Students should not have to put up with being put down. They need to know that teachers will take the problem seriously and protect them from teasing. Toward that end, you need to send a strong message that ridicule will not be tolerated in your classroom. If teasing is allowed to continue unchecked, you might find more and more students engaging in similar behavior.
Your students might be reluctant to tell you they are being teased, so you need to be alert for signs they are being ridiculed. Those include avoidance of areas such as the playground, withdrawal from peers, increased fearfulness or anxiety, difficulty focusing, and a reluctance to come to school.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Have a private talk with the offending student. If you sense that the teaser did not mean to upset another student, help her understand how hurtful ridicule can be. If you sense she was trying to be hurtful, let her know in a stern -- but not humiliating -- manner that such behavior is unacceptable and must stop immediately. Let the student know that you will monitor her closely. Also, point put that her behavior could cause her classmates to avoid her. Ask her how else she might have acted in the situation in which the teasing occurred, and offer some suggestions of your own. Finally, ask her if she is upset about something; children who tease often are.
If the teasing persists, take disciplinary action. Keep in mind that your goal is to deter hurtful behavior, not to humiliate or embarrass the child who's teasing others. Assign a consequence that is proportional to the severity of her actions. That might be an after-school detention, missed recess, or not being allowed to attend a school activity. You also might inform her parents and ask that they explain to their child that teasing is unacceptable.
Consider why a particular student is being teased. Ask yourself if the student's behavior is drawing the attention of other students and eliciting the teasing. The following behaviors often result in teasing: crying in class, wearing dirty clothes, picking one's nose, and demonstrating poor hygiene. If you identify behaviors that are encouraging peer ridicule, help the student change those behaviors without suggesting that she did anything wrong.
Role-play with the victim of teasing. Assume the role of the student being teased so you can model what to say. Then reverse roles and have the student practice what to say as you give feedback. Also, model the use of positive self-talk. For example, if a student is called stupid by a classmate, suggest that she say the following to herself: "When Sally says I'm dumb, it's because she's trying to get others to pay attention to her. She has the problem, not me."
Help the teased student prepare some ready responses. Show the student how to deflect teasing or defuse a situation without provoking the tormentor or appearing upset. Suggest that she either say nothing at all, or respond to the offending student simply and firmly, speaking confidently while looking the student in the eye, and then walk away without engaging her in conversation.
Help the teased student connect with her peers. The more involved with other children a student is, the less likely she is to be a target for teasing. If a student is isolated from her peers, help her establish friendships by encouraging her involvement in activities where she feels confident and will be with peers who are kind and accepting. Pay particular attention to lunch and recess, when teasing is most likely to occur. Also encourage the student's parents to set up play dates with classmates.
Help the student gain recognition from peers. Find a way to highlight the teased student's strengths and talents in the presence of her peers, so they learn to see her in a new light. As an example, if a student is skilled at drawing cartoons, have her show some of her drawings to the class. If she has special needs, help her classmates learn more about her, so they learn that she has many of the same interests they do.
Inform other school staff about a student who is being teased. Students who tease others are likely to do so outside of your presence. Alert other adults who supervise your students, including the bus driver, lunch and playground monitors, and specials, so they can keep a watchful eye and intervene if necessary.