It’s been great being able to meet up with my colleagues in a less-structured setting, as opposed to a department meeting after school. Now, we’re a little more relaxed and we swap stories about how we are spending our vacations.
While writing down curriculum about bullying and coming up with ideas to further encourage our students to be “active bystanders” and helping others, I reread a book that I hadn’t thought about since I was nine years old. The book is called Zink the Zebra, and it was written by Kelly Weil, an 11 year old girl from Wisconsin. It is about a zebra named Zink, who was born with spots instead of stripes.
Zink is teased because of this difference, and therefore goes on a quest to find out if spots are weird or not. In the end, Zink learns that a zebra is a zebra, regardless of how one looks.
For me, the really poignant part of the story is the young girl behind it. Kelly wrote the story as she battled cancer. After she died in 1993, Kelly’s family was surprised when her teachers wrote them a letter, which talked about how Kelly had struggled with other students making fun of her because she had no hair. Like Zink, she struggled with looking different from her peers, but also like Zink, she realized that being different made her special.
I had mentioned this book to my students at the end of the year while we discussed bullying and ways to prevent it, but hadn’t had the time to read it to them. Now, I wish I had.
Middle school is an age where peer approval is at its peak. It was the same when I was in middle school; all of us just desperately wanted to fit in. I would say that it’s harder nowadays to do so. In an age where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are around to document a person’s every move, outfit, and comment, I feel like the task of “fitting in” is even more daunting. If you are a person who does not conform, it’s a little bit harder to make it through these middle school years. And really, that’s the sad thing! Students feel like the only way they can make it through is if they are like everyone else. They are afraid to be individuals, to be different, to have thoughts and opinions that are unique.
And to be honest, that’s where bullying starts. It starts with individuals who are different and people tease them. The behavior then morphs into judgment, torment, humiliation, and exile.
I plan on reading this story, or at least discussing it with my students each year. The tale, written in the voice of a child so close in age to my students, is so poignant, and I hope my students continue to learn from it. They will talk about bullying at least once throughout their three years at the intermediate school, so they will be well-versed in it by the time they reach high school! And I hope my students find the same courage to be unique that Kelly Weil embodied when she wrote Zink the Zebra.
To learn more about Zink, Kelly, and the Zink the Zebra foundation, you can Google search “Zink the Zebra.” You’ll find links to different activities and places where you can buy the book. I really encourage all teachers and counselors to read this book with their students. It is best for elementary and early middle school (I think by seventh and eighth grade, it becomes a little too young for them,) but the idea behind the book is great for all ages. Enjoy!