacher, sometimes the hard way, that every child has a story and many of their stories regarding their home life and social life were tragic. My characters in A Shattered New Start all have a story, and many of those stories—or shall I say challenges—were issues my students faced. The article, Middle School Issues Commonly Faced By Kids, outlines many of those issues. My characters were no different.

John Holt is a teacher who became disillusioned with the school system after several years of working within it. In his book, How Children Fail, he said:

We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards — gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards… in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do…The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.

Another teacher, John Taylor Gatto, taught thirty years in the public school system and wrote the book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. In his book, he argues that conventional schooling is destroying the natural curiosity and problem-solving skills everyone is born with, and replacing it with rule-following, fragmented time, and disillusionment.

I have to agree with both authors. I started reflecting on the school system I was a part of for 35 years after I retired from teaching; a profession I loved. In July of 2019, I wrote a blog titled, Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children? During that time I wondered if that were true, and I now believe it to be true. We teach kids to regurgitate facts and give us what we want, then reward them with good grades. The most common question I got from students was, “What do I need to know for the test?” We squelch creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity. Many of the kids I taught were artistic and creative, but were disillusioned with school, and didn’t want to be there. Now I understand why.

My book, A Shattered New Start, gives an understanding to Factory model schools which are used today. Isaac Asimov, an American writer says, “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” Maybe he is right. At least that way people might think for themselves instead of rule-following and becoming disillusioned. The time is ripe to create an education system that promotes curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills; a system that makes students better human beings.

Bullying Takes Many Forms

A commentary on the forms of bullying

I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) stumbled upon an article, Bullying can happen in many different forms, which made me reflect on my life. The article says that most people accept physical bullying (punching, pushing) as bullying (#antibullying, #bullying), but that other forms of bullying are not as wildly accepted as bullying. In my recent post, Why do Things Have to be Complicated? I suggested that we make the definition for bullying simple, suggesting;  “If someone feels unsafe or threatened by another, then they are being bullied.”  Now I think I should expand that definition to read: “If someone feels unsafe, threatened, rejected, or inferior because of another, then they are being bullied.” The article lists some kinds of bullying as:

  1. Verbal (name-calling)
  2. Physical (punching, pushing)
  3. Social (leaving someone out of a game or group on purpose)
  4. Extortion (stealing someone’s money or toys)
  5. Cyberbullying (using computers, the Internet, mobile phones, etc. to bully others)

The article says all forms of bullying are harmful, but argues verbal bullying, which includes name-calling, is the most common type of bullying. I would have to agree. Never have I had a school yard supervision without some little person running up to me saying, “____called me a ____” You fill in the blanks. Social bullying was also a common occurrence as little ones often came up to me while on supervision saying, “____won’t play with me.”

This article provides an interesting fact (although it gives no reference as to where the fact came from). The article claims, “bullying happens to someone in Canada every seven minutes on the playground.” For the author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start, I use a PREVNet statistic, which is a Canadian authority on bullying research, who say, “75% of people say they have been affected by bullying.” I suspect that number is even higher. The point is, bullying is epidemic.

Another fact the article mentions is; “Other kids are watching 85% of the time when one kid bullies another kid. Adults, like teachers or parents, hardly ever see a bully being mean to someone else.” This is true. Kids are always watching whether you are aware of it or not. For my author talks, I use some stats provided by the Canadian Red Cross, who say; “Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher,” and “71% of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems; but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.” The latter stat is concerning.  The truth is, kids perceive teachers as ‘not caring’ or ‘turning a blind eye.” From my experience of a 35-year veteran retired teacher, I don’t believe that is true. It is more likely teachers don’t see the bullying happening. We only hear about it after the incident.

In my last post, I Want to Know, I solicited bullying stories, and I am still doing that. I offered a free promo code to the first 15 people who sent me their bullying story, and in return they could download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the  iTunes bookstore. My email is: authorkjsom@gmail.com. The codes are valid until June 1st, so you need to hurry. Since I am asking to hear other people’s bullying stories, it is only fair that I share more of mine, so here goes.

Have I ever been the recipient of verbal bullying?  You bet, even as a teacher. I have been told to, pardon my language, “fuck off,” a few times as a teacher.  Probably the time that stands out most was during my second or third year as a ‘rookie teacher.’  I received in the mail—it was snail mail in those days—a hand written letter from a student, or maybe a group of students, telling me to quit teaching. The author(s) of the letter called me some unkind names. As an insecure ‘rookie teacher,’ that was a blow to the self-esteem. I felt unsafe, threatened, and rejected because of this letter. What might these kids do next, and in fact, my vehicle was “keyed” (scratched by a key) or vandalized around that time, so for all I know it was the same kids.

That letter bothered me for a long time, but I accepted it was kids being kids. As the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says,

Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. Teenagers occasionally behave in an impulsive, irrational, or dangerous way…[they] don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions.” That doesn’t make the bullying okay, but it makes it understandable.

A home-schooling friend of ours, who recently read my book, A Shattered New Start, told me that it never occurred to her that a teacher might feel frightened by a student. I have on many occasions. My daughter, who is also a teacher, told me she has as well, and she teaches kindergarteners and grade ones. Students can be intimidating.

Have I ever been the recipient of physical bullying?  You bet. I remember in elementary school—don’t remember what grade I was in—my brother and I were walking home from school. We lived in a small town, so we had to walk to and from school. One of the town bullies was harassing my brother and I, calling us names, etc. What I remember most is the bully taking snow and rubbing it into our faces. My brother and I were scared as the bully was bigger than either of us. It was a humiliating and upsetting experience. We definitely felt unsafe and threatened by this bully.

