When adults are the bullies

Image from Amy Loves Yah http://bit.ly/mxB07y

Across the world, educators are more and more finding themselves involved in bullying and not just through their students, but rather actively bullying others or being a victim of it.  What do we, as administrators and adults, do when the bullying taking place is among the adults in the school/district?  I remember starting out as a teacher and being quite shocked by the cliques, hierarchies, and power structures within staffs of schools.

I recently had a heart-felt discussion with a teacher that has gone through a very difficult experience.  This teacher had to write the story with her identity hidden because of the effect it could have on her career and day-to-day life.  She has asked that instead of wasting time trying determine the author, consider that this could be taking place in our schools and begin to reflect upon how we can work to prevent this.  Here is her story:

I was labeled a favorite of my principal’s after a week of student teaching.  My mentor teacher loved me and wanted to share with my principal.  He took an interest in me, saw something he liked, and therefore made sure to stop by frequently.  I don’t know why, perhaps it was that I was older, not so ditzy as the other student teachers, or just worked extra hours.  Whatever it was, the label stuck and I should have run away then.  Instead I worked extra hours, applying for and finally getting a job at the same school, so proud to be a member of this school.

The year I got hired at my school my mentor moved away.  I was eager, ready to learn, and most of all ready to form a team.  Unfortunately I was the third wheel to a two-some that had been together for some years and had gone through some pretty heavy-duty stuff.  They switched classes, they knew each other like the back of their hand, and I was the puppy always trailing behind, hoping they would throw me a bone.  After a while, i decided to go on my own, after all, my students were waiting for me to teach them and not having a team was not going to be a good enough excuse to fail my kids.  So I forged on, challenging myself and hoping that one day my team would come around.  That year I was by myself through difficult parent situations and difficult student situations.  I ate lunch in my classroom because no one sat with me in the staff lounge.  It wasn’t that they didn’t like me, they just didn’t have time for me.  Instead other teachers were busy pointing out how I was a favorite since the principal spent so much time in my room.  They didn’t realize that the reason he was in there was because I invited him just so I had someone to help me that first year.  Later in the year I was pulled into my principal’s office to be reprimanded for having said “Have a nice weekend” in the hallways.  I was told that someone had complained about me since I should be thankful I had a job and not look forward to the weekend so much.  In fact, it was later included in my formal observation that I should know my place more.  Stunned, I asked who it was, but was refused an answer.  I left that conversation wondering who would want to get me into trouble over something so trivial well knowing that it could have been anyone.

Now is a good time for an admission;  I am outspoken.  I have an opinion and when the right time occurs I am not afraid to share it.  I have also been told I have a gift of connecting with students and that meant that my parents and students really liked me.   My principal really liked me and started to tell others the cool stuff he thought I was doing.   I guess he shared too many stories without highlighting others and so the favorite label continued and finally people found whatever reason they could to hate me.

I heard the rumors about how I was hired for my looks, I heard how I was the favorite and was therefore given easy classes, extra things for my room, and basically had a free pass.  I cried about it, got angry, tried to discourage him from coming to me as a confidante.  It didn’t help.  He stopped coming but the rumors continued.  The whispers as I walked by in the hallway, the icy stares, the unreturned hello’s.  The social isolation would have made any mean girl proud. So I got really quiet and tried to keep to myself, finding a couple of people I could trust, continuously trying to reach out to my team, hoping that someone would take pity on me.   Few did, after all, I had done it to myself.

Once more I ended up in the principal’s office; this time a teacher had turned me in for disagreeing with a veteran teacher in a small meeting.  I was written up for being disrespectful and not knowing my place.  Again I asked who had come to the principal and was given no answer.  It was not in my best interest to know and I should be happy that there were not more severe consequences.  It was even put in my formal observation for the year, my permanent record, and I had to submit an apology to the teacher, who by the way, was not the one who had complained about me.  Instead I was told to keep my mouth shut, know my place, and try to get people to like me. The ignorance of my principal that he, in fact, had anything to do with the fact that people despised me was more than I could take.  I started to contemplate moving but decided that I wanted to stay to try to make a difference, to change the attitude, rather than to let them run me out.

