Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sound of Silence: Bullied Teachers

I've been accused of purposely making other teachers look bad, not being a team player, having too high of expectations for kids, being a bad teacher, being incompetent, and not being friendly. I've also been accused of being the most negative person on the planet, a trouble-maker, and a poor excuse for a teacher. This is the short list.

I will be the first to admit that I haven't always followed along with the crowd. Even as a first-year teacher nearly 30 years ago, I was the teacher that didn't teach page by page out of the textbook and workbook every day. I was the teacher that arranged the desks into tables versus straight rows. I was the teacher that created a comfortable reading center, used games and simulations for learning, decorated my classroom according to various themes, and played with kids during recess. My classroom was different than the traditional classroom. I was different.

Because I marched to a different drummer, I was the target of a teacher bully and her clique of other teachers who were powerful within the school community. The stares, gossip, public shaming, false accusations, isolation, and mistreatment was unbearable at times. The more effort I put into providing opportunities for our students, the more intensified the bullying became. Teachers even stooped low enough to humiliate and mistreat my students. And that was when they crossed the line.

By nature, I'm a pretty quiet person. Being the target of a powerful school bully was not easy. I tried to remain positive. I attempted to ignore as much as I could. But, when it came to bullying students to get to me, I broke my silence. What I found out was that the majority of the teachers were behind me, supported me, agreed with me, but were too afraid to speak up. They knew of the bullying, probably had been bullied as well through intimidation, but chose not to say anything. I don't blame them. It's a common phenomenon. Even I didn't speak up for a long time because of being afraid of more retribution.

In the book, Crucial Accountability by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler, they talk about their research into our human nature to stay silent.

"Speaking of workplace reticence, 93 percent of the people we polled work day in and day out with a person they find hard to work with, but no one holds the person accountable because other employees believe that it's too dangerous."

Unfortunately, I don't think I'm alone in my experience. In fact, I know of another situation close to me where a teacher was bullied by an administrator. The stress was a factor in her having a stroke. I was not silent, and I did pay a price. That's another story. However, I'm glad that I broke my silence.  It took a lot of courage, and it wasn't easy.

The purpose for me writing this post is two-fold. First, to be a voice for those suffering in silence. Administrators are often not aware or in denial about bullying happening on their campus.  The bully isn't easily identifiable in many cases. Bullies and those that form the posse are often masters of PR and deception. Don't be fooled. They cause a toxic undercurrent in the school culture.

And secondly, as colleagues and co-workers, we know who are the bullies in the school. Staying silent is not an option. We can no longer turn the other way, pretend not to see and hear, and ignore this behavior. We need to have courageous conversations and stop this practice in our schools. I'm speaking to myself. I wish I had a rewind button and could go back in time. I wish that I had had more courage to speak out. Bullying hurts...everyone.


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