As a high school student looking back on middle school, I can’t remember much other than sitting down and trying not to be seen. I wish I had known then that the times I was called awful names would make me appreciate loving myself so much more in the future. 

Looking back on it, I don’t feel so bad that other kids were being hurtful to me, more so that I had to struggle with it all on my own. In my middle school, teachers would often scoff at our state’s new bullying laws. They’d go on and on about how ”kids are kids”--they’re ”too sensitive”--and it was then that I knew that I couldn’t tell any of them about what I was feeling.

Supportive teachers and LGBTQ-inclusive school climates are essential to the well-being of middle schoolers. That’s why I wish someone had talked to us seriously about bullying, teasing, and name calling: what it looked like, how to deal with it, and the serious outcomes of it. I wish we had been made to feel like part of a loving school community where respect and kindness were valued just as highly as our education.

As a middle school student, I wish I knew that name-calling wasn’t my fault. That if I told an adult, the person hurting me would be held accountable, and that I wouldn’t be made to feel at fault. I wish I knew what I know now, that I did and do have the power to speak out and make change. Most importantly, I wish I knew that I wasn’t alone. And I wish I knew about GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week.

GLSEN has so many resources to combat name-calling in school; they revolve around the central message of celebrating kindness. But, it is important to remember that this message is essential not just this week, but every day. Students should constantly be checking in, supporting, and sharing kindness with one another. Teachers should take action against disrespect they see and work toward a safer and more affirming school environment. 

School should be a place of learning, safety, and growth. Let’s achieve that one step at a time, starting with a commitment this week. This is our moment to truly make a difference in the lives of young people in schools everywhere. Celebrate kindness and let students everywhere know that they aren’t and will never be alone. 

Olly Kelly is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.