This year I knew was going to be a challenge.  One powerful teacher, in particular, had become the ring leader of my hate group.  She complained about me to anyone that would listen, including my fledgling team, parents, and, of course, the principal.  For some reason she had power and people listened. I knew that some of my more unorthodox ideas such as limiting grades and homework were really going to upset people, particularly some veteran teachers who already disliked me, she being one of them.   And yet, I knew I had to keep growing as a teacher whether people hated me or not because after all how bad could it get?  I would always have my principal or so I thought, instead I didn’t.  He left me alone because he was told by senior teachers that they knew I was his favorite and how hurtful it was to them.  So instead I became isolated, fending for myself.  Thank goodness for a couple of good friends, my husband,  and Twitter or I would have lost it.

Throughout this process I have been forced to look in the mirror again and again.  Am I those things that people claim?  Am I a person not to be trusted because the principal is my confidante, because I am his favorite?  Will my students fail because of me?  Will they not be prepared for the rest of their school years because of what I did to them?  I have had to reflect and tear myself apart as I wonder; did I do this to myself?  Sure, there have been days I have not been proud of, days where I should have kept my opinion to myself, or tread more lightly.  Yet there has also been so many days where I did not deserve the treatment I was given, where even after extra effort, people just did not care, did not believe, did not want their minds changed.  I also question myself; is this all in my head?  Have I created the awkwardness, the silence, the people passing by my door rather than coming in?  Then I realize that it did happen, that the rumors were spread, those hushed conversations, those scoldings really did happen.  Perhaps I could have done more but I guess I will never know if it would have changed anything.  I know I have not been a perfect team member, I know I have made mistakes, but I have also tried to do my best.  I have been open, eager, welcoming, and ready to share.  And yet somehow all of this was not enough.

So what has this year been like?  Like the worst high school experience, the only thing missing has been being locked in a locker or having my car keyed.  All year I have fought comments about how awful I am as a teacher and how dare I challenge what veteran teachers are doing.  I have been told that other teachers worry about my students since I am not teaching right or even preparing them well.  I have been told that I need to know my place over and over and that no one likes me.  I have been told that no one wants to be on my team and that I am giving the school a bad name.  I have been called selfish, delusional, and ineffective.  I have been called a bad teacher.  So this year I have cried, vented to close friends and just tried to rise above it.  I know what is best for my kids.  I know that I am good teacher.  And yet, I am worn down.

It is funny; I have lied so many times about how supportive my school is of me, that I sometimes start to believe it.  My principal was supportive, in secret, my special ed teacher and ELL teacher were, but that is really it.  Some teachers have not cared, which was a welcome relief or just outright told me how they feel.  The powerful teacher told me that she is genuinely worried for my students since she does not feel they will be successful next year and that I shouldn’t be allowed to teach.  At least this time she said it to my face rather than behind my back.

So a couple of weeks ago, I did the unthinkable, I applied for a transfer to another school. After tempers flared and the end of the year got even more divisive due to a new batch of rumours, I thought, enough. I don’t want to be the scapegoat anymore.  I don’t want to be in a place where success is not celebrated.  Where challenges are not desired. This is not me.  I love teaching and I want to teach for many years to come, but I cannot go to work in a place where I am not welcomed.  Where I am blamed for things I have nothing to do with, where people feel they have a free pass to tell me how they really feel about me and my teaching style without even knowing anything.  So I am leaving, and my heart is lighter, and yet I feel like a coward.
I feel like I should stay and fight for change like I have been the last 3 years.  Like I shouldn’t rock the boat.  But I can’t stay, it will devour me if I do.  When I pressed send on that email letting my employee coordinator know that I wanted to transfer, I felt the biggest weight lift.  And then I felt tears.  These years of being hated, of not knowing who to trust or who to confide in has taken their toll.  It will be a long time before I try to have a close relationship with my principal, in fear of being labeled, I will have a hard time trusting teammates.  Too many times the accusations came from the team I was supposed to have and the protection did not come from my leader.

So there you have it, one teacher’s story, which has been changed to protect the identity.  So I  wonder; why do we do this to each other?  Why do we put others down in order to feel good about ourselves as teachers?  Why must there always be someone to bully?  I fear for who will become the next favorite….

I recently wrote how we need to support those that are trying new things and new methods in education (see: Leading With Our Linchpins). As educational leaders, how do we support those teachers/support staff that are different and/or are trying new things? How do we flatten the hierarchy that often exists between experienced and new teachers? How do we deal with this when it is another administrator?  I would love to hear your thoughts on how to help ease the bullying that can often occur within the adults in a school. A big thank you to the teacher that shared her story.

