Teacher Elke says childhood bullies made her stronger

12 May 2022

When Brisbane schoolteacher and mother-of-two Elke steps out in June as a Healthy Harold Hundred participant, she’ll be taking a stand against bullying as well as reaping the mental health and fitness benefits of walking.

Elke has vivid memories of being bullied when she was a child, an experience she says built her resilience as an adult and strengthened her empathy as a teacher.

“I was bullied for my entire school life in both primary school and high school," Elke recalls.

“As someone who went to a private school but did not have the ‘cool’ clothes, who did not behave in the ‘right way,’ who wasn’t the smartest kid in class … I was teased, called names, excluded from group activities, was the last to be chosen in sports activities and not invited to parties and sleepovers,” she says.

“When I was in year 8, the popular girls made up stories about me and they were believed, which meant teachers and other students started to ostracise me even more. At the time I did not understand why, now as I think back, it was ‘just because’.”

Mental health impacts

Elke says at the time, the stress of the bullying caused her to fight with her mother over petty things and she coped by escaping into music, befriending younger students and speaking to a counsellor and staff member.

As a teacher, Elke has witnessed bullying firsthand and seen how it can damage young people’s self-esteem.

“As a teacher in an all-girls school the incidents often revolved around appearance and what is seen as being ‘pretty’ or ‘hot.’ Other students would be targeted for their hair, body shape, size and choice of friends,” she said.

“Unfortunately, cyberbullying is always the most challenging, as it is difficult to monitor with so many social media outlets.

“For teachers to manage bullying, it requires a rapport that can often be hard to create and maintain. The students need to feel a level of trust and relationship when divulging information, and to be honest when doing so. For me, I found it challenging trying to allow them room to develop their resilience but also to minimise and stop the bullying as well.”

Teaching empathy and respect

Elke believes specialist respectful relationships education is needed in all schools to teach kids respect and empathy, and prevent bullying behaviour.

“We educate children and students around various subject areas, give them facts, information, and teach writing and reading. Sometimes that education needs to also be about how to be a good citizen, how to be a good classmate, colleague and sibling. If we cannot be good people - displaying respect and empathy - then the world or school community becomes a place of judgement, rather than a place of learning and living.”

Elke says she’s proud to take part in the Healthy Harold Hundred challenge and wants young people to know that bullies don’t define you as a person.

“I want to be a good role model for my daughters, but I am also participating for my niece, who has been a victim of bullying at the age of 10, and I want her to know that there are people who care.”

And Elke shares this piece of advice:

“For the victims of bullying, ensure you have a safe haven and someone to talk to. For bystanders, consider changing your behaviour to allow for all to be included and treated respectfully. For the bully, find another outlet rather than negatively impacting others.”

Sign up and register now for the Healthy Harold Hundred with Queenslanders like Elke to help put an end to bullying.