Me and the bullies

I know I have been really vocal with regards to the recent case of bullying. In fact I am very in favour of the parents making a police report. I am very glad, too, that this case is blown way way out of proportion as well. I am happy to FINALLY see the issue of bullying being thrown into the spotlight. I have read a lot on bullying in overseas publications but in Singapore, the stressful education system and academic emphasis totally dominate the online publications and forums whereas bullying has been ongoing rampantly under the surface of our education system.

Very few people know and believe that I was a victim of bullying when I was a student. Even my father was shocked when I shared with him on Monday that I was a target of bullying. My mum knew and she was really my strength during the difficult period when I was bullied. The kind of bullying I went through was not one of physical, but verbal and ostracism. Personally these kind of bullying is even more damaging to a kid because these are very often not very noticeable. Here’s a long old grand-mother story of my life as a student.

My first encounter with bullying happened when I was in primary school. I can’t remember exactly when but I remember that I cried a lot over it. I had a classmate who liked to make fun of me. As I was a chunky girl since young, I was often made fun of due to my size. I tried to ignore him most of the time, until one day he decided to call my mum a 舞女 aka a nightclub hostess. I really did not know where that came from, and I actually knew the meaning because I watched channel 8 shows quite often. He intimidated me many times saying the same about my mum until I couldn’t take it anymore. I count myself lucky that my mum was a SAHM, so one day I cried and told her what happened. My mum is no meek character, she demanded who said it and once fine day, I managed to point out who that nasty fella was to her and she really screamed at him. So I guess I was spared from more verbal bullying till I finished primary school.

Then came secondary school. One of the lowest points in my life. New environment should be exciting but I got more than what I bargained for. Barely a month in Sec 1, I was ostracized by the so-called popular girls. On hindsight, I am amazed at how they could turn the whole class of girls against me. I was clueless why. So I figured it could be my size again. So for a good 6 months, I was friend-less. No one wanted to partner with me for group or pair work. I was miserable. I hated school. I wanted to die. I spoke to my form teacher. Can’t say she did a lot, but at least she was sensitive to the situation and did not force me to work with others. Unfortunately, it was status quo till I went to a camp in June that year. I managed to make friends with people from other classes. Not only that, one of my classmates, G, got to know me better during the camp and after that she became my protector in class. She chose me over the other girls. During recess, I hung out with girls  from other classes whom I met at the camp, not that we were that close, I could still feel that they weren’t that welcoming. Anyway for the rest of the year, I turned all unhappiness into hard work and I actually did well in sec 1.

Just when things got a little better, G who became my good friends was transferred out in sec 2. It felt as though life slipped into darkness once again. I think because of what happened with my classmates, I also did not make a lot of effort to keep the friendship strong with G although we wrote to each other. I was not confident and had very low trust in others. Thankfully, during sec 2, the boys, who were very close to G, in my class were very kind. They took me in when we needed to form group for discussions. I channeled all my energy in my studies and I got into the class of my choice and away from these people. But before the end of year, I don’t know where I got the courage from, I asked the leader of the pack, why did they do this to me? To my horror, it was because of something I said that offended her, something that was tactless I would say. I was angry after knowing, with her for putting me through hell for almost two years when she could have corrected me straight in the face and of course, I was angry with myself for being so tactless. Honestly on hindsight, I am glad I chose to channel my energy into studies. I really could have gone the other way. Either way, this episode changed me. I learnt to hate and till now if I bump into any of the girls, I would choose to look away, I think.

Sec 3 and 4 was really the best years I have had in my school life. We had a wonderful form teacher and great class monitor. The class in general geled well, cliches were common but not enough to make anyone miserable. Anyway we figured the reason why we were so close was because we were the best class, supposedly and every other class hated us, or rather, was jealous of us. But in sec 4, I was verbally bullied by boys in the next class. It hurt me a lot. At age of 15-16, most of us are at the gender conscious stage, being said to be a ‘good big bolster to hug’ or being ‘fat and takes up space’ can be a major blow to self-esteem. And so, my self-esteem came to a new low. It was funny to them but not to me of course. So I vowed to study hard and went into the Jc of my choice.

