An Unfriendly School (A Personal Story)

More and more, workplace bullying stories are starting to show up on the web and people are talking more about the harassment they suffer through in the workplace. What sometimes surprises me is the amount of workplace bullying stories that seem to happen at schools by other staff at schools to each other. Margie sent me her story below, which ends with a call for help. I am still surprised by these stories, but it’s not the first one I have heard…and I guess I don’t expect it to be the last. ~Alan Eisenberg

Some people seem to be able to deal with bullies, while others, I’m guessing with less support of low self-esteem, are destroyed by bullying.

We moved to a beautiful neighborhood when I was four years old. This was the first time I was called, “Dirty Jew”, I went home and asked my mother what was wrong with me. Though she tried to explain to me that nothing was wrong with me, the bullying continued until I finally left home for college at 17. I was left out of neighborhood parties, clubs, called names, beat up and generally harassed at every possibly opportunity adults weren’t around. My parents tried to explain to the other children’s’ parents about it, but their comment was, “Let the kids fight their own battles”.

I don’t think I grew into the person I was meant to be. I grew to be shy, have low self-esteem and afraid of many things. I probably developed clinical depression at some point, but it went unrecognized as it was in the 1960’s. Even adults, specifically high school teachers, showed discrimination against both my brother and me.

In 1996 my family suffered through natural disaster and lost our home to a landslide. I’m ever so grateful that my parents were spared and made me believe in God, but even though we had insurance, it was deemed an Act of God and replaced very little. My parents rented for 11 yrs until they were able to come up with a down-payment for a home, and now have a 30 year mortgage.

Unfortunately, this event wreaked havoc in my life, the anger at myself for not being able to provide for them, the frustration with the insurance company and the total feeling of helplessness. I developed PTSD manifesting in chronic depression and anxiety. As soon as I realized something was wrong with me as I was having violent thoughts, nearly put into actions, I went to my general practitioner. He listened as I spilled my story and my deepest feelings, then he told me I was just fat and told me to lose 20 lbs.

It took several more years to get the help I needed, but it just barely took the edge off. I took 2 anti-depression meds, anti-anxietiy meds 3x/day along with sleeping pills nightly. I still had to fight the feeling of “getting even”.

Two years ago, after teaching over 30 years in one wonderful school, I was transferred to a very small school in a quaint little community. Even as I was bringing in my personal and professional items, some staff members began to complain about me. Complaints continued for the first few months, though I knew nothing about it. While my students were in their Art class, the principal came in and shared these complaints with me and refused to let me meet with the complainants or tell me who they were. I’d never experienced anyone who behaved like this- teachers at my previous school had too much to do than do go behind someone’s back and make complaints.

This continued throughout the entire school year. I was frequently called into the principal’s office and told of yet another complaint. One day she told me I should be on notice as she had a “stack” of complaints against me. At the time I wondered why parents wouldn’t just come to see me, and that’s when she told me that no parents had ever complained- it was my coworkers.

I lived on the verge of a breakdown. Each morning I had the dry heaves, I took 2 anti-anxiety meds just to get into my car and another one at noon. If I didn’t I’d have the “shakes”. Within a few minutes of leaving the school on my way home, I’d break out into tears.

I couldn’t do anything right.

Some of the complaints were such offenses as:

  • I rang the bus bell 1 min. early.
  • I didn’t dress professionally enough because I wore sneakers and my mother dressed better than I did.
  • I drank soda, and the principal informed the custodian not to pick up any at the store for me (though I always treated her to one).
  • I brought my students to Music class 8 min. early.

And I was literally screamed at by another teacher (twice) because I didn’t walk with my students in the Costume Parade. This was also in front of parents and the rest of the teaching staff.

While meeting with the principal once again, she told me that she didn’t like me.

I got to the point where I couldn’t make my brain form words and needed to take a leave of absence. I had 150 sick days! The day I left the principal told me that I couldn’t return unless I had a doctor’s note claiming that I was fine to return to work, and I couldn’t stay out of work unless I had a doctor’s note stating that too. Luckily, this wasn’t the first my doctor had listened to my saga and wrote that I would be out until further notice.

The day after I left, this principal asked 3 employees to do a little “clean up” in my classroom. Having some disabilities, it was difficult for me to focus and deal with clutter. Since I had the tiniest room in the school with the largest amount of students, it was a tremendous problem for me. I was curious to see what they had done, so my parents and I went in one evening soon after I received her email. The room was completed wiped out! Everything I owned was packed up and put away, in cupboards and all over the school. Some new books I’d purchased for my students were the only things left out. We put everything that fit into my car and I brought it all home. It took over 6 hrs.

The next school day the principal called me and told me not to “bother” to come back and she’s changed the locks on me.
She now wants to meet with my union and me to arrange for my return.

I’d rather shoot myself in the foot.

I’m trying every legal means possible to return to teaching in the fall, but not to her school or with the staff member who constantly screamed at me. I’m hoping the Americans with Disabilities will recognize their behavior as the harassment of a disabled person and warn them to cease and desist.

Do you have any ideas that can help with that goal? I’m only 2 years from retirement, but I really loved my job and love the kids. I still want to teach and miss the kids and their parents.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


4 thoughts on “An Unfriendly School (A Personal Story)

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  2. Margie, having been a labor reporter at one time, and also having seen a few cases where disabled or older staff–especially but not only if longtime staff and/or a couple of years from retirement–were harassed by petty strictures and collected “complaints” until they left or became unable to work, I think what’s being done to you in this school, and possibly by the transference out of your longtime school in the first place, is very likely not just a bunch of bullying behavior but primarily the action of a school system/administration trying to get you out without having to shell out retirement pay. I urge you to contact a labor attorney—one specializing in aiding employees, not employers. I know sometimes with school systems and their unions, certain procedures have also to be followed—but if possible don’t go into ANY hearing or conference about yourself there without bringing an attorney or, at least, a worker-based advocate. I don’t know how helpful your union rep may be; plenty of them, and some union locals, unfortunately and sadly are nearly as ageist as many schools and other employers. In any case, I think the bullying involved here is the BigBoys Bullying of institutions with power. (I’d suggest not bringing up your past personal history in dealing with those guys; their type of institutional bullying thrives on misusing any sign in one history that they can cast as a “weakness.”) (You don’t have to use violent aggression against them. Use a good attorney or a good union or a good argument based on labor law. They are obviously engaging in a standard form of discrimination that, like the kids who bullied you for being Jewish, is based in ridiculous prejudices but has real effects on people.) Stay with the school history and your long good record at the other school, in fighting back—–and do fight back! If the first lawyer you find won’t help, there are others. Labor cases are hard to win, but there a few competent, committed lawyers who’ll take them on. And even the fighting back (again, not by illegal means, though obviously you wouldn’t do that anyhow)–fighting back can help whether or not you win the case.

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