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TEACHER ABUSE IS GLOBAL

I have been summarily dismissed from my job as a teacher, and senior manager, at a primary school in Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK. The reason I was dismissed, for alleged "gross misconduct" was because I posted my situations at school to a teaching website - the Times Educational Supplement site. My crime was that my email address, my username and my real name are all similar. I never identified the school or the people in it in any way, shape or form. I used the TES board as a way to vent my frustration, to share stories about kids and to get and give techniques on a variety of topics. I credit contact with the TES with helping me get a severely disruptive child in line, and with helping our school through its ofsted, among other things.

I arrived at my school in April 2001, apparently the next in a long line of teachers that came and went from that school, but I didn't know it at the time. That term, I and the KS1 coordinator shared the deputy headship, as the DH departed as soon as I arrived. I didn't realise how poorly the head teacher treated her staff, and didn't know that there had been somewhere around 10 or so teachers who had left prior to my arrival, since 1999 - when the head took over. This directly led to our school being placed in special measures, in the summer term of 2001. Another teacher and I were the only ones out of the 8 staff there at the time who ended up with good ratings from Ofsted. Most of the previous staff moved to parallel positions, not promotions, btw.

Things seemed fine until September, when a new deputy head was hired. This woman was young, had only been in one school in her teaching time, had about 5 years of teaching experience, and this was her first deputy headship. Right away, she decided that my classroom needed rearranging, so she did it. I was in the school, but she decided I needed to have things arranged differently. I was not amused. I told her so.

The head decided that this DH was to be moulded in her own image, so the DH could do no wrong. In the meantime, slowly but surely, I was frozen out of the SMT at the school. Although I still had the name and money, I was left out of decisions. If asked about anything, anything I said was argued with, even if it was the same as someone else's. I didn't realise this was bullying until later in 2002, when I started keeping a log on the advice of my union. There weren't any really BIG items, just lots of little ones, at that point. At the end of 2001-02 school year, my teaching colleague who had had only success in Ofsted, no failed lessons, had had enough and he left to go to another school - a parallel position.

Starting in September 2002, not only was I marginalized but my pupils were, as well. Imagine a group of 8 year olds noticing that they were never recognised for their achievements, or when they were recognised, there was always a barbed comment added about their work in front of the entire school! That's what happened. They kept asking why they never got to do the fun activities that other classes got to do, and why they never got the HT's award - it always seemed to go to the DH's class, well - mostly. Occasionally, the bullying became "mobbing" as other staff fell into the bloodlust. Mostly, though, it was the DH and HT at this point. The Y5 teacher, who will be mentioned later, put our classes in danger by refusing a direct instruction from me about how to structure the group for an outside walk. And I got it in the neck from the HT because of it.

Certain other events happened in 2002-03 school year, which almost made me resign time and again. We got out of special measures, under the same HT, and again my department was rated as good improvement since the last inspection. I was on the verge of resigning, however, when the HT announced her intention to "retire." This had been her first, and last, headship. Thank heavens! She's now an ofsted inspector. Shows that those who can't, inspect.

Before she left, she and her shadow - another teacher, who was also the teacher-governor, circulated a memo to staff basically calling all of us rubbish except her DH and the other teacher on the DH's team - the Year 5 teacher. Of those bullying, it was only the DH, the Y5 teacher and the "shadow" - the Y1 teacher, who enthusiastically participated. I had begun having some physical symptoms of stress - hot flushes (I'm too young!), migraines - never had them before either, backaches, stomach aches.

I continued to keep a log of incidents throughout all of this, and resorted to writing letters, including a formal complaint to governors about the last act of this head teacher, which I copied to the incoming head teacher. As she was leaving, the Vice-Chair suggested we let this drop as it could create quite a bit of trouble for everyone. I agreed. He promised things would be sorted out.

On his entry, the new HT had interviews with each of us. I was last in line (mainly because my classroom was also the last in the line!). I unloaded everything. I cried in his presence on unloading. I told him I likely would have a bit of PTSD happening and that I wasn't sure how things would go, but that he had my full support, which I gave him throughout.

Early in January, the staff had a teacher governor election, which I ran for. I didn't know, nor was I told, who else was running. Had I known, I would have withdrawn my name. However, not being told until the last minute, I expected that I would be voted for because I did speak up for things. I was not. Not only that, the secretary to the governors made sure EVERYONE knew that I was the only one who voted for me. It was utterly embarrassing. I refused to use the staffroom with those jackals anymore.

