The Pain of Silence

    I saw this tweet from Chris Wejr yesterday:
    3 Ways to Know If Your School or District Engages in Bullying Behavior #cpchat
    — Chris Wejr (@ChrisWejr) January 12, 2014
    As I read the article, I thought about my own experiences being in situations that I felt uncomfortable.  I don’t use the term “bully” often, but I do remember situations that were tough to deal with as a teacher.  I wish I could say that I have never done anything wrong, but I have tried my best to treat others with respect and kindness, so I just want to bring awareness of things that could be tough on teachers.
    You see, in my first year as a teacher, I moved to a new place away from my home, and struggled with the isolation.  Luckily, I came to a warm and welcoming place and was treated amazing. People knew that I was on my own, so they went out of their way to make home cooked meals, bring me fresh bread, and introduce me to a ton of people.  To be honest, I was treated pretty amazing.
    One night though, I went out with some of the people on staff, and they started poking fun at me.  Not in a mean-spirited way, but in jest.  I was okay with it.  As I walked out of the door, continuously being poked, I made a comment back that was taken a lot more serious then I had meant it.  I won’t go into details, but I had unknowingly offended people and it was due to something that I did not know about the people I was spending time with. I walked home that night thinking nothing of my comment.
    After weeks and months of being treated amazing, I came to the school on Monday and when I walked into the staff room it was like a ghost town.  Seemingly no one wanted to be within a foot of me, and even though only a few staff members were there, word had spread on how I screwed up, and it was held against to me.  Not everyone was mad at me (although it did feel that way) because they knew the comment was made in jest and a way to be accepted, but a strong contingent of staff would not even acknowledge my existence.
    So as a first year teacher, what did I do?  I spent a ton of time in my classroom always seemingly having to work on things, and spent most of my breaks playing basketball with kids because I felt I had no option.  The silent treatment was extremely hurtful and I would spend a ton of my time at home extremely upset, wondering if I had made the right choice to move to this new town.  After about a year of this, it finally seemed to simmer down but I had already decided that it was not the place that I wanted to be.  Through it, several teachers ensured that they took me in, and one in particular made me feel like I was a part of her family.  I am still friends with her today.
    Fast forward to a few years later, I had an issue with a coaching schedule and I complained about the other teacher in the process.  He had found out, came up to me, and told me, “If you have a problem with me, you come talk to me.  Do not say things behind my back.”  Although he was upset at that moment, he said his peace, and it was never brought up again.  That was it.  I am still close friends with him today, and I learned a lot from that situation.
    You see, sometimes the worst thing to say to someone is nothing at all.  I had no idea that I had screwed up until a lot later because no one would talk to me and I had no clue.  Silence, when made explicit, can be a killer.  Words are not the only things that can hurt someone, and though I learned a lot from that situation years ago, that silence in my memory is still deafening.


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