Taking a stand against bullying
Looking at him now, Penticton teacher Jeff Fitton doesn’t look like an easy mark for bullies, but that wasn’t always the case.
The tall, fit 29-year-old said he was tormented for years as a child by classmates in Campbell River who poked fun at his ears, which stuck out from his head more than what they considered normal. He was relentlessly mocked with names like monkey ears and Dumbo.
“It was terrible. I used to go home crying several times a week,” Fitton said.
He tried coping straggles, like ignoring the bullies or making jokes, but none worked: “Kids can be unrelenting.” Fitton finally saw a glimmer of hope in Grade 6 when he was called to a meeting with the school staff.
“I thought, Oh my God. Thank heavens… they’re going to deal with all the kids who are bugging me,” he said. “What they had was three pamphlets for private hospitals that did plastic surgery to pin people’s ears backs.”
His family paid for the surgery, and the passage of time, plus boxing lessons, helped Fitton endure. He now has two degrees and teaches at Skaha Lake Middle School, where he tries to install in kids the importance of taking a stand against things that aren’t right.
“The minute you do that, you create a generation of kids who will promote change, and the world will change.”
That’s one of the core principles behind Pink Shirt Day, which will see people in schools, businesses and other organizations across Canada don pink shirts on Wednesday to draw attention to anti-bullying efforts.
In B.C., those efforts were bolstered last year with a new set of tools in the ERASE Bullying strategy. Besides new training materials and resources for parents and teachers, the B.C. government’s new strategy also includes a website through which students can anonymously report bullies.
The Okanagan Skaha School District’s ERASE Bullying co-ordinator said it’s not an entirely new approach.
“This is fundamental work in schools and has been as long as I’ve been doing this,” said Don MacIntyre, although the strategy “raises the profile of the issue for communities and schools.”
Since its launch in November, the reporting website has produced for the school district just a single, verified complaint that centred on an argument between two girls and was resolved through mediation, MacIntyre said.
He noted though that the reporting tool doesn’t actually prevent bullying, and getting at the root of the problem will require broader buy-in.
“In the five hours a day that we see kids, we cannot change their lives. We can influence them, but in partnership with parents and community, we really can fundamentally change them,” MacIntyre said.
Fitton said students seem receptive to change, but that doesn’t mean bullies have disappeared, and he urged kids who are still being tormented to stay strong.
“It does get better but it may not seem like it at the time,” he said.
“When you’re in school it’s just your grade, your class, your family. And then you start to realize there’s this whole new world of great people out there.”