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Bullying and the Writer’s Notebook

Pamela Paul wrote an article, “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” which appeared in the Sunday Styles section of today’s New York Times.  The article discusses mean-girl bullying, which has been seen as early as Kindergarten.  This article is a must-read for anyone who has or teaches elementary school age girls.
The article reminded me of the time one of my student teachers and I were eating lunch in the classroom while reading over students’ writer’s notebooks at lunch.  The student teacher paused from her reading and said, “This isn’t good.”
“What’s not good?” I asked.
“Uh, this,” she said, pointing to one of my student’s writer’s notebooks.  “She’s writing about her burn book.  Fifth graders shouldn’t have burn books.”
“What a burn book?” I asked (I hadn’t seen “Mean Girls yet.”) quizzically.
She explained the reference from “Mean Girls” to me, which immediately caused me to feel uneasy.  “No one should have a burn book,” I said to my student teacher, once she made me understand the severity of what a burn book represented.
“You’re right,” she replied.  “So what do we do?”
“You’re going to have to talk to her since you’re the one that read it,” I responded.
My student teacher looked like I had punched her in the gut.  It was the last thing she wanted to do.  However, since I was always a big believer in giving my student teachers autonomy and the opportunity to act as if they were the classroom teacher, she knew she wasn’t getting out of this one.  Therefore, we talked about a plan for confronting the student about her burn book, which was also going to include a conversation about treating others with dignity and respect even if they weren’t the best of friends.
The “burn book conversation” went well.  The student realized the error of her ways.  What she thought was funny at first, she realized could be very damaging and harmful to someone else.  Plus, she admitted that she wouldn’t want to be in someone else’s burn book, which is why she said she’d throw the burn book she created with a couple of other girls (who were also in my class at the time) away.
I’m pleased to say the girls who created the burn book eventually became friendlier towards the girls they admitted to hating.  While they weren’t the best of friends by the end of the school year, my student teacher and I noticed them hanging out occasionally (and peacefully) at recess.  Fortunately, thanks to a close reading of a student’s writer’s notebook, my student teacher and I averted a potentially horrible mean-girl scenario from breaking out and affecting more than a handful of the class.
When our students trust us with the stories of their lives, then they will write candidly in their writer’s notebooks.  As teachers, it’s often up to us to step in and act as parents more than we’d like.  However, in situations where we read about teasing, mean-girl behavior, or any kind of bullying, it’s up to us to be proactive with our students so that we can make school feel like a safe learning environment for every student.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

5 thoughts on “Bullying and the Writer’s Notebook Leave a comment

  1. @Tara: I agree completely. When I was teaching I often found that I wanted to be more vigilant than the school thought I should be. Quite frankly, I took a few things on myself when no one else seemed to have the time to deal with the problem. I know schools are filled with hundreds of kids, but often there is so much bullying that goes on there aren’t enough administrators to deal with it properly. I think that all educators have to do the right thing by standing up for THEIR KIDS when a problem arises since hoping that someone else will handle the problem doesn’t always work out.


  2. This is such a timely article and conversation post. As a sixth grade teacher I see and hear all kinds of things – I feel it ismy duty to make it immediately known that I witnessed bullying and have a word with all involved right away. too often, teachers turn the other way – and there is no immediate consequence for the bully and the bystanders. Kids need to know that they will be called out and held accountable for their actions, We need to step out of our comfort zones and be there for our kids. Anderson Cooper did a wonderful specal on CNN about ths topic this weekend, and every bullied kid spoke about teachers who “did nothing.” I don’t think we can afford the comfort of “not seeing” any more.


  3. Patty:

    I dealt with this once. I went right to an administrator to get assistance in dealing with it since I didn’t want to get in over my head. I’m very glad I did. I highly suggest talking to your school’s principal to figure out what steps can be taken to help this child before the situation gets any bigger.

    Good luck,


  4. This hit very close to home. Teaching writing is a rare subject, that allows my students to expose themselves, more than they can in any other classroom.

    This past week I had a student come up to me, saying students were spreading around rumors about his sexuality. I told him to ‘write about it’, to get it all out, and give him time to think, before doing something he regretted. I told him I would be an advocate for him and figure out who was spreading such words–but it’s still so hard.

    Has anyone dealt with situations like this? What would you do in this situation?


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