In Their Own Words: Teachers Bullied by Colleagues | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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"When I came back one day after lunch, the warehouse people had axed the reading loft [on the principal's orders] . . . This was only the beginning . . . He stripped away everything that made my room unique . . . I want out." - Teacher

"I would take the dog for a walk and cry in the dark." - Australian Teacher

We’re used to media reports about children and teachers who bully students. A more hidden fact of school life is the extent to which teachers suffer at the hands of cruel colleagues and administrators. One in three teachers claim they have been bullied at work. In Part I of a two-part post on the subject, I will share the voices of teachers who describe being bullied by colleagues. Part II will discuss solutions.

The Targets

The following must be present for negative actions to be labeled bullying, writes Clemson University Professor Kimberly Frazier:

  1. An imbalance of power between the perpetrator and victim
  2. Systematic and long term attacks
  3. Those being bullied finding it difficult to defend or retaliate against those inflicting the bullying behavior

Bullied teachers are not professional victims. "A typical target is conscientious, competent and well liked by colleagues, pupils and parents," according to TESConnect. The principal of a popular instructor bullied her for months. "Jan" told me that his most creative ploy was to make her sit in the lobby adjoining his office while he pretended to talk on the phone with a parent complaining about her professional skills.

Later, Jan asked, "Who criticized me?"

"She wants to remain anonymous."

"What was the specific complaint?"

"She wants me to keep that confidential, in case you trace the comment back to her."

"That's not fair!"

"You're lucky to have me talk through this with you. Some principals wouldn't be so helpful."

Where power inequalities manifest, bullying is more likely to occur. As a university supervisor in three different states, I pulled several secondary English interns out of their placements and had them finish student teaching in alternative settings when their clinical teachers crossed the line.

Of the nine veteran and novice teachers I interviewed, only two reported the incidents to authorities, fearing that they might lose their job or simply not be perceived as credible. I've made minor changes to the stories to safeguard the authors' identities.

Marsha's Story

Marsha and Samantha co-planned middle grades language arts. Samantha was the team leader, the spouse of the assistant principal and influential at the school. At first, their professional relationship was friendly. And then . . .

Every time we sat down to plan, Samantha would push all of the more time-consuming and less interesting work on me. When I started to out-perform her, she began to resent me. She would regularly make condescending and deprecating comments in front of students, parents and colleagues. She would steal my lesson plans on the day that I was planning on doing them.
As the team leader, Samantha was supposed to go to liaison meetings and report back with information from the administration, but she would often purposefully "forget" to tell me, and I would look incompetent. She would take my personally created resources and pass them off as hers in front of our superiors. When we were together with the students, she interrupted me, second-guessed my information, and questioned my authority. Students would ask a question and she would directly contradict my answer. I thought I was paranoid, but when I walked in on Samantha and a colleague talking about me, I realized that her behavior was intentionally directed at me.
During special events like field day or the team talent show, she would literally sit in the back while we wrangled students and ran the event. Whenever administrators came in, Samantha would act like she was running everything and pretend she had coordinated the whole thing.
She made me feel like I was less than a person and a useless teacher. As a new instructor, I kept my mouth shut and tried not to make waves. The bullying lasted for two years. I dreaded going into work. I would sit in my car and work up the courage to walk in the building . . .

Shanequa's Story

My first year, I was assigned a mentor who would report every mistake I made to the assistant principal instead of offering me help. When I asked for advice, she would go straight to the office. The only teacher in the building who assisted me with classroom management was directed not to help me during planning because "we taught different content." I was discouraged from trying new ideas or technology that differed from what the teacher with the highest test scores used. Later, the AP was promoted to principal, and he still treats me as if I am completely incompetent, regardless of my high evaluations and (unofficial) leadership and social capital.

Jennifer's Story

A violent high school student lived across the street from the school in a house with firearms. One day, after several outbursts, he threatened his teacher. Jennifer's coworkers failed to support her.