Things were quiet all through February, then in March the staff bullying started up again. It was a case of the Y5 teacher and the DH teaming up again to push what looks to me now to be the Y5 teacher's agenda, whatever it was. She was one who had extremely low self-esteem. A classic bully. She demeaned and undermined me at every turn, with the DH's tacit approval. The head didn't seem to do much about it. My results were high, hers weren't. She refused to follow policy on behaviour and health and safety, and her classes, whom I had taught in the previous years, became thugs and bullies themselves.

Things continued to move on what I would call an "even keel" of undermining and demeaning behaviour. However, it was mild compared with the way things had been before. So I decided I would go for my permanent residency in England (I'm an American), in order to be able to move to another school without having to deal with work permits. I got it in August 2004. By December, I'd given up and decided to go back to the US. This was because the staff found a photo of the old HT, and despite knowing how awful things had been for me, they put it on the wall - in itself not the trouble - but they refused to take it down when I asked. If that's how they treat people in this country, I didn't want to be in this country anymore. I know that I only have one school staff's behaviour to judge this on, but it was still quite traumatic.

The DH went on maternity leave in October, but not before trying to undermine me at every turn, especially with the child whom I'd spent a lot of time teaching how to behave. Fortunately, he saw her for what she was doing and didn't take it out on me. He was a savvy little kid, I must say. The bullying, however, didn't ease. This is what clued me in as to who really was the bully in the school - not necessarily the DH, but the Y5 teacher.

We had our real Ofsted in January, the follow-up one to the last HMI. Prior to this, I was told by the head teacher that I had to write and teach a scheme of work for Geography in the two weeks prior to the inspection. That would have entailed such a workload situation that I nearly committed suicide that night. I contacted my union as well as our link inspector, who told me not to do this SoW. The stress of that prospect kept me up all night, yet I still went to work the next day.

We passed the inspection well, although some areas were considered unsatisfactory. Mine was judged to be "good improvement since the last inspection" - the rest were satisfactory or unsatisfactory improvement.

Bullying stepped up after the Ofsted. I didn't even get a week's reprieve before the Y5 teacher started making undermining and demeaning remarks to me. She is heavily sarcastic. When her pupils were in my Y4 class, we'd entered a few writing contests. Several of my pupils won prizes, including a trip to the National Space Centre in Leicester, which they took while I was on suspension. I worked hard to get the kids a grant to pay for the bus fare up there, and got it. She was very sarcastic when I told them saying, "So they think they'll have fun do they?" I didn't understand why she would be so unhappy about the children winning something. I'll never understand the mentality of someone who hates so much that s/he would deliberately put the health and safety of pupils at risk, either.

And that's what happened. Pupils in that class, like in the previous one, became more thuggish and bullying. I couldn't believe it, as they were really a "sickeningly sweet class" - truly innocent children. I didn't particularly like them as a group, as I like a bit of fire coming back at me, personally. I didn't think they could be turned so easily into horrible little creatures. A group of about 15 of them set upon one of the class members and very badly beat him up. The boy was off with injuries for a week and off for another week for psychological reasons. The teacher also argued with me in public when I pulled up her pupils for health and safety violations (and NOT pulled them up in her presence either, as the DH used to love to do to me!). She would argue with me about rules and suchlike, refusing to follow policies and instructions, then claim we were "giving the children mixed messages."

I continued to keep my log and occasionally talk to the head regarding issues. Works out that I spoke to him at least once a month throughout his year and a half (he's still there, btw). Finally, a TA who was a parent of a pupil in my class, who had caused trouble the last time I taught her daughter, got right up in my face, shouting at me in front of staff and pupils. The woman was assigned to my class for one teaching session a week. I felt so intimidated that I wrote a letter to the head about it, and requested her removal from my class session. He came to see me about it, said we would be kept apart for a while, but didn't promise removal. She was back in my class on my next teaching session, and I felt VERY intimidated.

The next month, as I posted in the staffroom the TA requirements for the SATs (I taught Y6), she again shouted at me in the staffroom, in front of TAs and teachers, that she should have been told she couldn't be part of it. It wasn't my decision, as it was in the regulations that relatives of pupils could not take part in the administration of the KS2 tests. I left the room in tears and went immediately to the HT. He calmed me down somewhat and that was that.

I went away for weekend trip to NY. In the meantime, an article using something I'd posted on the TES site came out in the actual TES paper. The Y5 teacher recognised my name and went looking to find out what else I might have posted. She informed the rest of the staff, who went looking and found postings of my frustration, and brought a complaint.

I was suspended with pay on April 26th. Kept on suspension for 8 weeks, until the hearing, not allowed to contact anyone at school, kids, parents etc. I was not given the nature of the charges.

I had one investigative meeting with the head teacher and HR person, and my union rep, 4 weeks after the suspension. I was not provided with the notes of the meeting to check and sign as a true record. The union rep was also to have a copy but wasn't provided with it either.

