Ten years ago this December, Bill Bond was greeting his students like he did every morning in the main lobby of Heath High School.
When the Paducah, Ky., principal went to answer a phone call, he heard eight pops from the hallway.
“I thought, ‘Please let those be firecrackers,’” he recalled.
Instead, eight of his students were on the ground and after being shot by 14-year-old Michael Carneal, who dropped the gun on seeing his principal come out of the office. This was Carneal’s reaction to constantly being teased and bullied, Bond said.
Today, Bond tours the country while telling students and teachers how to curb the style of bullying that led one student to take three lives almost 10 years ago. He toured the Wheatland School District on Monday.
To begin with, teachers and faculty should change their perspectives on words. If a student hits another student, it almost always results in a suspension. But when words and insults are thrown around with the sole purpose of constantly belittling someone, Bond said, the punishment is less harsh and the consequences for the insulted student are much worse.
“Words will cut you all the way to the heart, and the effect will last longer and larger than a slap in the face,” Bond said.
This idea also goes to the students doing the insulting. Teachers and principals shouldn’t label students as bullies because that gives them an identity to live up to, Bond said.
Separate studies and surveys of students showed that students don’t have a lot of faith in administrators. Bond pointed out the results which show two-thirds of bullying victims felt their schools’ staffs responded poorly to the bullying abuse. Even more disheartening for Bond was the fact that 35 percent of those victims thought teachers were interested in what was going on and only 25 percent of administrators felt the same.
“They think things aren’t going to change, and people on the outside think it’s just going to make them tougher,” Bond said.
He likened those attitudes to the same ones that tolerated the drinking fountains he grew up with that had signs for “Colored” and “Whites Only.” But at some point, those views changed because people wanted them to change. The most important thing for students is that they take responsibility for their actions, and that begins with changing their mindset about the consequences, he said.
“If I give a student a punishment, then it’s me giving it to them,” Bond said. “If it’s a consequence, I can say, ‘Hey, you earned it.’”