Teasing is a pervasive problem in schools, one that can be a painful experience for the students who are on the receiving end. Teasing can result in anxiety and low self-esteem and, if it's frequent and ongoing, can leave psychological scars that last longer than scars from physical blows.
School performance also can be affected by teasing; a student who's upset about being teased might have problems concentrating in class and be reluctant to attend school at all. Teasing is not just a problem for the targets of the ridicule, however; it makes all students uncomfortable. In addition, teasing can beget more teasing, which can escalate to physical conflict.
Although teasing often engenders hurt feelings, hurting someone else is not always the intent of the teaser. A student who teases might be trying to build himself up; the teasing might be his way of boosting his status, influence and popularity with his classmates. Maligning others might be a misguided way of trying to fit in.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Take a firm stand with students. Let students know very early in the year that all students are to be treated with respect and kindness. Inform the class that teasing, name-calling, put-downs and other cruel behaviors are not allowed under any circumstances, and explain the consequences for students who violate the policy. If necessary, periodically remind students of the policy.
Promote a climate of cooperation and caring. Discourage teasing by reinforcing acts of kindness, and conveying values of cooperation and tolerance in your classroom. Model that behavior by relating in a caring manner to all your students. Be careful about making playful comments that might be misinterpreted. Help students understand the behaviors you expect by posting a list of "caring behaviors" on the classroom bulletin board.
Hold a class meeting. Help students understand how hurtful teasing can be. Ask them to talk about times they were teased (without mentioning names) and how they felt. Tell students that if they see a student being teased, they should come to his aid or let you know about it, and they should not join in. Let them know that children who tease often are unhappy and trying to make themselves feel better by putting down others. That might deter the teasers in your classroom who won't want to be viewed in that way.
Demonstrate the power of words. One teacher uses a simple exercise to help her students think before they tease a classmate. She takes out toothpaste and construction paper and tells the class that the toothpaste represents hurtful words and the construction paper the student being teased. She has a student come to the front of the class and squeeze the toothpaste onto the paper. Then she asks the student to put the toothpaste back in the tube. When he is unable to do so, she makes the point that, like toothpaste out of the tube, hurtful words once out of the mouth, cannot be taken back.
Incorporate anti-bullying activities into the curriculum. Try the following activities with your students:
Use peers to help vulnerable students. Students who are teased might have little status with their peers. If so, help them gain a sense of belonging in the classroom by finding some respected classmates to befriend them. You might even ask older students to spend time with children who have been rejected by their peers.