‘The Bully’ – Character or Characteristic?

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Hollie Anderton

Hollie is currently an English teacher and Head of Year in North Wales with a degree in Theatre. She trained in Bath Spa University to gain her PGCE and is currently a Network Leader for WomenEd Wales Hollie is the author of the Teacher Toolkit...
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What exactly is ‘a bully’?

Bullying. One of my least favourite words in the English vernacular.

What springs to mind when you hear the word is the incessant trouncing of ones character, not always the trouncing of the victim’s character.

The picture that is persistently painted of ‘The Bully’ is one that we are all aware of. It is instilled in us throughout life through the means of film, television and books. The large, overpowering, bolshy character often appears as the antagonist, but as with some fictional literature, we may be misguided.

The Bullying Type

In actual fact, ‘The Bully’ can be categorised in many ways:

  1. The bully can be the quiet child hiding in the corner, picking up the more vulnerable children in the class and tormenting them so subtly that it seems friendly.
  2. The bully can be the loud, obnoxious child in plain view as it so often is, turning their own and others backs onto the one old friend who no longer fits with the perfect ideals of the group.
  3. Or ‘the bully’ may not exist at all. Here, we have ‘The Victim’, wherein the mere idea of ‘The Bully’ is so imprinted on our children that the slightest disagreement can turn into the threat, or indeed, the reality of parents coming in demanding justice for their child.

I have been so fortunate to have encountered all three of these characters in my classroom. The first is dangerous; it’s the most difficult to catch. The second is irritating; yet it’s easily solved. The third is concerning.


The third is concerning for the sheer fact that parents are often quick to jump to their child’s defence without questioning anything that has been said. It is this that makes children very quick to jump to that label.

I witnessed a minor disagreement between children in my classroom not too long ago, something that was dealt with efficiently in class. The next day, one of the children asked to speak to me in private. They expressed concerns over bullying. From what I had seen, there were no concerns with bullying. There was not one sign that bullying had taken place, but ‘The Bully’ in this scenario had previously been involved in situations similar to this and was therefore an easy target.  The child in question had not bullied, but those words can carry such a burden.

A danger lies with the words ‘I’m being bullied’. In those words is a plethora of issues that can hurt everyone involved, more so when it’s untrue or skewed.

This highlighted for me the importance of educating the children on bullying. What it is, the forms it can take and the hurt that it can cause. Children at this age need to understand the gravity in which they speak because one day, it might actually happen and this is where the moral of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ provides us with a startling reality.

My way of approaching this treacherous ground wherein a child is akin to the third character is to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as ‘The Bully’. This character that we come across so often is a figment of imagination, and the truth of the matter is that bullying is a characteristic. It doesn’t define a person.

Once you are given that name, that character, you cease to exist as a person capable of change. They are people who bully. As teachers, it is hugely important for us to make the children aware of this. Especially those who have been branded as the word.

Bullying does happen, and it tears people apart. But let’s make sure we know what defines it. By reinforcing the idea that a bully is just that, and that alone, we give children who possess that particular trait permission to continue – because why should they bother to try and change something that they have a supposed predisposition to be.

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