Tag Archives: opinion

ABCs of Bullying

A student of mine, who would prefer to remain anonymous, wrote this wonderful essay on bullying as a follow up to our school’s anti-bullying week and has kindly given me permission to publish it here. I feel it deserves to be read by a wider audience than me…

Letter z

The ABC of Bullying


In every year group there is a girl just like the letter ‘Z’. Last in the ranking, no support behind her, often forgotten about.  ‘Z’ did not choose this life for herself. It almost just happened automatically, like nature. At the end of the day, if everyone is popular then nobody is popular.

In the beginning, ‘Z’ is her own worst enemy. Last on the list of 26 letters, she often feels lonely and out of the loop. Looking around my year group today, I can pick out quite a few ‘Z’s’. Easy targets. Insecure. Nobodies.

I can only imagine to a bully, they stick out like a sore thumb. A bully, someone deeply insecure in themselves, can easily sniff out other damaged souls of its kind. Do I feel sorry for the bully? The answer is yes, I completely do. I ask myself the question, is a bully a murderer or a mountain lion? Both kill, however one does it out of evil, the other does it to survive. I have always been of the opinion that the bully is the one who needs human help. The one who, similar to the victim, needs support.

“If a man cannot understand the beauty of life, it is probably because life never understood the beauty in him “

– Anonymous

Sometimes it is hard to believe the bully has no support. They come across so superior and confident. But on deeper observation they too are often missing some form of family/friendship back-up. They may belong to a tight group of friends, yet still not feel secure.

‘A’ is confident and popular. Leader of an elite group, the vowels. ‘A, E, I, O& U’ call the shots. If you are not in with them, you probably don’t exist. What proper word doesn’t have a vowel in it? Dominators of the English language, they have the power. ‘A’ knows all the letters in the Alphabet very well. However, she never really bothers with ‘Z’. She finds ‘Z’ to be boring, weird and ugly. “Not even symmetrical!

‘A’ knows ‘Z’ is unpopular. She knows ‘Z’ holds very few pages in the dictionary. She just excludes her.

In today’s world, this behaviour is rampant. I see it every day. Nobody wants to be seen or associated with someone classed as ‘unpopular’. At this age in school, everything revolves around your social standing. And in an all-girls school, it is very important to have a boyfriend. If you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.

So where is ‘Z’ in all of this? So far we have established ‘Z’ is lonely, unsupported and insecure. Not popular, and with very few pages in the dictionary. Insignificant. The perfect victim.

‘A’ on the other hand, acts the complete opposite way. However, always being the centre of attention, she feels used and abused. She is fed up, but she wears the best disguise. ‘A’ really feels like ‘a’. She is about to snap.

It takes two to tango. ’A’ and ‘Z’ are a match made in heaven. It doesn’t take long for ‘A’ to unleash her pain and anger on ‘Z’. It doesn’t take long for ‘Z’ to let her away with this. And this is where the vicious cycle starts. Neither party really knows what they are doing, neither party knows how to escape.

So where am I in this equation of bullying?

I see myself as the letter ‘M’. Smack bang in the middle. Ordinary. Symmetrical. Safe. Neither a full bully, neither a full victim. Have I done some terribly cruel things to other humans during my short time on this planet? Yes, and I am forever ashamed of them, but haven’t we all at some point in our lives? However, since coming into secondary school, I have grown a lot.  I would like to think I know the difference between right and wrong, but is this enough?

Today, I know I could do a lot more for the ‘Z’s’ of my class. I know they are there yet I don’t do anything to help them. Being honest, I classify myself worse than a bully. Me being the letter ‘M’ means I have support all around. I have the ability to see both sides of the story and make the right decision. I have the ability to help. I have the ability to stop bullying!

Knowing what is right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right

-Theodore Roosevelt

I have learnt a lot from this year’s anti-bullying week.

Now I know my ‘ABCs’, it’s time for me to start helping all those ‘Z’s’.

What’s wrong with the Leaving Cert?

Unless you’ve been hibernating under a rock you’ll be aware that the Leaving Cert results came out this week. As usual, the media focused almost exclusively on the two or three geniuses who managed to achieve near superhuman results, in some cases 9 A1s! These individuals are undoubtedly exceptional on so many levels and celebrating exceptional human beings in every field of human endeavour is a truly wonderful thing. I for one would hate to live in a world where individual achievement was ignored instead of exhalted.