30 comments for “When adults are the bullies

  1. Maureen Devlin
    June 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    One reason for bullying behaviors in schools is the lack of optimal structure for success and clear role definition. As schools change, roles, schedules, time on task and accountability need to be reconsidered. Optimal structures that make success, communication and collaboration possible will minimize bullying and other negative behaviors in schools.

    • Pat
      December 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      My better half is an administrator at a public school in Springfield, Massachusetts and has been bullied on the job by two different bosses.This person cannot transfer as they are a hard worker.
      When you have a principal who takes staff out to lunch or who invites them over for a beer. the line gets crossed.
      The work place is a snake pit, but the job is needed.
      Has applied out. Still waiting.
      The day that they are out, i hope the district feels the pit in its stomach the same way that I have felt watching the torture and the threats.
      Bullying among adults is a disease in education, I believe.
      I have heard about it several times and it is frightening that those who should be watching the kids are doing the bullying.

  2. June 3, 2011 at 12:45 am

    I worked with an amazing new teacher a couple years ago that is progressive and innovative. I moved to China & this teacher moved to (was laid off or rather ‘bumped’ and found a job at) a high school where she was essentially bullied out of the school. This led to the teacher leaving the district at the end of last year. A huge loss.

    The most important point that I think I can contribute is around transparency that comes with true professionalism. In BC our professional code of conduct stipulates that if you have a problem with another professional, your first step is to deal with it with the other professional… before you ‘report’ them. BUT the reality is that the school culture plays a huge role in this. So, as busy as we are, as much as there are things that ‘need to get done’ in a school, we still need to do things to help build our team and help create a positive learning culture/environment… it’s not easy, but it is important!

  3. June 3, 2011 at 1:13 am

    It makes me sad that teachers, who are role models for children, would treat anyone with this level of disrespect. It makes me wonder about why people can be so mean to others, what is going on in their life that they feel the need to make others feel bad. To the bullied teacher: Congratulations for lasting that long in such a hostile environment, I would have left earlier! I think that you must be a very strong person to have been able to stay. Your next school will be very lucky to have such a dedicated teacher!

  4. June 3, 2011 at 2:27 am

    I have about a million thoughts on the content of this post, but only enough space to share a few:

    First of all, I have no idea who you are, where you work, or who your colleagues or principal are, but one thing is very clear about you, Mystery Teacher. You obviously recognize that your most pressing concern as a teacher – or a school employee, better said – is the students. I started my job a few years ago with the mindset that I was going into a school to work for my students, not make friends. Any relationships that developed, either friendships or otherwise, would be incidental to why I was there. They would not be my focus. They would be nice perks, but they would not define me as a school employee. Your colleagues could do well from adopting the same philosophy.

    Second, I also came to learn the hard way that, from a social perspective, it’s best to keep administration-teacher relationships on as professional a level as possible. I too wanted to bring administrators into my room to see the things my kids were doing, and I did so often. But by doing so, word began to filter through the school that the new kid in town was either a) doing some really awesome stuff or b) a snotty, know-it-all who has been teaching for five minutes and thinks it’s good to make others look bad. The majority of my colleagues seemed to go with option A, and the ones who went with option B got a mouthful from me. I always put it in the context of my kids. In my mind, though, I know the people who feel threatened by me only feel that way because they’re insecure and in many cases incapable.

    I also know what it’s like to have colleagues turn on you overnight, for seemingly no reason at all. However, I have to say when that happened to me, it led to one of my closest friendships in school. (Things DO happen for a reason, Mystery Teacher).

    Third, I feel that it is incumbent upon the administration to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t happen in our schools. It accomplishes nothing and promotes an unhealthy staff dynamic. Why shouldn’t teachers be sharing best practices? All teachers need to believe they have room for improvement. If they don’t, and they feel there’s nothing more to learn, then it’s time for them to hit the road. A veteran colleague who I’ve since fallen out of touch with for a few reasons told me my first year how much she loves talking to the new teachers because of their fresh perspective and ideas. This is the kind of attitude all teachers should embrace. We can all learn from each other.

