Make Room For The Stuttering

Bullying and Stuttering

Posted on: May 21, 2009

I was doing some reading for a professional development workshop that I will co-facilitate with a colleague at school. We are going to do a two-hour session on bullying for teachers and other staff. We plan to cover how bullying affects both children and adults.

Obviously there is a big problem with kids being bullied, both in and out of schools. In my community alone, there have been five teen suicides at one high school in this school year alone. FIVE!  That’s incredible.  Bullying has been mentioned in all five cases, that the girls had all been bullied by someone in school. The school, of course, has been hotly criticized and in the news.

Adults are also bullied. Workplace bullying is pervasive. It doesn’t get the same attention that bullied children get, and certainly not when kids wind up killing themselves. Kids who bully grow up to be adults who bully. I know! I’ve been there. I had a boss who was a bully. I didn’t see the warning signs until a whole lot of damage had already been done.

The colleague I am co-facilitating with has also been bullied. We’ve talked about it, and thought that this would be very relevant and useful to present.  Personally, its been very important to me for a long time. I have talked to dozens and dozens of kids about preventing teasing and bullying, using my stuttering experiences as a real example.

The proposal we submitted was approved within 24 hours. The superintendent of instruction asked us if we could present it before the end of the school year. She must think its really relevant! That’s not enough time. There are too many things on the calendar in the next four weeks. There’s a good chance we will present at All Staff Orientation in September, giving us the summer to really come up with meaningful stuff that will be useful. This will be a huge risk for both of us, but we’re ready!

We began looking at a few things this week.  My colleague sent me this link:  www.overcomebullying.org. This organization was founded by Anton Hout, who was bullied big-time in the workplace. There’s a 32-page handbook defining bullying, identifying signs, how rampant  it is in the workplace, etc. This booklet grabbed me immediately from the opening lines.

 “You are likely reading this because you have found yourself to be the target of a pervasive form of mental torture in the workplace known as psychological harassment, status-blind harassment, workplace bullying or where a group is engaged in a collective attack – mobbing.”

My boss at the job I was fired from did a lot of similar stuff described in this handbook. He humiliated me every chance he got if I slipped and stuttered at work. He would slap his face, point, roll his eyes, hold his face in his hands, sigh deeply, you name it, he did it. Lots of people saw this, and reassured me it was him, not me. He managed by intimidation. He got other staff to go along with him, or just be silent.

Once, when we were at an assembly, I had to make an announcement. I stuttered, some kids laughed and started called out my name, mockingly. This guy and several of his cronies were there on the sidelines laughing and pointing, listening and watching. No one corrected the kids or got them to settle down, as was done routinely when the kids got out of hand. I still remember how embarrassing that was.

Afterwards, I remember a couple of staff coming up to me, saying sorry you had to go through that. “He’s so awful to you.”  When I was fired and filed a complaint, only two people were willing to tell what they saw and heard. Others refused, saying they were afraid of losing their job. They told my lawyer that over the phone when she reached out to a few of them.

Anyway, I am reading this booklet, highlighting a couple of things, and come across this. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

In one such case in Ottawa, Canada a worker at OC Transpo, Pierre Lebrun, was mocked incessantly about his stutter. It had gone well beyond any kind of fun (if it ever had been) and the bullies relentlessly humiliated Lebrun at every opportunity.

Finally, having taken all he could, he lashed out and hit one of the bullies. In spite of having pleaded with managers about stopping the abuse, due to this incident the tables were turned on him and he was made to apologize to the very bully who had delighted in tormenting him.

To underscore how serious bullying and mobbing can become, this story ended in tragedy. Lebrun eventually came to work with a high powered rifle and killed several people before taking his own life. (Read At The Mercy of The Mob for a more complete reference and info about “mobbing”.)

Who would have thought that the example used to highlight how bad bullying can be would be about stuttering?

Reading this convinced me that when I do this workshop, I will definitely talk about my stuttering experiences in the workplace. I have to, now, right? It was like an omen that I read this particular article.

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4 Responses to "Bullying and Stuttering"

So glad the school is finally taking it seriously. Ours does, at all levels. Even the “good” kids can be bullies. Small incidents get permanently recorded. “I don’t care if it was only one insult — it’s the fifth time this week.” In our case, it was a good girl who thought she was trying to help, but was really power-tripping. They praised her for wanting to help, but made it quite clear that she had to stop what she was doing. Parent still hasn’t forgiven me for the black mark on her halo.

I’m glad your adults are getting training. Most of the things they think they try just make things worse. Letting the kids know you’ve been through it makes a difference. My son didn’t think they’d believe him, because she hid it. I reminded him that his teacher had told him about her experience, and how well her bullies hid it.

So glad they’ve got you on their side.

Hi Pam,

I loved this posting. You hit so many points right on the head.

These days more than ever, few, if any people, are actually strong enough to tackle any issues whether it be in the school or in the workplace. Their response “Well, I don’t want to lose my job” is actually a pretty much standard form one. They don’t want to lose their benefits, etc., and fear significant retailiation from upper management. It’s sad, because this only causes a buildup which leads to an explosion and then the finger-pointing begins: “Well, YOU could have done something, etc.” It makes me think of the tragedies at Littleton, Paducah, and Virginia Tech all over again. Enough is enough.

It reminds me of a quote, I don’t know where I heard it from, but it goes something to the effect of, “They came for him, but no one spoke up for him. Then they came for me, but there was no one to speak up for me.” Enough is enough.

[…] Pam has a terrific post on Bullying, where she links to some other great articles and resources. […]

Cricket, Steven, Greg,

Thanks for the read and comments. Bullying is not talked about enough, until something really bad happens, like kids killing themselves or the victim of bullying kills his co-workers.

People in general do need to feel confident up enough to stand up for what is right. And the best way is to get kids comfortable doing that an early age.

Greg, thanks for linking this to your blog. It matters.
Great quote, Steven. Cricket – you sound like a great mom!

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