On 3 August 2019, a mass shooting occurred at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, USA. A gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others using a version of an AK-47 assault rifle. The gunman posted a White nationalist, anti-immigrant manifesto shortly before the attack. What makes this mass shooting especially alarming is that the gunman deliberately targeted Mexicans, officially making it a hate crime.
This extreme example of bullying exacerbates the fears that our English learners (ELs) are already experiencing because of well-publicized ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids and increased bullying in their schools. In the past, ELs were frequently victimized by bullies because of their race, accented language, and cultural customs that are perceived as different. Over the past few years, bullying of immigrants has become a nationwide phenomenon. Modern day bullies attack not only race but also nationality. Immigrants all over the United States are affected by the anti-immigrant message “Go back to where you came from.”
The Effects of Bullying on Victims
In 2015, I wrote a TESOL blog entitled “Strategies for Providing a Bully-Free Environment for ELs.” I’d like to reprise the information from that blog and bring it up-to-date by addressing some of the more modern-day instances of bullying as it pertains to immigrants. According to Psychology Today,
Kids who are bullied are at greater risk for anxiety, depression and suicide. These effects can be long lasting, extending deep into their adult lives. Children who are bullied have more problems adjusting to school. They also have self-esteem issues.
Children who are bullied are often lonely and depressed. Their social skills are typically deficient, making it difficult for them to make friends.
Types of Bullying
There are three general types bullying:
- Physical bullying is composed of actions such as hitting.
- Verbal bullying includes name-calling and teasing.
- Emotional bullying consists of behaviors such as excluding someone from an activity.
Emotional and verbal bullying takes place in person as well as online, on social media sites. In addition, immigrant parents often perceive that verbal and emotional bullying is a normal part of growing up. ELs are usually reluctant to draw attention to themselves and are embarrassed to talk to their parents and teachers about being bullied.
Bullying in the Modern Age
Fifteen years ago, when I first started to write about bullying, it was in reference to a face-to-face confrontation between a bully and his or her victim. Schools worked hard to implement bully prevention programs that were supported by state governments. Bullying gradually morphed into a group activity where bullies picked on other children in their classroom and on the playground. Victims were often too afraid to report the group and the behavior often had no consequences for the perpetrators.
Today, bullying very often occurs via social media. The bully does not confront the victim face-to-face but bullies anonymously. Trolling and cyberbullying fall under this category. Trolling happens when a person writes cruel comments on something someone posts on social media. Cyberbullying occurs when a person is harassed online through social media. In the case of cyberbullying, the victim often knows the bully or bullies. In my experience, bullying is most prevalent in middle school and decreases as students go through high school. According to a document disseminated by the Everlast Recovery Centers, 22% of middle school students report that they are bullied on a weekly basis. This decreases to 15% in high school, but these students are more likely to commit suicide as a result of bullying.
4 Strategies to Help ELs Deal With Bullies
Here are some strategies I’ve found beneficial for helping ELs to deal with bullies or groups of bullies. This information was first published in my 2015 TESOL Blog.
1. Ask for Help
First and foremost, we must encourage our students to bring incidences of bullying to a teacher or other trusted adult. Bystanders should also be encouraged to get assistance when they see a classmate being bullied. It can’t be emphasized enough that bullying is a problem for everyone in the school. Students need to feel that it is their job to report bullies and to help their friends, and that they have a right to a bully-free environment in school.
Teachers of ELs should help their students learn the language they need to understand the information about bullying that is being taught in their general education classrooms. This can be accomplished through simplified language, visuals, and peer translation. The language of asking for help should be taught at the students’ English language development level (Frechette & Haynes, 2010). Teachers should provide ELs with time to practice asking for help during a bullying incident through role-playing.
2. Stand Up for Yourself
ELs need to be taught how to stand up for themselves in a manner that is not hostile. They can do this by learning simple, positive responses to say to the bully. Teachers of ELs can help by allowing them to practice assertive language with students. ELs often need to deal with bullies from their own cultural background, and this strategy works well because they can assert themselves in their first language. Role-playing and practicing is key to learning this strategy. It’s possible that ELs may not assert themselves while the actual bullying incident is happening. They might, however, bring the problem to the ESL class, especially if information about bullying is part of the curriculum.
3. Avoid Being Alone
Often, ELs are bullied when they are alone. They should try to avoid being alone on the playground or on the way to and from school. ELs should be encouraged to team with more proficient speakers of English and stay together during recess. Building community and encouraging classmates to be of assistance to each other goes a long way in helping ELs avoid bullying. In addition, in the ESL class, students can try to identify any behaviors that might encourage bullying or make students into repeat targets.
4. Increase Self-Esteem With Positive Self-Talk
It has been my experience that ELs who learn “self-talk” increase self-esteem and can successfully avoid bullies. They can be taught to repeat positive statements to themselves, such as “I am a good person. It is not my fault that I am being bullied. When someone bullies me, I don’t have to take it. I like myself.” ELs are encouraged to self-talk in their home language and to write down their self-talk in that language to practice saying it to themselves. This is an important strategy for helping ELs deal with bullies.
Strategies to Prevent Cyberbullying
Schools need to train teachers about bullying so that this information becomes part of the curriculum. Teachers can do the following:
- Hold discussions with their students about the effects of cyberbullying and the suicide rate among teens and young adults.
- Encourage victims of bullying to tell an adult.
- Don’t ignore reports of cyberbullying. They need to be reported to parents and school administrators.
- Empower student leaders to stand up against cyberbullies. Encourage these students to form antibullying organizations and to support victims.
Have your students experienced bullying because of their first language, nationality, or race? What strategies have you used or initiatives have you undertaken in your classroom or school to combat bullying? Please share in the comments, below; I’d love to hear from you.
Frechette, J., & Haynes, J. (2010). Sticks and stones: Preventing bullying in the elementary school. In M. Dantas-Whitney & S. Rilling (Eds.), Authenticity in the language classroom and beyond: Children and adolescent learners (pp. 227–238). Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press.