What about the exceptional individuals whose talents aren’t recognised or rewarded by the Leaving Cert? Are they to conclude that the things they are good at simply don’t matter or have no value in an educational context? Talents like leadership, teamwork, creativity and innovation – are these things  really irrelevant when assessing their time at school and awarding college places?

I’ve been thinking about the Leaving Cert a lot over the last few months. What kicked it all off was an #edchatie discussion back in April on the possibility of achieving “A Better, Fairer Leaving Cert”. A few short weeks later I was delighted to hear the articulate and intelligent Fionnghuala King lambast the Leaving Cert at our school’s Graduation Mass  (you can read excerpts of what she had to say here in the Mayo News). Then the day of the results thejournal.ie rang me for reaction to the results and to the exams system itself and 24hours later I was in the middle of a heated row with George Hook on Newstalk about the relative merits of the current system. Only four short days after the results and after a summer of exhausting media interviews The Irish Times finally acknowledged that I might have something of value to say and yet I find myself still grasping for a coherent alternative method of assessing students achievements at the end of five or sometimes six years of secondary education.

For what it’s worth here are my thoughts. I’m aware they are often contradictory but this is a complex issue!So let’s embrace the paradoxes and tease them out…

  • Embracing change for the sake of change is a pointless and potentially damaging exercise.
  • Nonetheless we MUST find a way to reduce the pressure on students without compromising the integrity of the current system which is viewed by most as relatively transparent.
  • Transparency and objectivity are vital in a small country like Ireland which has always struggled with nepotism and corruption (exams which are externally marked & anonymous thankfully negate these negative societal traits).
  • There is no simple or obvious utopian alternative but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking for a lesser evil.
  • We need a terminal exam which assesses academic ability & aptitudes??? (I’m not sure about this one…)
  • Should a terminal exam be combined with some continuous assessment? Can we prevent plagiarism and maintain trasparency if we go down this route? Is there a danger of more grade inflation? Will parents/neighbours/teaching colleagues put pressure on teachers to give their son/daughter a higher grade than they deserve? Does this mean that those who shout the loudest will get the most? and how would this play out for students whose parents play fair? or don’t care? Aren’t teachers supposed to be advocates for their students not judge and jury? Will students just beg borrow or steal projects that they know will get them a good grade? And if this happens what are we willing to do about it? (Not very much, if this case is anything to go by).
  • The Leaving Cert as it exists is an incredibly blunt instrument which assesses a very narrow range of aptitudes and abilities and all too often leads to rote learning and regurgitation. However, is a certain amount of knowledge (stored in your memory rather than in a computer) a prerequisite for analysis and synthesis and deep understanding? This might be a chicken and egg debate – which comes first? Certainly you cannot rote learn your way to 600 points in your Leaving Cert. But if you repeat and select only the subjects which require and reward rote learning you can certainly get 500 points.
  • Exam technique and the ability to remain calm under pressure are the aptitudes which are rewarded most highly under the current system – if you fall down in either of these areas you fall down in your Leaving Cert. So God help you if you don’t (or can’t) nurture and develop these ‘talents’.
  • It is unforgiveable that there is no repeat procedure for students who are hit by illness or bereavement, through no fault of their own, immediately prior to and/or during exams.
  • It’s good that we offer a rounded education – I don’t think we should follow the British system where you could study English language, English literature, Drama and General Studies and then say you had studied 4 subjects for your A levels – let’s face it this is mostly different branches of the same subject and you’d have received a very narrow education indeed in your final two years of secondary school education.
  • However, we currently offer a very narrow range of subjects, with a ridiculous bias in favour of students who are good at languages – most schools have their subject choices arranged in such a way that you must study three languages. So almost 50% of your leaving cert subjects are languages irrespective of what your interests, aptitudes and abilities are. How fair must that feel if you love Maths, Accounting, Business, Art, Tech Graphics and Woodwork??? I know I certainly resented being told that I ‘had‘ to do a science subject when I wanted to do a combination of History, Geography, Art and Music. I was lucky in many ways – English and French were also on that list whether I liked it or not – but in my case I loved languages.
  • The range of subjects being offered is getting narrower all the time thanks to cutbacks. Physics, Chemistry, Accounting, Economics, History and Applied Maths are now all considered minority subjects. I mean seriously, WTF???
  • The bell curve sets students up for failure. It’s not about your achievements, it’s about how crap your achievements are compared to Mary down the road. Vomit.
  • We need to reform the system of college entry – the points system is so crude and so cruel we should be ashamed of ourselves. Fix this and a lot of the pressure, stress, worry and one-up-man-ship of the current system will dissappear.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Lots to grapple with.