"Man, I wish I had my shotgun right now." I was stunned (as was the class). I told him to get in the hallway and that I was going to have to write him up. In the hallway, he flew into a violent rage. I ran back into my room, closed the door, and called the administration. It took four hours to get him to the front office. The whole time, he yelled, "Just let me get home!"
He was charged with communicating a threat and disorderly conduct. But because he was labeled EC and had reached his ten-day suspension limit from previous infractions, he returned to school after only one day of suspension.
The student continued to harass me. He stared at me in the library and in the hallway. He came into my classroom, just looking, and he continued to make threatening comments. I pleaded with my administrators to make him leave. But the parents did not want him moved and threatened to sue. They brought a lawyer to IEP meetings, which I was never told about until later. The school was very interested in sweeping the whole thing under the rug. They actively prevented me from attending meetings about the issue and even suggested that I transfer to another high school if I felt unsafe.
The day he came into my classroom while I was alone during my planning period was my last day at Ridge High School. He never did anything physical to me, but I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and experienced a level of anxiety that you could not imagine. The thought of returning to work literally made me feel like I would pass out. I got along really well with my colleagues but was surprised that many of them turned their backs on me when I left. My very close friends supported me, but many others didn't. I guess I felt a little bullied by them, too, in the end. I left a lot of unfinished work behind, but it still really hurt my feelings that I didn't receive their support.
I felt so betrayed for being virtually forced to leave just so that the school could avoid a lawsuit and appease crazy parents. I have shared this story with the EC chair, the Superintendent, the School Board, and the State School Board, but they have not been concerned. The fact that they would let me leave (a hard-working teacher who put in seven good years) to keep a violent student really shook my whole identity. Teaching is who I am. I felt like I was missing an appendage during the months that I was out of work.

Matt's Story

As a new teacher, I encountered a bully -- my department chair -- though at the time, it never occurred to me to attach a label to the two years of misery and dread I experienced. Because Benton didn’t look like Keyser Söze in his pressed Dockers and polo shirts, and because he could light up a room with boyish charm, the act of trying to figure out when and how he would publicly excoriate me for following his exact instructions was crazy making.
When my friends advised me to ignore him, I said, "You focus on work, knowing there's an invisible cobra loose somewhere in your office." Every weekday morning, I would pull into the parking lot at the school building and listen to Alanis Morrisette's Uninvited CD repeatedly until I could slow my breathing and pretend I was unperturbed. When another bullied colleague and I both quit at the same time, the school asked us to give exit interviews. Based on those conversations, the chair was terminated. That happened years ago. I still feel guilty; my brain can't fathom anyone being that inappropriate. It's easier for me to go to an emotional place where I'm the one to blame.

Symptoms and Remedies

The aforementioned stories involved weeks and months of lost productivity, and feelings of depression and betrayal, all because of the bully's methods:

  • Ridicule
  • Exclusion
  • Aggression
  • Abuse of power
  • Assigning inappropriate or overwhelming tasks
  • Hiding information with a result of poor performance
  • Shaming

In Part II, this blog will discuss strategies for making teachers less vulnerable to aggressive workplace behaviors. If you'd like to share your stories or address the individuals who generously contributed above, please make use of the comment thread below.

Alternatively, send your story to me directly at toddfinley@gmail.com, and I'll post them for you in the comment section to keep your identity private.

Comments (42)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Eric's picture

For speaking up & making my personal space after work off limits to a teacher who previously decided to have a no contact rule I was let go. She had a large project & I offered to help, it didn't bother me that she just wanted to do it & it would be easier if left alone & uninterrupted. But the second her boundary lost its convenience at 7pm she decides she can come to where I live in an uproar. She wasn't correct by the way, the mistake was hers misplaced item not stolen. Wasn't the kind of thing worth stealing anyway, just a spiral bound note book.

Writergrrl11's picture

I appreciate reading this sort of thing. I've been bullied at work and it's the most debasing, demoralizing thing I've experienced to date.
It makes it hard to go to work every day, no matter how much I love teaching.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

It's toxic and awful, Writergrrl11, and it shouldn't happen to anyone. We need to do better for teachers like you.

carolann4729's picture

The comments regarding bullying of teachers amaised me. I wish I had known about this while I was teaching. This blog is so supportive for teachers who are being bullied. I am now retired, and I have also been diagnosed with PTSD. While working with my therapist, I have become aware of the bullying I endured during most of the 27 years that I taught at a small school in central Michigan. I have recently met another retired teacher who also suffers from PTSD as a result of being bullied by administrators where he was a teacher.
This is a topic that needs to be brought to the attention of all educators and administrators. People need to be able to recognize when they or others are being bullied. Are there any books available regarding this topic? A book with experiences of educators would be great. Bullying not only hurts people, it hurts the education process.

(1)
alojla2015's picture

I was a teacher in another country and decided to move to NC. My first teaching job here in North Carolina and the principal hated me. She told me that I was on a thin ice as a teacher, I was not considered a teacher in her eyes. Parents loved me but she did not like my teaching and yet she never once observed me. I would cry everyday and had to leave work a few times because of panic attacks. I would smell her perfume and my stomach would turn in knots. Every Time the phone rang, my heart would start beating fast and it would always be to have me go to her office because she had to say something to me. I finally decided to leave because I found a new teaching position and till this day my self esteem is still not the best because I always second guess myself because of her.

