Saturday 1 November 2008

workplace bullying

CBC featured an article about workplace bullying. I am not surprised. Young kids who bully grow up to be bullies. Females are the worst, as males tend to fight and get over it. Saskatchewan has a law against it. It is more common than we know, as I am sure that every classroom teacher can attest.

This is an issue that profoundly affects many people: the victim and his/her family, as well as co-workers. I was bullied by two principals during my career. One never hesitated in finding fault any time she could. Despite being the Shop Steward she was confounded when I would ask her questions on behalf of the staff, in staff meetings. The other nagged me to rise to the performance level she demanded, while I was giving care to my dying father. Notes in mail boxes, e-mail telling me how to improve, and where I lacked. My self-esteem died. I was afraid, fearful, felt powerless and diminished by her harangues.

I was yelled at in hallways by another principal. This one denied me fair Federation representation at meetings, something to which I was entitled when disciplined for any reason. I was harassed and yelled at over the PA system (with students present), in the school office, in the photocopy room and staff room. She was unable to deal with disciplining me for perceived issues without yelling and being acerbic.

I went to the Federation and asked for support. They told me to document the issues. I did. I found the school board's harassment policy and documented each incident as it related to a particular item in the P & P.

I wrote out each event and sent it to the Superintendent. She forwarded the document to the School Board Safety Officer. I met with him several times, told him my stories of verbal abuse, and he said we had options on a continuum of him acting as mediator between the two of us, to having me transferred, to her getting counselling. She refused to speak to him, he told me.

Suddenly, any support he was going to give me was gone. Someone spoke to someone (her husband worked at the Board office). He told me that harassment could only fit the P & P on the basis of age or gender bias, not this woman, in a position of power, ripping me to shreds whenever she could. She ended up changing my assignment to a split grade class, and two new curriculum programs that I had not previously taught. It was the 6th change in 6 years. I was emotionally exhausted. I was facing colitis and other stress issues as I tried to deal with the biopscyhosocial reactions to the stress. I tried yoga, meditation, exercise, and other relaxations techniques to no avail.

I ended up taking time off work (more than a month), at a cost to the students, lost sick days, and at great expense to the Board, without any Board interventions. I went to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for counselling and support. My counsellor was appalled at the story I told of the yelling and bullying and the general diminishing of my self-esteem. She told me that she had several clients with similar stories. I read the book, Principal Mistreatment of Principal Mistreatment of teachersTeachers and found I was not alone.
From a review:
Essentially everything regarding teacher abuse is covered:

* personal (anonymous) testimonies from research subjects (i.e., abused teachers),
* personality characteristics of corrupt administrators and their innocent victims,
* lack of support from district office personnel,
* refusal of most teachers who work in foul environments to reach out to abused colleagues,
*inability for abused teachers to find legal assistance,
* failure of unions to support abused teachers,
*strategies used by corrupt administrators to enlist "support" for their sick behavior through favoritism with certain staff members, and developing "spy" networks (weak-kneed teachers and staff who "snitch" on those that refuse to compromise their ethical behavior),
* suggestions for those who are currently, or have been, in abusive situations,
* the devastating short and long term impact upon teachers' physical/physiological/psychological health, and
* the overwhelming detrimental effects on schools and society.

Once the school year finished in June, I was quite happy to be away from school. When school resumed in the fall she was quite a different perosn. Someone somewhere had spoken to her. The school board ended up transferring her that year to another school. It was a blessed relief. There they nicknamed her "The Princess". She had gotten in trouble with the press, the Family Council chair and had not made friends. Such a shame.

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