Have I ever been the recipient of social bullying? You bet, as a non-athletic person. All throughout school, in gym class, I was always one of the last kids to be picked for a team. You remember those times because you feel unwanted and rejected. I felt inferior thinking I was not good enough to play on a team.

Have I ever bullied? I am sad to say, yes.  As a teacher, I once strapped a student. In the early part of my career, corporal punishment was the norm.  I hated it. Inflicting pain on a student felt awful.  The belief was, if you inflicted physical punishment on a kid, it would be a deterrent; ensuring they would never commit the infraction again. It seldom worked though.    I only ever did it once because it was such an unpleasant experience. There was nothing about being a bully—in my case, carrying out corporal punishment—that felt good.

So, there you have it; some more of my experiences with bullying. Please, please send me some of your bullying experiences, and don’t leave out your feelings. If you are kind enough to share your bullying experience, you’ll receive a free promo code to download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the iTunes bookstore, but hurry, as the codes expire June 1st.

Email me at: authorkjsom@gmail.com.

Why do Things Have to be Complicated?

A commentary about what bullying is.

Adam Davies is a former member of Nova Scotia’s Chignecto-Central Regional School Board who writes commentaries. His editorial: Is the word bullying misunderstood? published in the Halifax, Nova Scotia’s (NS) Chronicle Herald asks the question: Is the word bullying maligned, misunderstood or meaningless? This is a valid question. If you google the definition of bullying on the Internet, you get 184 million hits. That is a lot of definitions, and they do vary greatly. Two people can witness the same incident, and one might say it was bullying (#antibullying, #bullying) and the other it was not. Why? Because each has a different definition of bullying.

Mr. Davies says;

Many of us know a textbook definition of the word, such as this from the provincial school code of conduct: ‘Bullying means behaviour, typically repeated, that is intended to cause or should be known to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, exclusion, distress or other harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property, and can be direct or indirect, and includes assisting or encouraging the behaviour in any way.’

However, he argues that definitions leave gaps. For example, Mr. Davies argues some bullying is dismissed as teasing or horseplay. “Clearly, bullying only means what we want it to mean,” he says. In his editorial, Mr. Davies refers to an incident that occurred in a NS High School. A CTV News report, Several students suspended after alleged assault at Cape Breton high school, describes the incident that Mr. Davies is referring to. It also has an edited video of the disturbing incident, which was a violent incident at the NS high school that was circulated on social media. It shows a grade 9 student being attacked by another student who literally throws the grade nine student across the locker room. The attacked student was hurt in the incident.

The author of the editorial argues that many news reports described the incident as an alleged assault but there were others who described it as bullying. Yahoo News’s headline, Assault caught on video at Cape Breton high school, calls it an assault, while the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s headline, Bullying incident in Coxheath shines light on complex issue, calls it bullying. So, the question is: Was it bullying or was it an assault? It’s both. An assault is a physical attack, and that clearly happened in the NS incident.

Before COVID-19, I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) gave author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start. In that talk, I used a definition for bullying from Bullying Reporting and Prevention (BRIM), a company that develops Anti-Bullying Software. Their definition is designed for children, which is why I used it, and it says, “Bullying is when you keep picking on someone because you think you’re cooler, smarter, stronger or better than them.” Writing a post about the definition of bullying has made me realize even that definition is lacking. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) define bullying “as when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else.” Many definitions of bullying say to be bullying, it must happen more than once. The news reports fail to report whether the NS boy was repeatedly assaulted either physically (using your body or objects to cause harm), verbally (using words to hurt someone), or socially (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone). Based on my experience with school bullying, and using definitions like Oxford’s definition, “seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable,” which makes no reference to repetition, the NS youth was definitely bullied.

Mr. Davies sites a 2019 research study on student well-being and experiences at school which was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Their report, based on survey data from more than 54,000 students in Grades 4 to 12, did not use the terms bullying or bullying behaviour. Instead, students were asked if they felt unsafe or threatened at school within the past month. According to the survey, 19% of students felt unsafe or threatened at school, with 35% for students with physical disabilities, and 36% for those who identified as LGBTQ. The survey revealed that students were most worried about gossip, pranks and being left out by their friends and peers. Most disturbing to me was 61% of students surveyed reported feeling physically threatened and about half of those surveyed were concerned about cyber threats, including online gossip, hurtful messages and the spread of inappropriate photos.

The survey on student well-being and experiences at school reveals a lot of other things about school life, but the fact that 19%, or approximately one in five students, feel unsafe at school is alarming.

The Canadian Red Cross has a simple definition of bullying. It says, “bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; the person doing the bullying has power over the person being victimized.” That is a good definition because it is simple, yet it encapsulates what bullying is. Perhaps there is an even a simpler definition of bullying? Maybe bullying should be defined as when a person is made to feel threatened or unsafe by another person. It’s simple, yet says what bullying is all about.

Bullying typically is defined by three elements: aggression, a power differential, and repetition. I have a problem with the repetition part. If a person feels threatened or unsafe, because of another person, even one time, then in my view, bullying has occurred. Under no circumstances should a person ever feel threatened or unsafe because of another individual. Many will argue that bullying is complex and you can’t define it as I just did, but perhaps that is the problem. Maybe we humans want to make everything more complicated than it has to be. To me it is simple. If a student, or anyone for that matter, feels unsafe or threatened by another, they are being bullied.