April 30th, 2013
Let’s Talk with Kalola: My coworker, a teacher, is a bully
I am a teacher with 29 years experience. I have only taught in two schools in my entire career. I am being bullied by a co-worker. I am her 5th victim. She taught 4th grade and spent years bullying a teacher until she nearly miscarried and eventually quit due to health issues. This bully was allowed to get away with it for several years.
She bullied students as well. One fellow teacher stood with the victim and filed a grievance with the school system. Nothing was done. This seemed to spark a fire in the bully and she intensified her attacks. This time she attacked about 4 students humiliating them in front of the entire grade. (4 classes). Several of the students had been repeatedly bullied by the teacher and they also filed grievances. One child was also the child of the brave teacher who stood as support for the other.
The system fearing a lawsuit by the parents, agreed to move the teacher out of the 4th grade. Unfortunately she was placed in Pre-K with me. The bullying was immediate. I first thought it was something I did, but as I tried to comply the bullying became more intense. This has gone on for over 4 years. I as well as another have filed complaints after complaints. She bullies students still. However, they are too young to go home and tell.
Over half the school has been “harassed” or “threatened” by her at least once. Over 3/4ths of the staff have seen her do these things. However, she continues to get away with it. Two teachers have left because of her bullying.
I have been verbally assaulted alone, and in front of my students as well as in front of others. She has socially isolated me from others in Pre-K. Whenever, they attempt to include me, they get her rage directed at them. They have apologized but are fearful. She has slandered my name and have tried repeatedly to discredit me. However, I have a good deal of people who have known me for years and could never be persuaded to believe what she says. However, the constant bullying and the fact that things can go good for days only to be hit unexpectedly by an action, comment or incident has made my life miserable. Every time I go to report it, it is swept under the rug. Excuses are made and she wins. The last incident where I was verbally assaulted in front of my students, was met with comments from my Principal as to what I might have done to provoke it.
I do a lot for the school. I manage the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Team. I plan programs and activities to promote positive behavior. I have a good relationship with the staff and with parents in the community. I volunteer to help with groups and organizations. She being a former 4th grade teacher helps with testing and does the school year book for our school as well as our partner school. He says he can not afford to lose either one of us.
I have one more year until I can retire. I would like to teach for a few more years but do not think I can handle it. It does not even matter that she bullies small children. My principal said, “Is it really bullying?” She also talks very explicit in regards to sexual things in front of the students. Several have tried to report it but nothing is ever done. Is it hopeless? Am I doomed to endure another year and can I physically make it. My health has been compromised due to stress. The pattern of bullying over the past 8 years seem to be ignored.
I recently contacted a lawyer. He said that serial bullying is unwinnable in court. My only hope is that a parent will come forward to file a claim. But if I tell a parent of the abuse that we see, I am liable for termination. Our counselor has been victim and has seen the abuse but has been told that it is nitpicking he said she said stuff and told to ignore our cries by the principal. I am scared for the first time in my life to be at work, not from irate parents but from a co-worker.
Dear Long-Time Teacher,
As you have learned from contacting an attorney, workplace bullying is not against the law in your state or in any state in the U.S. as of this writing.
The school bullying law in your state is about school bullying among students, that is, by other students or groups of students, and does not include adults. See RS 17:416.13, http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=81029
Excerpt of Definition of Bullying (in schools) from Louisiana’s RS 17:416.13:
Bullying” (in schools) means:
(1) A pattern of any one or more of the following:
(a) Gestures, including but not limited to obscene gestures and making faces.
(b) Written, electronic, or verbal communications, including but not limited to calling names, threatening harm, taunting, malicious teasing, or spreading untrue rumors. Electronic communication includes but is not limited to a communication or image transmitted by e-mail, instant message, or text message, blog, or social networking website through the use of a telephone, mobile phone, pager, computer, or other electronic device.
(c) Physical acts, including but not limited to hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping, choking, damaging personal property, or unauthorized use of personal property.
(d) Repeatedly and purposefully shunning or excluding from activities.
(2) (a) Where the pattern of behavior as provided in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection is exhibited toward a student, more than once, by another student or group of students and occurs, or is received by, a student while on school property, at a school-sponsored or school-related function of activity, in any school bus or van, at any designated school bus stop, in any other school or private vehicle used to transport students to and from schools, or any school-sponsored activity or event.
(b) The pattern of behavior as provided in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection must have the effect of physically harming a student, placing the student in reasonable fear of physical harm, damaging a student’s property, placing the student in reasonable fear of damage to the student’s property, or must be sufficiently severe, persistent, and pervasive enough to either create an intimidating or threatening educational environment, have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s performance in school, or have the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school.
You and your co-worker are tenured teachers. It is very difficult to dismiss a tenured teacher. After three years of probationary status and a series of evaluations, a teacher in your state became tenured prior to Governor Jindal’s education reform laws of 2012. However, in March 2013, a Louisiana District Court Judge threw out Governor Jindal’s controversial teacher-tenure laws as unconstitutional. “The ruling that threw out last year’s law that limits tenure didn’t say the change itself is unconstitutional, it just said the way lawmakers did it was improper.” The State of Louisiana plans to contest the lower court’s decision in the Louisiana Supreme Court. As part of the Governor’s education reform, he wanted to change the way a teacher is tenured. A new teacher would have a six-year probationary period with five evaluations during that six-year period. A previously-tenured teacher could lose their tenure status after one ineffective rating. Several teacher groups in your state are protesting re-introducing the education reforms that were passed last year (2012) and, recently, declared unconstitutional.