    I don’t feel you should think you’re a coward. A coward would sit by him/herself eating lunch alone, being proverbially shoved into the locker, and not standing up for him/herself. Okay, so you may eat lunch alone, but you are standing up for yourself. By applying for other jobs, you’re saying you won’t tolerate abuse at the expense of your own self-worth or at the expense of your student’s well-being. Unfortunately, we are often too small a cog to bring a whole machine to a grinding halt, and you’re not going to change people like the ones you describe. But by bringing your passion to another place, you’ll inspire more students, with the confidence and experience to make wiser choices along your paths (I have learned that there are some colleagues I just can’t associate with past “Hello, how are you?”, be it for their loose lips, negative attitudes, or jealousy). But like I said at the beginning, you see the big picture: you work for your students.

    Keep doing that and you’ll be just fine. Your new school will be glad to have you. If they’re not, then they clearly don’t realize what they’ve got.

    • June 3, 2011 at 4:26 am

      I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this experience.

      My thoughts: You should know that “your place” is in a school where you are treated as a valuable colleague. Progressive ideas can be so threatening for those who aren’t ready for change. This group isn’t ready yet, but you’ll find one that is and you will give and get the support needed to facilitate growth of the whole school.

      I’m sorry to say that I don’t think your situation is uncommon in any workplace. We would expect schools to be held to a higher standard because we have put so much attention on bullying as a school problem. I have seen it happen in my children’s school. Again, to a teacher with very child-centred, progressive ideas. She is very authentic and unguarded and she pays a price with some of the other teachers. I guess this is why it’s so important to instill empathy in our children. Even the adults teaching the anti-bullying programs can’t identify these longstanding behaviours in themselves.

    • June 4, 2011 at 3:36 am

      I want to address the first few comments I read and the author of the original post. To the author, I completely and totally know the sense of loneliness that is abject to a school community. I’ve started to write my own testimonial (for lack of better word at the moment.) I too dealt with the sudden departure of an advocate principal who acted as a mentor and shield from the brunt of other teachers. An example of the excessive torture I dealt would be the destruction of the amazing Cather in the Rye projects my 9th Grade English Literature classes. To cut the story short, I and several students hung on the wall outside my room about 20 or so of the best projects as a display of their exemplary work, and despite that it took both my prep periods, and that my classroom was a mere 14 steps away from the main offices – administrative, and all, well, I was instructed late in my 8th period class that the projects would need to be down before 3:30 pm because of an unheard regulation of taping and posting things. After my class ended, I took a short journey around the school other floors to see if I could spot examples of the rules that I had broken. Yes, I took the stroll partly for my own vindication; perhaps I had not done things the way others did. I also had a hope that I would at least be able to crack a whip on a teacher or two who had alienated me. After my stroll, I wrote a short 3 paragraph complaint to have in my file because I had to stand up for myself somehow. The entire process took 30 minutes in total. Yet, when I returned to my room at 2:50, I saw stark hallway walls. The projects had been haphazardly ripped off the walls, and piled on my desk with the tape and sticking glue still on them. Thus, the projects were a mass of inseparable constructs. That was one of the many moments when in my classroom, all I could do was find the blind spot between of both doors, and just cry.
      When you state ” I also question myself; is this all in my head? Have I created the awkwardness, the silence, the people passing by my door rather than coming in? Then I realize that it did happen, that the rumors were spread, those hushed conversations, those scoldings really did happen. Perhaps I could have done more but I guess I will never know if it would have changed anything. I know I have not been a perfect team member, I know I have made mistakes, but I have also tried to do my best. I have been open, eager, welcoming, and ready to share. And yet somehow all of this was not enough.” I can’t help but want to reach out and give you the kindest embrace. I don’t know you, but I think it would be nice to sit down and commiserate over the war efforts past and present, and plan for the future. Assuming you have long term goals, that is.
      To Mr. Mitchell, perhaps there is a time when criticism constructive or otherwise just isn’t needed. I’m not sure what type of environment that occurs in your school. I agree with your base assessment of teaching in terms of the professional conduct and the boundaries. However, unlike other professions, this is not merely a ‘punch-in and punch-out, make sure are you wear clothing in line the dress code’ career. This is the shaping of lives; teachers must be able to maintain even the slightest personal relationships with each other because so many of our assessments don’t exist in a vacuum anymore- so much of our pedagogy is interdisciplinary. Meaning, students who can’t write will certainly not fair well in parsing a DBQ in Global Studies. Or the ability of a child to mentally visualize things in Art class will make it hard to consider the craziness and care to “show your work” on a Math Assessment. Or without Math, Music would be in disarray.
      Also, our profession involves such an intimate connection with our work – our students. Those students in themselves can be anything from the best reinforcement of a job well done, to the most painful loss, because despite calling them “my kids” and the time spent with them instructing, tutoring, disciplining, justifying, and molding – well sometimes we may never see them again after the end of June. And by September, we have to be ready to learn a new set of names, and do it all again. So why not seek outside counsel that it’s not all for naught. The numbers at the end of the year do lie – they often don’t reflect what we wanted, what we’ve done, and what this has cost us. The school is not an office made of cubicles or your bank branch. I conjecture perhaps you find another field because you may be the exact reason why so many teachers have had to spend time dispelling the mistrust of students who feel that their teachers don’t care.
      The only way I can conclude this is by saying keep on. I used to grade papers and blast Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and R. Kelly’s “The Worlds Greatest.” I suppose at the end of the day ultimately we can only be responsible for our actions, but that does not mean that our lives exist in a vacuum. (Please insert the whole “No man is an island” thing here.) Please continue to reach out to the entire population of the school of the school, even the people you don’t see such as Substitutes, Paras, Student Teachers or Custodial- they too have eyes and are involved in the community. There are still survivors out there like you, who, while weary, still look for the whole Brand New Day.

