What I learned about bullies in my time as a teacher


The Twitter thread has grown over the past couple of days. Professor Sunny Singh has asked her followers to compete in writing satirical descriptions of me and retweets them with laughing and crying “lol” emojis. The focus of the jokes was my grief over my parents who died of Covid last January, but in the thread there are pornographic fantasies and passages like “Blancmange’s hips trembled under the oppressive weight of white spasiorism.”

I think we can agree that this is quite the performance of the 21st century. This is also convincing. I keep looking, looking for another mention of my thin skin or grief face. It all started with a mug: when Gaby Hinsliff from Guardian came to interview me in February, I just finished emptying my parents’ house. I drank coffee from a mug with my mother’s face painted by her students when she retired as head teacher. It was just one of those items that I could never bring myself to throw away, but it became an elegant detail and ended up in a piece.

Guardian teapot article. The illustration refers to my 2019 memoir – Some kids I taught and what they taught me is a bloodied corpse or what I think looks more like a used sanitary napkin. This is an account of how, last year, I overreacted to Goodreads criticism of racist practices in a book, and ended up with all my books being pulled from publication and, according to the article, there was no “way back” to mainstream publication. I rewrote my book, but the shame is terrible. I’m often glad my mother didn’t live to see it. I do not quite understand why my critics decided that the article was completely in my favor and that I “armed” my grief, but they did.

From time to time people call and ask how I’m doing, but I don’t know for sure. I tell them it’s hard to take and have another cup of tea. Before she became a tea mug, my mother told me as a teacher to be sure to take care of the bullies as well as the victims when there is a scandal at school. As a young woman, I could not understand what she meant, but perhaps now I understand. The teenagers I worked with found it difficult to talk about being bullies, but when they came out, they often spoke for a long time.

They never said they enjoyed it, or that bullying made them feel powerful. Their stories were always about feeling out of control, about being caught up in a social mechanism outside of them, about saying things they didn’t intend to say, or even not really knowing what they were thinking, about what the words came from their mouths, and cruel gestures – through their hands. , about bad dreams, about staying in this state of fugue, sometimes for months.

The stories also often referred to the moment it all began, the time when they suddenly found themselves breaking some deep taboo – mocking another girl’s acne, or a disability, or the death of a parent. After that, they could not find their way back and were themselves deeply frightened. People think that taboos are stupid, but taboos and rules protect us all: without them, the world becomes unsafe for victims and bullies alike. Like Twitter, now.

[See also: How I reclaimed my school nickname from the bullies]

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