True Inclusion – Cliques, Teasing, Bullying, and Homophobia in the Classroom

Recently Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a historic letter to school Districts regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) student rights and school district responsibilities to provide equitable access to noncurricular student organizations ( . It is an exciting time when many political and social leaders in our nation are finally standing up and saying that teasing and bullying are not “just a part of growing up.” Some teachers eschew discussing LGBT issues or even the issues of teasing, cliques, bullying, or homophobia for fear of some sort of reprisal or that some students might be made to feel uncomfortable. With suicide and drop-out rates of LGBT students remaining disproportionately high, I strongly suggest that teachers develop a comfort level of addressing not only LGBT issues in the classroom but the problems of teasing and bullying in general.

For those just beginning to address these issues, The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network (GLSEN; provides several highly recommended resources and training programs for teachers to address sensitive issues and anti-bullying with students in developmentally appropriate ways.  In addition, a good starting point to begin exploring how to incorporate discussions of teasing and bullying into the classroom is: The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to HighSchool--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle by Barbara Coloroso.

Middle school is too often a place where some children are ostracized and alienated for being different – it does not have to be this way. If you are so inclined to use thematic teaching for the middle grades, the theme of Conflict is one that provides a platform and multiple opportunities to explore and discuss the internal and external social conflicts many young people experience-- things like cliques, teasing, and bullying. Below are a couple of student work examples demonstrating how my former sixth grade students interacted with the theme of Conflict in literature about teasing and/or bullying (click on each photo to enlarge):

Reading aloud to students is another way that teachers can explore the issues of teasing and bullying. Students are never too old to enjoy a good read aloud. Read alouds are a way to increase the joy of reading for pleasure, model proper diction, provide explicit demonstration of reading skills (such as predicting, connecting to the text, and interpreting the text), increase listening comprehension, and help students recognize language patterns.

I start each instructional period by reading aloud to my students and highly recommend the following books as read alouds with students to develop class discussions, literature circles, Socratic Seminars, and other activities using them as springboards for discussion (list is not exhaustive):

·       The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
·       The Misfits by James Howe (this is one of my favorite books of all time to share aloud)
·       The English Roses by Madonna
·       Trouble Talk by Tracy Ludwig
·       Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola
·       It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
·       The Other Foot by Ray Bradbury (also deals with the problem of racism)
·       Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are by Maria Dismondy
·       Say Something by Peggy Moss
·       The Family Book by Todd Parr
·       Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
·       And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
·       The Rat and the Tiger by Keiko Kasza
·       Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story About Bullying by Becky Ray McCain

I have made the following books that deal with the issues of cliques, teasing, bullying, and alienation available to students in my classroom library for students to read independently (list is not exhaustive):

·       The Misfits by James Howe
·       Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
·       Lord of the Flies by William Golding
·       Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger          
·       Jake Drake, Bully Buster by Andrew Clements
·       Crash by Jerry Spinelli
·       Totally Joe by James Howe
·       Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain by Trevor Romain
·       The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin
·       Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
·       Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs
·       Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
·       There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar
·       The Truth About the Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler
·       The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm
·       The Kids' Guide to Working Out Conflicts: How to Keep Cool, Stay Safe, and Get Along
·       The BFG by Roald Dahl
·       Bystander by James Preller
·       The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
·       How to Handle Bullies, Teasers and Other Meanies: A Book That Takes the Nuisance Out of Name Calling and Other Nonsense by Kate Cohen-Posey
·       Stick Up for Yourself: Every Kid's Guide to Personal Power & Positive Self-Esteem by Gershen Kaufman, Lev Raphael and Pamela Espeland

Finally, the following film is excellent for exploring mob mentality:

·       The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse

We have an opportunity to increase dialogue and understanding to better our world via our classrooms. Remember, everything you do is “Standards-Based” – particularly when our ultimate Standard is to raise the humanity and acceptance of all people in our diverse world.

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