  5. Ryan
    June 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    “I was told that someone had complained about me since I should be thankful I had a job and not look forward to the weekend so much.”

    Should be a principal that follows through on a complaint like this be a principal?

  6. June 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks for posting this Mr. Wejr. We need a lot more of these ~ not to focus on the negative, but to remind everyone that all things education are not as pretty as they appear sometimes. And yes, many of us can not speak out publicly.

    I wish I could know the identity of this teacher because I have so many similar experiences. Please forward my email along if they are agreeable. I’d like to offer encouragement.

    I wish I could post here anonymously, but I can’t. I can say, however, that Mystery Teacher is far from alone. I wish I could publicly tell the stories I so desperately need to tell, but I can’t, yet. You are far, far from a coward. By speaking out, you are helping the rest of us who struggle with similar circumstances and it is time for some of the rest of us to move on.

    Likewise, I have tried to fight the good fight for much too long. I get it. Most of my students get it. But, the system is archaic. I don’t belong to that “system.” The more success I achieve personally, the worse others taunt, judge and condemn. Last week, my car was vandalized. Literally. Every window painted with vulgarities. They did not hurt me. It was my seven-year-old son who found it. It happened on my property. That is where the line must be drawn. All I ever do is try to do right by my students because I love to teach.

    All this as I am sitting here grading senior final exams. So, if I am that bad of a teacher, then why do the comments from my students on their final exam read like this:

    “Most importantly, I learned about myself in class this year. You are honestly the only teacher I had during my entire high school career who has called me smart. Academics-wise I’m nothing special; I have a low B average and no scholarships coming my way. However, in your class I felt like I was truly learning and grasping the concepts you were teaching me. You’re one of the best teachers I’ve ever had; you taught me how to believe in myself, voice my opinion, and have confidence. For that I thank you truly.”

    This is one of many comments. I know I am a good teacher. A tough one, but a good one. I didn’t need the comments to tell me that. One only need to step foot in my classroom and feel the buzz. But, they don’t come. Instead they stay safely away and judge. More of us need to speak out against this type of behavior. More of us need to be part of the change that is transforming education. I’m just not sure yet how to do that from a small rural school. But, I’ve got to find a way or it will suck the life out of me. It already is.

  7. Theresa Armstrong
    June 3, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    A sad story that should make us stop in our tracks and wonder who in the world have we hired to work in our schools.How much does it matter that we have the brightest and best teachers and administrators working for our kids, if there are a few who can turn the whole batch sour by their disrespectfulness to their colleaques? Having been in a school where this behavior is tolerated, and teachers are afraid to “tell” for hear of that person turning on them. I would like to add that all teachers are not mentally healthy people, it might happen that when one of them is tolerated and the behavior is allowed to continue, the entire system becomes sick as well. If you know you are a great teacher, run — don’t walk — to find yourself a great school to work in where you will be valued and appreciated for your talents and skills!

