Thursday, January 10, 2008

Safe, civil, healthy and intellectually stimulating environment.

While I worked in Edmonds I was threatened with a poor evaluation and approached in a threatening manner by an angry, intense, red-faced administrator. I had come in to get clarification on a technical question. When I tried to back out of the meeting, the person demanded that I settle this now, and began punching the air saying, “We'll do this now. Right now.” I was so terrified and upset that I began to cry and quietly asked if there was something I could eat. I was feeling faint. They found food, I ate a couple of crackers and left. I was so upset that I avoided contact for months afterward.
(see RCW 94.04 J)

A couple of months later there was an incident where I became upset and had words with a person new to the building. I knew I was wrong after I spoke, but before I could talk to them classes began. She was upset and went to the administrator, who called me to the office. Before meeting with the administrator I spoke with the person I hurt, apologizing and explaining why I was upset. She totally understood and forgave me. The administrator lead us into the office where they repeated the earlier performance in front of the staff member. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her eyes get huge. “We’re going to talk about this right now.” I asked for an EEA rep. “No, we’re going to talk about this now,” in an intense and angry manner. I stood my ground and repeated my request; he left and returned with a Rep. We never talked about what originally took place. The rep asked me later what had happened and I explained. Having known seven previous administrators, I had never run into this kind of abusive and threatening behavior. Eventually, I talked to three other people in the building who the administrator had also yelled at.

As the year went on, I avoided the office and the specific administrator. At the beginning of the following year I intentionally talked with the administrator asking “What can I do to make things better.” I received no answer.

That year I used an activity from What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know. (T. Knowles and D. F. Brown) Over several days students reflected on concerns: personal and family, community, state and national, world. We shared out and created a list of important issues. The students were brutally open and honest. At the word “harassment” no one wanted to share so I said, “I’ll tell you about a situation I faced.” Before I could continue, a boy yelled out, “Is Mr. X bullying you, too?” I quickly recovered and described intimidation by a boss in earlier years. Students notice these things.

My question is, “How can teachers themselves protect students from bullying when subjected to intimidation and threats from people in authority? Who can you turn to?"

At one point we requested assistance from the union. We were told there was going to be a meeting with administration, but at the last minute the union rep reported that the administration was too busy (Later the union claimed that the employee caused the meeting to be cancelled by not making a formal complaint [which we considered professional suicide]). A letter was written to upper administration describing the treatment given certain staff in the building; the administration responded by asking the problem principal if the allegations were true. Of course, they were denied and the upper administration closed ranks. The school year ended on that sour note.
(see RCW 94.04 H)

What can you do when complaints and concerns are not investigated by those in positions of power when required?


Editorial: This is a guest submittal and likely the first of many parts to run in the next days and weeks. Thank you to the author for sharing your experience with the rest of us.


Anonymous said...

Is the bully still there? I don't see anything wrong with disclosing his name. Maybe there are others that will also come forward so this person doesn't get to continue. Expose the b*st*ard!

Anonymous said...

That one is gone (along with about 11 other people who were pushed out, "retired," or simply left the building that Spring). But the next one that came along seemed to head down the same bully road. And more staff left in the Fall. What a waste.

Don't forget that there were others above who gave cover after repeated warnings of the behavior from staff.

Sorta gives the lie to the District line that this was just an isolated case.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing about people coming forward. When Tam Osborne finally started his "investigation" (end of May, early June '06) he chose to use a conference room right across the hall from the office where these bullies worked. How many people offered to meet with him? None. He seemed perplexed by that.

When it was pointed out to him that setting up across the hall from the bully might not be the best place to find out the truth, he found space at the ESC. Guess what? 10-12 people from MMS claim to have talked to him and told him what they had seen and experienced (OTHERS REMAINED TOO SCARED TO SPEAK). They verified the charges made public in March by the WHISTLEBLOWER WHO HAD BEEN IMMEDIATELY REMOVED from the school. (Catch that? The whistleblower was removed from his classroom immediately while the bullies got to tell stories and continue intimidating for nearly 3 months.)

And you know what else? The wolfpack was putting out the word in the building that it would be disloyal and unprofessional to complain about anything: the principal is always right! They tried to find out who was talking to Osborne. Retaliation. That's against school policy and state law as well.

But what do these people care about policy and law anyway?

And don't forget: the children were watching.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that this victim of bullying would try to appraoch the bully with the line "How can I make this better" or words similar. This is typical of victims; they assume it is THEIR fault, that THEY have done something wrong, that THEY DESERVE to be treated this way. It takes awhile before you realize, "Hey, this isn't MY problem." Or let's say, you are lucky if you come to that realization. Most victims just try to become invisible.

Anonymous said...

This type of behavior is not limited to teaching staff. Administrative and support staff have been subject to yelling as if we were children, (we could be so lucky to be protected like the students).

During an exchange, I personally had a Director visibly shake with anger as if he/she were restraining themselves to keep from hitting me. I couldn't figure out if this individual was trying to intimidate me or was just displaying a lack of personnel skills.

I was also surprised that although they made $80,000 plus/year "to supervise", I was informed that I was the one who was to arrange meetings to resolve the issues at hand. (Talk about inflated salary and a waste of tax money).

The thing was, I had already made an attempt to do something and because this individual did not like the turn of events, they were even angrier. said...

You may share the name of the school. I am sure many people would like to know.

Anonymous said...

The school? Meadowdale Middle School.

Anonymous said...

How many others?

We had a parapro "written up" by a principal because they tried to prevent a teacher from intimidating students.

Anonymous said...

Safe. Reminds me of when I was recovering from my depression brought on by the bullying. During my depression, I stopped shaving; the principal started growing his beard. I wanted to take control of my "excess weight", went on a diet, and lost 30 pounds; members of the wolfpack would yell at me to stop lossing weight (as if I could not control any aspect of my life without their interference). At the beginning of the next year, I was determined to "change my attitude" (as counseled by Mr. Limon) so I began to wear a shirt and tie every day. The principal started to wear his sport coat or suit jacket.

For my part, I was never competing with anyone, but if you're threatened by me getting mentally healthy, that's not my problem.

Healthy. I was listening to NPR the other day (citing the source: a skill that I modeled and taught as part of the National History Day curriculum when I wasn't being prevented from teaching it). There was a piece that was talking about how important communication (talking, writing, etc.) is to recover from depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues. So this blog is a good source of HEALTH, unlike the workplace where you were snubbed, ignored, marginalized, and threatened. If it is uncomfortable for those in power (who had the opportunity, authority and, indeed, the responsibility to stop the bullying) for me to air my story, I'm not terribly sympathetic. Talking about what was done to me, how I reacted (badly), and how I'm now understanding why I felt the way I felt is all very healthy. PDSD (prolonged duress stress disorder) takes 3-5 years to "get over" and we're only in Year Two. If it is embarrasing to read about how your lack of action complicated my life, perhaps you should think about what you will do the next time this happens.

And there will be a next time unless you make it very clear that bullying will not be tolerated in the District and back it up with positive actions.