Sometimes the best a teacher can expect from his or her students is non-disruptive behavior and partial attentiveness. It is for that reason that teachers often feel a special sense of fulfillment when they witness students who go above and beyond to do the right thing. For a seventh-grade teacher at Jonas E. Salk Middle School, that moment came a month ago, when her eighth period class took it upon themselves to lift the spirits of a fellow student who had been bullied. The teacher requested anonymity, in large part because she didn’t want to take any of the credit away from her students.
“I had nothing to do with what happened that day,” the teacher said. “It was all them. They were self-driven and they used social media in a positive way.”
According to the teacher, several students had noticed that one of their classmates had been visibly upset during class. When the student had left, they asked their teacher what was wrong.
“It was a tough day,” the teacher said. “They were all inquisitive about what was wrong and I just told them he’s having a bad day. And I said to them, ‘you probably know more about it than I do.’ And then I said, ‘it’s up to you now.’”
The teacher carried on with her lecture the following day, unaware that she had inadvertently issued a challenge to her students. But the day after that, the teacher never got the chance to teach her class; her lecture was hijacked by the students, who used the time to encourage the student who had been bullied.
“One by one they gave him small gifts like leftover Halloween candy and whatever they could bring,” the teacher said. “And they said to him, ‘when you feel bullied, come to us. We’re all your friends.’ And they shared personal stories of times they’d felt bullied. And every time I tried to speak, they ignored me and continued the discussion. I didn’t ask them to do this. I was amazed.”
The teacher was especially impressed by the students’ positive usage of social media. The 28 students had devised their plan in a group chat spread across the two days. The teacher, who has taught at Salk for the past 23 years, noted that the rise of social media has made bullying easier.
“Of course [it has]. There’s Instagram, there’s Snap Chat,” she said. “The district takes a really proactive approach with that. It’s taken a different delivery system. Kids at this age are very sensitive.”
Levittown schools have been promoting positivity among students through the RISE program, which stands for respect and responsibility, integrity, safety and empathy. The program gives out a monthly award for students who display a notable amount of character and devotion to a positive learning experience. For the month of December, the students in the eighth period class were honored for their impromptu show of support.
“I love these kids because they’re still so sincere and what they did was so great,” said the teacher, who added that though she thought highly of her students, she never could have predicted their actions that day. “I love my students, but I was very surprised. It was the greatest day I’ve ever had in the classroom, ever.”