  8. Ryan Mitchell
    June 4, 2011 at 2:08 am

    One of the biggest problems we have as a profession is the lack of professionalism. I’m sorry, but, being a teacher does not entitle one to indulge every flight of whimsy and personal expression. Teaching is a still a job with rules, boundaries, and structure. Some of the behavior in this article would not be acceptable in any business environment and it should not be acceptable in a school. We are role models for our students and that means modeling professional adult behavior. Can you imagine an office worker inviting their suoervisor into their cubicle every day to “see what great things I am doing”? It’s what you are paid to do, do it. Why is there such a great need for validation and external approval on the part of teachers especially new ones? I honestly believe that is what you were feeling from those “evil veterans” you refer to in your story. You seem overly obsessed with yourself as opposed to your peforming the duties for which you were hired. Just my humble opinion.

    • The Mystery Teacher
      June 4, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      Thank you to all who have read this post, shared it, and responded to it. I was not looking for pity, or for vindication, but I knew that i was not the only one this could have happened to. That there must be others whether new or veteran that could have experienced something similar, unfortunately. This post was not easy to write and the time period used in it are not accurate to protect my identity. But it happened, and it happens all across the world, in schools. We are there to teach children how to act, how to responsible role models, and yet we fall victim to the same things we advise our students against. It is one more reason why some leave teaching behind. While is indeed just one side of the story, I know there are others at my school that have experienced similar things from the same teacher and from the principal.

      To Ryan in particular, I appreciate your perspective, however, I am not referring to “evil veteran teachers” but rather teachers that happened to be veterans. There are many veteran teachers that are unconventional, that speak up for others, and they do not bully. There are many new teachers that bully because they think it is what they need to do to fit in somehow. And yes, we must fit within the structures of our schools, as dictated by our districts and by our our vision, mine fit into that and had the blessing of others. Others in fact were doing the same things as I was, but not being labeled “out there” or “unconventional.” We cannot use the excuse of having to fit the mold to not be bullied. We cannot tell others that it is their own fault because they rocked the boat. Think of how many people have rocked the boat and made something better?

      So thank you all, i hope this sparks conversations, that is all I intended. I was not looking for pity, or empathy, but rather to point out the large white elephant in the room. I hope I have done that.

    • Maureen Devlin
      June 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

      Schools have undergone significant change in the past twenty years. Revisiting definitions for roles, professionalism, school structure, protocols and communication systems will help all educators to achieve success.

      • Recent ex-teacher
        August 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm

        Empty words. They sound like the first day of teacher institute. What we need is principals who can ask “How can I help?” rather than valuing only the results of their own top-down initiatives. So glad I’ll never teach again.

  9. No More Teaching
    June 4, 2011 at 3:02 am

    So many frightening similarities here with what I myself experienced. I wondered why the other teachers hated me so much and were so mean to me, but I know it’s because I was successful at what I did and the kids and parents liked me more. I, too, was bullied, but in a very underhand, passive aggressive way…although one teacher had her rich and very nasty brother (a parent) complain about me being “too liberal.” They got me fired, for no reason at all. I never want to teach again, even though I know that I am a great teacher. It’s so sad that this has happened to other teachers, too!

    • The Anonymous Secretary
      January 17, 2012 at 2:38 am

      I am not surprised as I am a head secretary for one of the school boards, I cannot express the disdain I feel when I see teachers. They act like the students in the school. They have their cliques they are such needy individuals who make others feel as if they are less of a human. You would think educators acted better but this is not the case they judge and the the comments they make about students makes me cringe. I keep away for the staff room, so not to hear their comments on parents or students. I do not engage in any conversation and I must say there is only one teacher in my twenty years experience in the school system that I like or can honestly say is a decent human being.

  10. June 4, 2011 at 4:12 am

    This is a common problem in every system…and gifted, creative and talented people of all ages are most at risk of this type of scapegoating. In part (as thia teacher concluded) we foster this reaction because of our values: honesty, self challenge, desire to contribute, excellence, reaching for perfection, innovation, creativity, collaboration, ethics, good intention, common interest ahead of self interest. All sound like good values, right? And that’s why principals, bosses, teachers, leaders turn the gifted into favorites, only to evoke the worst kind of I’ve experienced it and I explain it….but the truth is we can’t stop it. We can’t make choices that minimize the damage. We can dim the light we shine in the world, or we can be selective about who we invite to see the full spectrum of it. Each must choose the solution that fits their life purpose. But select one, or the isolation can rip a hole in your soul.

