By Amanda Kong (she/they), teacher, Vancouver
As I pen down my thoughts in my safe space, I struggle to come up with words that can cohesively describe my bullying experience. Being a teacher gives me the power to shape classroom cultures where students are treated with mutual respect. I pride myself on allowing my students to be who they are by helping them find out who they want to be. Some students struggle with their socially constructed identities, including gender, ethnicity, and so forth. It takes courage to be authentic, as well as to stand up against bullies. If a student confides that they are being bullied, I would immediately try to help them. However, as an adult who has been bullied in a workplace, I did not have the privilege of having others help me in a way that a teacher would. This is ironic given my profession.
I wanted to write this article to address sensitive issues such as workplace bully-ing and mental health. Other victims of bullying may feel validated, as being bullied as an adult is challenging. I do not believe that we should stay silent on controversial topics. I understand that every single person goes through their own struggles, including bullies themselves. We are still living in a world without equality, so people have valid reasons for their unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Underneath each bully, there is a person who is in pain but chooses to hurt others to relieve themselves. As much as I feel we should have empathy for those hurting, I believe we have to learn to prioritize self-care and preservation. As a victim of bullying, I am not responsible for the bully’s pain and unhappiness.
From a teacher’s lens, when our students are being bullied, we jump right into helping diffuse the situation by conflict resolution. Very rarely do we ask the victim to leave the classroom. This does not hold true for adults who are being bullied in their workplace. When I was asked to perhaps leave so that I could work in peace, I thought to myself, why must we continue to tolerate bullies, especially loud ones?
In my experience, when bullies are supported, intentionally and unintentionally, a toxic culture develops. Do we continue to stay silent because some people are too loud and refuse to be silenced? Would we act the same if the victim was a child? These are questions that remain unanswered. I spoke up, but I needed support from my co-workers as well. If someone intentionally tries to make another feel unsafe, it is important to support the victim so that the toxic culture is not supported.
It is extremely challenging to stand up against a toxic work culture, and I am proud to express myself here. My strength comes from having a strong personal support network of family and friends. My partner and mom are the sources of my strength. I can stand tall on my own because I have them in my life. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, so I would like to encourage others to foster positive working relationships.
As teachers, we must stand up against things that we consider to be wrong. We live in a shared world, and I firmly believe in adopting kindness as a lifestyle. Together, we must help one another by creating communities within schools, so our students and colleagues can have a safe space to reach their authentic selves.
For more information on workplace health and safety, visit bctf.ca/topics/services-guidance/health-and-safety.