The State Supreme Court will decide if the 2012 law is unconstitutional. What is in question—State of Louisiana, Board of Education, Educator Effectiveness (Act 1): “In 2012, three acts were passed into law as part of a statewide initiative toward major education reform. Act 1, also referred to as the Talent Statute, allows districts and schools to make personnel policies and personnel decisions based on teacher effectiveness and performance. The statute calls for teachers to be compensated based on their experience, license area, and effectiveness—and although it allows districts to reward teachers who perform above and beyond expected standards, Act 1 prohibits any current teacher’s salary from being decreased and has no impact on retirement benefits. The law also preserves tenure for current teachers: starting in 2014, only those teachers who earn an “Ineffective” rating would lose their tenure status. Finally, Act 1 designated local superintendents and principals as the final authority in personnel decisions, while at the same time holding them accountable for student performance.”
Act 1 designates that local superintendents and principals are the final authority in making personnel decisions. Your school principal moved the offending teacher to another grade level. In other states, the school board would have the final say concerning personnel decisions. Due to the confidentiality of personnel records, you have no way of knowing whether the offending teacher was written up. I would suspect that the offending teacher was written up, and that is why she was moved to another grade level.
Because you mentioned the following: “My only hope is that a parent will come forward to file a claim. But if I tell a parent of the abuse that we see, I am liable for termination.”— May I remind you that as a school teacher, you have certain reporting requirements mandated by law. Be aware that there could be criminal penalties in your state for failing to report.
If you report that your co-worker has been abusive to children then you must be prepared to show documentation or proof of your allegations or you could be called on the carpet for making false allegations. You will need to detail what you mean by “abusive.” What exactly did she say or do and who did she target? Document date/time, location, parties involved, witnesses, and exactly what happened or what was said in detail. Do not say that she bullied or she abused or she humiliated without including specific details? Please detail so that a person can get a clear picture in their mind when you make the statement. Take note of the effects of psychological abuse that you may have observed in the young children in your charge.
From the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services:“Abuse” means any of the following acts which seriously endanger the physical, mental or emotional health and safety of the child.
- The infliction, attempted infliction, or as a result of inadequate supervision, the allowance of the infliction or attempted infliction of physical or mental injury upon the child by a parent or other person.
- The exploitation or overwork of a child by a parent or any other person.
- The involvement of the child in any sexual act with a parent or any other person, or the aiding or toleration by the parent or any other person the child’s sexual involvement with another person or the child’s involvement in pornographic displays, or any other involvement of a child in sexual activity constituting a crime under the laws of this state.
It is often said that there is strength in numbers. Can you get a group of your fellow teachers together who are willing to come forward and state the issues/problems that you say that so many of you have encountered, witnessed, or experienced with the offending party? If you have good documentation, your group could go to the school board en masse to complain if your school principal fails to respond. The school board could call for an investigation of the matter if they so choose. Does the job description for teacher include being able to work cooperatively with others? Being able to communicate effectively? If it does, weave that into your complaint or allegations. If any laws, codes, rules or regulations, policies or procedures have been violated by the offending worker do list these in your letter of complaint and give examples. However, only list things that you or the group are able to substantiate with documentation. You may want to re-visit this issue with an attorney and seek his/her legal opinion before going forward with actions.
An excellent scholarly article to read can be found in the American Counseling Association’s Journal of Counseling and Development, Volume 86, Issue 1, Winter of 2008: Emotional Abuse in the Classroom: Implications and Interventions for Counselors by Adriana G. McEachern, Oyaziwo Aluede and Maureen C. Kenny. At the end of the article is a list of the authors’ references for further research. This article can be accessed via the publisher’s on-line library.
Article Abstract: “Emotional abuse of students by teachers is a topic infrequently discussed in the child abuse literature. In some classrooms, it can be a daily occurrence. This article defines emotional abuse and discusses the types of classroom behaviors teachers may demonstrate that are emotionally abusive to students. The role of school-based counselors in the prevention and treatment of emotional abuse is discussed.”
An excerpt from the article: “Emotional abuse can severely damage a student’s sense of self worth and self perception, and impair psychological development including intelligence, recognition, perception, attention, imagination, and moral development (Stevens, 1996).”
If your health has suffered as a result of working with your co-worker, please see your doctor and tell your doctor what you are experiencing at work and how it has affected your health. Please ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional who can help you to learn how to cope more effectively with the issues that you are facing. The Workplace Bullying Institute also offers suggestions on how to find a mental health professional, http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/selecting-a-therapist/
Your last sentence states: “I am scared for the first time in my life to be at work, not from irate parents but from a co-worker.” If the co-worker/teacher has made threats to do harm to you or others and if you feel that your life has been threatened, please contact the police and file a police report. Once you have a police report, make a copy to give to your school principal. Please discuss your fears with a mental health professional who can help you deal with the work-related issues that you are experiencing.
You are one year from retirement which is an option that you are considering. Your health and well being are very important. The health-harming effects of working in an abusive work environment can be long lasting. I want you to be able to enjoy your retirement. In retirement, you can still work with children by volunteering on a part-time basis at a school if you so desire.
I recall a group of doctors who came to a meeting of Healthy Workplace Advocates stating that their group was successful in removing a bully. The bully, however, was merely transferred to another department within the same hospital. This was not success.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 at 10:57 am and is filed under Fairness & Social Justice Denied, Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.