  11. Redteapot
    June 4, 2011 at 6:57 am

    As a parent and staff member who sees this occur at different campuses every year, I’m tired of it! Is this the behavior that should be modeled for students? This is reinforced when the “popular” teachers get to choose the “popular” students for leadership, special projects, etc. It is very disheartening to see this occur year after year. Enough! As I frequently say to my colleagues, “just because we work at a middle school does NOT mean we ought to behave like middle schoolers!”

  12. June 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Devastating and real. Two challenging thoughts:
    1. We must remember there are always multiple perspectives with any story, and we’ve heard one.
    2. It matters not how many perspectives we hear, as all of them are true to that person.
    We struggle and heal, young and old alike, as we’re all imperfect.
    Thanks so much for sharing this.

  13. AmeliaJ
    June 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I picked up on this as a lowly student teacher in college. It didn’t take long for my rosey images of what it would be like to be a teacher to come to a screeching halt. Sitting in the teacher’s lounge, I listened to all the gossip and began to realize there were actual cliques. I was floored to discover these “adults” were no different than the kids I’d recently graduated high school with. Professionalism? Ha! There was a new 5th grade teacher, fresh out of college. He was unconventional. I never saw him in the teacher’s lounge but I heard about him constantly. The other teachers hated him. The kids loved him. It only got worse a couple of years later when I was working as a substitute teacher. It was too much. And don’t think the gossip stopped with adults as the target. I was amazed to discover these teachers would gossip about their students and their parents. It was disgusting. After witnessing a disturbing incident between two children and being frustrated with the lack of response from the teacher I was working with, I went up the chain. But I was reprimanded for not knowing my place. I wasn’t just a lowly substitute, I was the substitute for the Special Ed aide. Sounds crazy but there is a hierarchy and I was the lowest of the low. I wasn’t part of the team, though I was there nearly every day filling in for someone. But it wasn’t about me. It was about the kids. No one seemed to care about that though. Anyone who thinks the system is about the kids is as naive as I was when I excitedly walked into my first classroom as a student teacher. Politics & reputation come well before the students. After being treated poorly and seeing how the staff treated one another, I quit. I left teaching completely. I never fulfilled my dream of having my own classroom. I also vowed never to put my own children into that environment and I haven’t. They are not part of the public school system and this article succinctly sums up the reason why.

  14. Debbie Mah
    June 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Wow! Thanks for your courage! Also…great responses that certainly have raised my level of consciousness and responsibility as a ‘leader/administrator/parent/community member’ or certainly have brought these unfortunate ‘habits’ more into the forefront of my brain & heart!

    Immediate responses within myself:
    - the importance of culture & relationships; professional learning communities / networks; shared leadership ~ empowerment; focussed on the child
    - our children grow up to be adults … the adults we now work with….were children. How were these ‘behaviours’ created? Where?
    - I sense that this unfortunately exists everywhere – not just within this ‘profession’
    - education/society reform to focus on what really matters ~ what is really needed ~ 21C skills
    - ramping up this dialogue ~ with everyone! We are all responsible for raising children who are best FOR the world vs. best IN the world.
    - this adds to our concern as to the stats that exist for our new teachers leaving ‘the system’; we need to look more deeply ‘within’ our system

    Together, we can make a difference …

  15. June 6, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Thank you to all that have added their personal stories to the conversation. I wonder how much of this is embedded in some of the cultural norms of a school – a few that come to mind (from my own experience as a new teacher, then an experienced teacher): the new teacher often gets a high number of different classes, the new teacher often gets what is “left over” after the more senior teachers get to choose their classes, seniority rules, a culture of ownership around grades and classes (ie. I am the grade 2 teacher in room 18 or I am the senior Biology teacher), the idea that new teachers/admin must “put in their time” before they can make changes or have a voice. I went through all of this and continue to see this in schools. I always wanted to teacher Biology 11 or 12 but never was offered the chance, I was always bounced around classrooms/work areas, I was laid off year after year as a starting teacher (and each year, I told myself I was “just lucky to have a job”).

    Yes, this Mystery Teacher is one story… but far too many of us have gone through something similar. I was wondering if this was a “sign of the times” as we are going through some significant changes in education… then my mom, a retired teacher, told me of her experience as a new teacher in the 70′s and it sounded very similar to the stories above.

