Saturday, April 05, 2008

Teaching, learning and living requires a safe society.

We hope that you noted [the recent] hearings in Congress. They highlighted allegations of bullying and intimidation of workers at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FAA inspectors are responsible for the oversight of maintenance records of every commercial airplane in the US. They are there to make sure that the airlines are properly maintaining the planes that we and our children, grandchildren and parents fly in, and that the planes are safe and airworthy according to federal regulations. It is a vital job.

Three FAA employees told their story of how they noticed that certain airlines weren't performing maintenance according to the rules. They testified, under oath, how their supervisors bullied and intimidated them after being notified of the violations. They told of being ignored, of being removed from their job and reassigned to a less responsible job, or of being threatened with firing if they took this information any further. In one case, a picture of one of the whistleblower's family was shown to him while he was told that they were "his first priority." The whistleblower took this as a direct threat to his job. He nearly broke down in tears while testifying. We understand. Perfectly. We've been there, done that.

It is not easy being a whistleblower. It is much easier to lack the moral courage necessary to speak up against improper actions and activities. We could not do that; we were not raised to let the bullying go unreported while our colleagues and students suffered. This is why we both went to the bullies on at least four occassions and tried to reason with them only to be shouted down. Bullied staff went to the bullies' superiors as well: Limon twice and HR once. HR REFUSED to meet with us (citing a need to "show the new people [Osborne] around"); Limon sided with the bully both times. It should have come as no surprise to those in authority (since they had done nothing to stop the bullies and had actually blocked our efforts to address the problem quietly through proper channels) that one of us would make a public request for the bullying to stop. What recourse did you have left? Run away as the bully demands? "If you don't like it here, go someplace else"?

We feel a kinship with the FAA whistleblowers who finally got to testify in public today. We understand the obvious emotional strain that they showed while telling their story. There is a certain level of isolation brought on by being a target; we had several colleagues refuse to walk or talk to us in the building. The isolation is compounded when you actually do speak up. People do not communicate their support unless they feel safe that they will not be dragged into the fray. Those who do not support you (the principal's buddies) are, however, quick to tell you of their displeasure.

Safe. That's the first requirement for students to learn. Safe schools. Safe learning environment. All administrators stand on top of the hill and shout out, "We need safe schools for learning to take place!" The same goes for teaching; we need a safe place to teach. When the principal literally leaps into your room just moments before the end of your planning period to take you to task over a very minor issue, you do not feel safe. When you are 2-on-1-team-bullied and accused of "enabling" a student to not write when you are actually following that student's individual education plan (IEP) and they are not, you do not feel safe. When the bully towers over you, leaning in physically, using their greater size to intimidate you, you do not feel safe.

When the teaching staff doesn't feel safe, they will not teach to their greatest potential, just as the students will not learn to their greatest potential in an unsafe environment. When the ESC support staff doesn't feel safe because they are being bullied or seeing others being bullied, they will not work to their greatest potential. The bullying manager robs from the employer, in this case the taxpayers of the district. They are stealing the best efforts of their employees. They are stealing from the students because the teachers are spending their creative effort trying to survive the situation. They are unable to direct the appropriate energies toward the students while they are in survival mode.

A safe place to work, not a hostile one. A safe place to teach, not a hostile one. A safe place to learn, not a hostile one. Is that so much to ask for?

Contributed by Richard and Chris Reuther


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great if all former ESD employees could file a collective lawsuit against the District for bullying,false allegations, hmmmm... Great article, good researching on your part, Mark. Thanks for all....

Anonymous said...

When administrators want you to do something their way they speak about "teamwork". When they hear that people don't like their idea they mention that those dissenting people can always "get on the bus". (I assume that means that the dissenting people can leave town.) Sometimes I think I'd rather get "under the bus"!

Anonymous said...

The district simply pays employees to go away rather than accept and deal with their problems. Do a public records request for all amounts paid to employees and former employees while on administrative leave. You still won't get everything but go back a few years and you'll be amazed. Maybe someone in payroll wants to comment?

Anonymous said...

Yes, c'mon Laura.