Just when I thought life would be better with a new start, i was wrong again. I went into a class that’s different from most of my good friends from secondary school, who was my main support in the early months until they started having their own friends. The class I was in was dominated by students from two particular secondary school in white uniforms. To make matters worse, I joined a cca that was dominated by the students from that same two schools. Because it’s a pretty ‘popular cca’, many wanted to join it. Selected students would be given a role in the Exco and get to plan activities for the department. And so I tried my luck because I wanted a cca that would make my graduation cert look pretty. And lucky me, I was given the role of a treasurer but very unlucky me, the other girl, from one of the two schools, who very confidently thought she would be treasurer, had to take a lower ranked role. For that. I became the target of her bullying as well as her cronies’. Imagine getting stuck with these people who did not like to submit receipts, loved to make purchases without informing me, making me stay back till late so they can bring me to buy material for some stupid float competition because they ‘have no money’. Then they made me stay back to do the stupid float till late while giving the cold shoulder all the time or they would leave me alone while they went to have long dinners or they would basically sit there and talk like I was transparent. To make matters worse, thanks to this bunch of people, the accounts was a mess and I got into trouble with the teacher in-charged. As if misery in CCA wasn’t enough, a third of these people was my classmates. They really gave our class a pretty bad name. Fortunately in this case, I was not the lone person being ostracized in class, they basically ostracized four of us just because we were different and less ‘happening’. Anyway these two years, I had he most number of migraine attacks and my neuro Doctor even prescribed me anti-depressants to lift my mood. Nevertheless I still have to Thank these students in white, on hindsight for being so nasty, because  two of classmates who suffered similar plight are my closest friends now. 所谓患难见真情!

I would not say my encounter with the so-called bullies was as bad as the boys in the video. In fact I should also count myself lucky that cyber bullying did not exist then. But despite not being that drastic, it was damaging enough to my self-esteem and confidence. Imagine spending 6 hours in school Monday to Friday when no one wants to talk to you. Imagine months after months you are treated as transparent. Imagine pinching yourself till blue black when you are all alone because you really want to cry it out. Imagine thinking about death at 13 years old.

Thankfully, Uni life was much better. I met my bestie who is confident to the max! She influenced me a lot and she was probably the first few who saw my strengths. Slowly the confidence came back.

Then came teaching. The biggest change to my life. I had to be confident because I had to handle kids and be the queen of the class. And because of my secondary school experience I became very sensitive to the lower profile students in class. I was very intolerant to bullying. I banned nasty remarks (this was always top few on the list of my class rules). I made it a point that my students know that rude students who have no respect for others would be sent out of class because I did not welcome them. I had to be the biggest bully so that no one could be one.

Now as I am reaching the point when my child will be entering mainstream education system and then this viral video, I am forced to look back and I started thinking what made me went the better way instead of depression (actually I did. I was given Prozac when I was in J1 due to the constant migraines I had). The first would be my family. I am glad I could speak to my mum. Whenever I shared with her how horrible my classmates were she was always the one who would be mad and started doing all the scolding and venting for me. She always advised that I should just ignore them and do not be bothered by being liked by others. I must like myself first. Then I realized at these low points there was always a heroine who would stand up for me or others friends who shared the same plight. Like G in sec 1 and P and K in Jc and S in Uni who thought the world of me. They were the ones who gave me the positive energy when I most needed it.

Nowadays to do my little part, I really try to find teachable moment with the girls about how to handle bullies and how they should not bully others (little k actually had an episode that she unwittingly verbally bullied her classmate). I look for books for big k so that she know the various ways to handle the bullies. I even gave them a set of protocol if they were bullied — say STOP or ‘NO’, tell teacher and tell mummy! I started to teach them the idea that every one is special, we must not bully others because they are different or we cannot force others to like us. Not sure if these suffice but I think basic knowledge is needed after all we are talking about at least 10 years of education.

I guess at the end of the day it all boils down to everyone doing our little part to  teach the young ones about basic respect for others. This, I believe starts  from young. It irks me when I hear parents or grandparents of little kids giving excuses like ‘Aiyah, he or she still young, they don’t know’ when their children or grand-children push others or bully others. I think the notion of apologizing and learning the rights and wrongs should start from young (still trying to teach the little k sigh), because it is going to be harder to teach as they grow.

I guess grouses and complaints aside, I hope with this viral video incident, there more awareness to bullying and it’s different forms and more will stand up against bullies whenever they see one so that less will be traumatized by bullying as they grow up.

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