    I have to respond on Ryan M’s comment: as a principal, one of the things that I ALWAYS say is PLEASE INVITE ME TO YOUR CLASS!!! Do you know how nice it is to be asked to come into a class for a POSITIVE reason rather than to help with student discipline? I think we far too often keep our doors shut and do not open them for others to see the wonderful things taking place. I do not go there to validate the teacher – it is not FOR the teacher.. it is FOR the students! I want to share all the great things that are taking place in our newsletters, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook posts (as well as challenge others to grow in certain areas). We are learners and need to have a growth mindset – this means praise as well as constructive feedback. This should be done by/with other teachers too. Also, my wife runs her own successful business and she makes sure to stop by their work areas to see the great things happening – that is what good leaders do. Also, I question: what ARE the duties in which we have been hired? Are we just satisfied if you complete a checklist of duties? Step into any two classrooms and you will see that no two are alike… and if they were alike? They are following the standardized curricula, the standardized rules and policies, and boring the heck out of their students. We are NOT a business and we should not be RUN like a business (ie. Bill Gates style) so please stop using the analogy – especially with the word “cubicles” because that is the opposite of what our classrooms should be.

    My 2 cents….

  16. Sheila Stewart
    June 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    This post and the comments/stories have left me a-pondering! As some of you mentioned, there may not be many workplaces without similar issues. Thinking on the things within the system and beyond that may magnify and perpetuate such patterns though. It is very unfortunate that this may be part of the context where kids learn, if not “become” as well. Now to think on what changes would reduce such patterns of behaviour and increase a team approach to supporting a school’s goal, while still supporting individual staff members. As Debbie referred to….it may take a deep look within….

  17. Anonymous
    June 9, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    To insert a new twist into this conversation, I would invite you to sit back and observe twitter for a day or so. You will see bullying happening there without any members of the educational community stepping up to tell those who are bullying to stop it. Nor, do you see those being bullied stepping up and saying, I will not allow you to do that to me.

    Many of the bullies are supposedly the leaders within the edtech community.

    Yet, they are allowed to persecute those who do not share their same beliefs. And all the bullying centers around ridiculous topics such as Interactive White Boards, font options, and cell-phone policies (to name a few situations).

    You will also notice a club on twitter where several members of the ed-tech community use special phrases, have inside jokes, and make sure that others know they are the cliche yet they also remain the group that screams there is no cliche on twitter.

    I might be sensitive to this because I became bullied by such members on twitter. Teased about my name, criticized about self-promotion, and I recently have been informed that I have been removed from several presentation opportunities because one member of the ed-tech community told the committee if they wanted him to present, I could not be invited.

    And I know that I am not alone in being a target for the bullies on twitter. But it continues to be allowed.

    Just watch twitter for a while, and you will see the Educational Network is allowing bullying and often, also condoning it and labeling those who call them on it as being extremely sensitive.

    • June 10, 2011 at 10:50 am

      Wow, I am so sad to hear the statements about Twitter, perhaps I have been blissfully unaware of this happening. There certainly are inside jokes and strong opinions but I am not sure I have witnessed bullying, by no means though does that mean it is not happening. So I think this brings up another big question, why the need for bullying? Why is it we tend to label and categorize people only to elevate ourselves? Why the constant judgment. This teacher is obviously not alone in being bullied and how sad is that.

  18. Any Teacher
    May 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Mystery teacher could be me – but it isn’t. My story is somewhat similar. Two colleagues who have been close friends for years teach at my grade level, and unfortunately one is the union president and the other the union vice-president of our local. They know how to wield their power, and get away with it. They have bullied me unceasingly for 3 years now. Finally, after I can no longer ignore the health problems that the stress has created (cracked teeth from clenching during my sleep, gastrointestinal difficulties), I have had to transfer to another building. I am desperately awaiting word for an interview from another district – but I doubt it will come. They have attempted to destroy my professional reputation, and the positive track record I have both in my classroom and my district. My students have suffered as well. There is no law against bullying, and I am not a member of a protected class – so they have gotten away with it. I am not the first, nor will I be the last. How sad that the people we most trust to care for the next generation are the ones that we shouldn’t.

  19. Leigh
    August 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    I’m sorry to hear your story! It’s heartbreaking, but I can relate. I was bullied by a several principals in my school system. I cried everyday for years and hated my job. Three years ago I moved states, hoping for a new teaching life. However, this year it has started again. Nepotism, favoritism, rumors, spying, back stabbing, etc. i’ve decided it’s education in general. It’s all about politics. If there was something else to do with my education degree I would do it.

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