KSeducator's picture

My former principal made my life a living nightmare. My first year teaching there wasn't bad. She was a bit intimidating, but seemed to like me well enough. She had a reputation that was only whispered about but I had never really seen anything concerning. Then my second year came... She started off by calling me into her office and telling me to use my "big girl voice" this year. Twenty minutes of this with a smirk on her face and I practically crawled out of her office. I sobbed in my storage closet after making it back to my room. I have always had a slightly higher-pitched voice and it has always been one of my sore points, so her statements were devasting to my self-esteem. My husband and colleagues were furious, but she never appologized. I tried avoiding her as much as possible, but I injured my foot during my plan time about a month later. I taught the rest of the day with my foot propped on a chair with ice and my sweet second graders helping me. The next morning, however, I was hardly able to stand let alone walk on it. I went through all of the proper channels to get a sub and had the job approved, but when I tried to leave the school she stormed into my room and proceeded to yell at me in front of my seven-year-old students. After making me stay for two hours she finally relented and I went to the doctor, where I discovered I had broken a bone in my toe. Despite having a full day absence approved, she made me return to school in a new cast without having had lunch and teach the remainder of the day.

I went through three weeks of snide comments and remarks like, "I'm sure you're just fine" before a colleague took me to meet with the superintendent. I was so terrified of any repercussions that I was shaking and couldn't speak. My teacher friend had to do most of the talking for me. Fortunately, he was appalled to hear what had been happening and supported me. The rest of the year went more smoothly and that principal left during the summer.

Thank you so much for writing this article! It helps to know that I am not the only teacher who has had to face this.

(1)
Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

Alojla2015 - It's so difficult to quantify that kind of anguish. I hope that, little by little, your new location makes life better for you. Thank you for taking the time to share your story.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

Hi KSeducator - This is the most hopeful email on this sad topic that I've received. Would you please convey my admiration to your supportive colleague for taking the risk to bring this issue to an authority who could intervene. From the stories that I've read, this is a rare occurrance. That colleague is my hero. I'm heartened that the superintendent supported you. It is a great delight to hear that your work setting is more positive. Thank you for sharing this narrative. -tf

VGSH's picture
VGSH
I live in Colorado, I have three majors and two degrees: Library Technician, SpEd generalist/General Ed K-8 or 6.

For 11 years now, I have been bullied by other teachers and administration at my school district. I have had no support because my school district is a rural, isolated district. I haven't known what to do but keep my mouth shut and do whatever work I am offered from the district. Unfortunately for me, the bully was the superintendent and whether or not the teachers wanted to follow his lead or not, they did. I lost my 10 year position due to bullying from a female teacher and a female super., the new super did not bully outright, but he upheld and continued the retired super's silent policy concerning me. Then, a family member of mine had an affair with his son and a position that I was assured was mine, once I graduated and finished my student teaching, was given to someone else. In the past two years, I have applied for 12 positions in the school district, and under this super., was told I was not qualified, or I had juuuustttt missed getting the position but they hired someone else. During interviews, I have been asked if I would 'take over' and not let other people have a voice during team meetings, was my age a problem (I am 60), or do I have the energy, etc. or when subbing or aiding as a para at this school, he always makes sure to 'look in' several times a day.

I did my student teaching at this school in 2013, under his wife, in 3rd grade. I was told by him that 'he had asked, but nobody wanted me'. She tried, and unsuccessfully, to lower my evaluation to where I would not receive an A. But I am conscientious and worked diligently, despite her low-balling remarks and passed with an A and summa cum laude.

But, following graduation, which was last year, I was not asked to substitute very much, maybe one day a month and I heard from another sub. that she had been told that he had told the office staff I was not to be called in, to use other people. I feel bullied and harassed. My colleagues and friends chose to ignore and justify his actions, but mostly ignore. I feel isolated, targeted, victimized, and betrayed by everyone in that building because they all knew what was going on, just told me to hang in there. Calls to board members went unanswered or I was told by the only one who would talk with me to "hang in there." The thing is, the super bullied everybody in that school, not just me.

I feel as if I don't have any choice, living where I do, so I am hanging in there. I hope the new super. is a decent person and I can get on with my career and find value in my skills, knowledge, and desire and excitement in teaching students and working with people who care about our students.

I think its great that there is a /article where teachers can finally say out loud about what they cry about each night!. I have always said that I go back every day, not for the poisonous politics of school, but for the kids. The kids are worth it.

(1)
VGSH's picture
VGSH
I live in Colorado, I have three majors and two degrees: Library Technician, SpEd generalist/General Ed K-8 or 6.

And if you are saying to yourself: but she got a five month job? What is she complaining about? I was told by other teachers that I got that job because the other candidates turned it down. I was the default teacher. When I proved (I had excellent evaluation ratings) that I was more than capable and the position was extended into next year...the super. offered the position to one of the candidates that had turned the job down more than once. She finally accepted the position after the one she wanted (in another state) did not come through. I have a final chance though...the SpEd director is not coming back and there is that position still open. But...here it is...nearly July and I am still 'hanging in there', waiting to see if I have the position or will be once again, the default hire.

