Saturday / June 22

When Teachers Bully Teachers

Adult bullying

This post was originally published on Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.

Three years ago, I wrote an anonymous post and asked a friend to post it for me.  The story was burning up inside of me, but at the time I was too scared to publish it because I was in the middle of the situation, and terrified that it would only get worse. Yet I knew that there had to be others out there like me, who were going through the same situation, and who felt so alone just like I did.  Today I choose to reclaim my past as I leave my old district/school and venture forward. It is time to take back the power that this situation had over me. It is time to move on and away from the past. It is time to tell the story of what can happen when teachers bully teachers.

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 twosome 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 hands, and I was the puppy always trailing behind, hoping they would throw me a bone. It wasn’t that they excluded me; I just don’t think I knew how to fit. 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 going to be a poor excuse to fail my kids. So I forged on, challenging myself, and hoping that one day my team would find space for me. That year I was by myself through difficult parental 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. That said, I didn’t realize how I was viewed until 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 that I shouldn’t 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. I felt so alone.

I heard the rumors about why I was hired (because of my looks). I also 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, and tried to discourage the principal from coming into my room. It didn’t help. He stopped coming, but the rumors continued. I couldn’t get over the whispers as I walked by in the hallway, let alone the icy stares, and the unreturned hellos. The social isolation that I suffered 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, because 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. I was told it was not in my best interest to know and that I should be happy there weren’t 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. I was told to keep my mouth shut, know my place, and try to get people to like me. I started to contemplate moving but decided that I wanted to stay to try to make a difference, and to change the attitude, rather than to let them run me out.

I knew this year 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, though 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. As a result, 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, and days I should have treaded more lightly. Yet there have 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, or did not want their minds changed. I also question myself…is this all in my head? Have I created the awkwardness, the silence, and the people coldly passing by my door? Then I realize that it did happen, that the rumors were spread, and that those hushed conversations and admonishments 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 it was not enough.

So what has this year been like? It’s been 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 I shouldn’t dare 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 a 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. In actuality, my principal was supportive in secret, as was my special-ed teacher, ELL teacher, and a few friends, but that is really it. Some teachers have not cared, or just outright told me how they felt. 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 a secret meeting was called to discuss how the principal cannot be trusted, and that the powerful teacher was a “victim” at our school, I thought enough was enough. I don’t want to be the scapegoat anymore. I don’t want to be in a place where success is not celebrated, or 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, and where people feel they have a free pass to tell me about my teaching style or me (without being informed). 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. 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 off my back. And then I felt tears because of all these years of being hated, of not knowing who to trust, or who to confide in. It will be a long time before I try to have a close relationship with my principal; and in fear of being labeled, I will have a hard time trusting my teammates. It was just too often that accusations came from the team I was supposed to have, and when things got out of hand, I wasn’t protected by my leader.

Postscript– I didn’t leave. I never got any of the transfers, but instead received a phone call late one night. It was the ring leader calling to apologize. I still remember her words telling me that she knew she had done me wrong, that she had been a bully, that she had even prayed about it, and that she was ultimately sorry. In fact, she was so sorry that she had decided to leave the school (not just because of me). She asked me if I could forgive her and, although I should have said yes, I told her I didn’t know. The damage she had done to me was so raw that I couldn’t think of forgiveness at that moment, and I still don’t know if I could. So I stayed and I became a 5th grade teacher and found a team, one that might have thought I was a bit crazy, but still supported me. The team taught me that we can all get along, and that there is room for all sorts of teaching, in addition to the natural differences between us. I stayed three more years until my heart called for a new challenge and a new district, which is where I stand today, poised at the edge of a new adventure, hoping that this never happens to another teacher.

Written by

Pernille Ripp is a teacher, speaker, author, blogger, and passionate advocate for education. She is a Skype Master Teacher; Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert; recipient of the 2015 WEMTA Making IT Happen Award; and the 2015 ISTE Award for Innovation in Global Collaboration. In 2010, Pernille founded The Global Read Aloud, a global literacy initiative that began with a simple goal in mind: one book to connect the world. From its humble beginnings, the GRA has grown to connect more than 1,000,000 students in 60 different countries.

She is the author of Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students, now in its second edition, and Empowered Schools, Empowered Students: Creating Connected and Invested Learners, both focusing on creating learning spaces and communities where students thrive and all stakeholders are empowered and passionate about learning.

Her work has also been featured by many print and online journals including Edutopia, School Library Journal, The Guardian, and MiddleWeb. You can follow Pernille’s work on Blogging Through The Fourth Dimension, her personal blog and a frequent Teach100 top rated education blog. Pernille’s current research interest is in creating passionate literacy environments within the restriction of our current educational systems to helping students fall in love with literacy again. She uses her own classroom as a laboratory, as well as the many educators she works with across the country.

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