VGSH's picture
VGSH
I live in Colorado, I have three majors and two degrees: Library Technician, SpEd generalist/General Ed K-8 or 6.

For 11 years now, I have been bullied by other teachers and administration at my school district. I have had no support because my school district is a rural, isolated district. I haven't known what to do but keep my mouth shut and do whatever work I am offered from the district. Unfortunately for me, the bully was the superintendent and whether or not the teachers wanted to follow his lead or not, they did. I lost my 10 year position due to bullying from a female teacher and a female super., the new super did not bully outright, but he upheld and continued the retired super's silent policy concerning me. Then, a family member of mine had an affair with his son and a position that I was assured was mine, once I graduated and finished my student teaching, was given to someone else. In the past two years, I have applied for 12 positions in the school district, and under this super., was told I was not qualified, or I had juuuustttt missed getting the position but they hired someone else. During interviews, I have been asked if I would 'take over' and not let other people have a voice during team meetings, was my age a problem (I am 60), or do I have the energy, etc. or when subbing or aiding as a para at this school, he always makes sure to 'look in' several times a day.

I did my student teaching at this school in 2013, under his wife, in 3rd grade. I was told by him that 'he had asked, but nobody wanted me'. She tried, and unsuccessfully, to lower my evaluation to where I would not receive an A. But I am conscientious and worked diligently, despite her low-balling remarks and passed with an A and summa cum laude.

But, following graduation, which was last year, I was not asked to substitute very much, maybe one day a month and I heard from another sub. that she had been told that he had told the office staff I was not to be called in, to use other people. I feel bullied and harassed. My colleagues and friends chose to ignore and justify his actions, but mostly ignore. I feel isolated, targeted, victimized, and betrayed by everyone in that building because they all knew what was going on, just told me to hang in there. Calls to board members went unanswered or I was told by the only one who would talk with me to "hang in there." The thing is, the super bullied everybody in that school, not just me.

I feel as if I don't have any choice, living where I do, so I am hanging in there. I hope the new super. is a decent person and I can get on with my career and find value in my skills, knowledge, and desire and excitement in teaching students and working with people who care about our students.

I think its great that there is a /article where teachers can finally say out loud about what they cry about each night!. I have always said that I go back every day, not for the poisonous politics of school, but for the kids. The kids are worth it.

(1)
KSeducator's picture

My former principal made my life a living nightmare. My first year teaching there wasn't bad. She was a bit intimidating, but seemed to like me well enough. She had a reputation that was only whispered about but I had never really seen anything concerning. Then my second year came... She started off by calling me into her office and telling me to use my "big girl voice" this year. Twenty minutes of this with a smirk on her face and I practically crawled out of her office. I sobbed in my storage closet after making it back to my room. I have always had a slightly higher-pitched voice and it has always been one of my sore points, so her statements were devasting to my self-esteem. My husband and colleagues were furious, but she never appologized. I tried avoiding her as much as possible, but I injured my foot during my plan time about a month later. I taught the rest of the day with my foot propped on a chair with ice and my sweet second graders helping me. The next morning, however, I was hardly able to stand let alone walk on it. I went through all of the proper channels to get a sub and had the job approved, but when I tried to leave the school she stormed into my room and proceeded to yell at me in front of my seven-year-old students. After making me stay for two hours she finally relented and I went to the doctor, where I discovered I had broken a bone in my toe. Despite having a full day absence approved, she made me return to school in a new cast without having had lunch and teach the remainder of the day.

I went through three weeks of snide comments and remarks like, "I'm sure you're just fine" before a colleague took me to meet with the superintendent. I was so terrified of any repercussions that I was shaking and couldn't speak. My teacher friend had to do most of the talking for me. Fortunately, he was appalled to hear what had been happening and supported me. The rest of the year went more smoothly and that principal left during the summer.

Thank you so much for writing this article! It helps to know that I am not the only teacher who has had to face this.

(1)
carolann4729's picture

The comments regarding bullying of teachers amaised me. I wish I had known about this while I was teaching. This blog is so supportive for teachers who are being bullied. I am now retired, and I have also been diagnosed with PTSD. While working with my therapist, I have become aware of the bullying I endured during most of the 27 years that I taught at a small school in central Michigan. I have recently met another retired teacher who also suffers from PTSD as a result of being bullied by administrators where he was a teacher.
This is a topic that needs to be brought to the attention of all educators and administrators. People need to be able to recognize when they or others are being bullied. Are there any books available regarding this topic? A book with experiences of educators would be great. Bullying not only hurts people, it hurts the education process.

(1)

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