After 3 more weeks, I was sent a letter asking me to attend the disciplinary hearing, set for 7 days after the letter was received. I received the notes from the investigation, the witness statements, copies of postings submitted in evidence, etc. In the evidence pack, my witness statement was included and noted as "signed copy not received." My rep and I both protested that it hadn't been sent. One copy going missing is likely a Royal Mail problem, two going missing, to very different addresses, means it was THEIR intention not to send it.

There were other anomalies in the pack, as well. I couldn't deny that I had done the postings, or that I was still posting but under another name. Their issues were that people from the LEA would know who I am and would be able to figure out who they were. Posting under a different name, however, would have taken care of that, I'm sure - especially as I was careful to hide real facts, making up some so that it would be sufficiently different as to be undetectable. So why they made that an issue is beyond me. The witnesses, apart from one, are all ones mentioned repeatedly in my log of incidents as being part of the bullying problems. I think the one just got caught up in it all. I'm told that no one else would agree to be a part of this situation.

In the hearing, they refused to allow me to question duty of care, even though it directly speaks to the charges. Had I felt able to go to the HT, and have situations taken care of, I might not have bothered with the TES postings. Indeed, when I'd had that situation with the TA getting in my face, I didn't bother posting on it at all at the time, because I had written a letter. It was only when she was back in my class, and the second incident occurred, and the head seemed to imply that I should simply accept being bullied by this TA/parent, that I posted about the situation at all. That was a full month afterward - and I asked for advice, as well.

I appealed the decision. In the appeal letter, it clearly stated that they would be only reviewing the original decision and seeing if it was properly made "...BASED ON THE EVIDENCE AVAILABLE AT THE TIME..." As my union rep then had not submitted any paper evidence in my own defense - a mistake, I felt even at the time - I had no way to win. I submitted a full evidence pack prior to the appeal hearing, but it was not taken into account because of the narrow way the appeal was done.

The rep who accompanied me to the appeal hearing was extremely good, well above expectation. She put to them that once I was made aware of the problem, I took steps to remedy it - changing my name, and details of any postings to make sure nothing was identifiable, and that a warning would have been sufficient to change the behaviour. She pointed out that the purpose of a disciplinary procedure was to change behaviour, and I had already changed mine, immediately upon being made aware that there was a problem. She also pointed out that I had maintained this level of behaviour for 2 months, prior to the original hearing, despite the extreme stress the suspension had put me under. Nothing she said made any difference. My record at the school made no difference. They chose to uphold the summary dismissal.

The witnesses say that they are finding it hard to do their jobs now, after all this. But is it the TES postings that caused these feelings, or the dichotomy that the head created by suspending me and bringing charges. There are something like 17 staff people at the school. Of those, I spoke a bit about one TA (the one who got caught up in the situation), a lot about the TAs as a group (mostly praises, I must say), about 2 other teachers whose statements didn't seem to be solicited....I heard from someone at the school afterward that loads refused to be part of this apparent vendetta.

I believe that this course of action had been taken because it was financially expedient for the school to do this. My salary being unpaid for the last two months of my employment would take the school out of debt, you see. If they had changed the decision, the school would still be in debt. Never mind they've destroyed a life, of course. 6000 for a life - I can't understand the mentality of people who would do this. And I would caution any foreign teacher who wished to teach in the UK - don't do it! These people smile to your face and stab you in the back. They have no moral fibre, in my experience.

The next step is the GTCE - General Teaching Council for England. They have to hear the case and decide what punishment I should receive based on the evidence and the mitigation. My rep said she would fight it for me (although I have to keep up my union subs, of course, and my GTCE dues for this). I wonder if the school believe I will de-register so as to avoid it. You see, GTCE cases are all public ones - it will be in the papers. Certainly it will be in the paper TES. My school, the head, perhaps even the governors will be named. Mitigation will be mentioned. The school will fare badly, I believe. This will happen about a year from now - just at the time the relationships in the school might be healing - I say MIGHT be healing, as I really believe that nothing will get better while that teacher is there still spreading her poisonous attitude about.

This will affect my US employment. I don't know exactly how it will, but it will. I can't think of any other job which would not only give me employment to the level I require financially but also the amount of enjoyment and satisfaction I get from teaching children. My teaching, and indeed, my in-school support of colleagues has never been an issue. Even colleagues who spent time undermining me got supported, regardless of how I felt about their behaviour towards me. How will I continue to live if I can't teach?

I know now that I did something wrong - that cannot be denied. I didn't know that at the time, however. And certainly it wasn't meant the way the school put it. It wasn't deliberate - not the way their own behaviour had been, certainly! I thought the TES was a closed board, much like the boards I had previously posted on had been. None of the ones I had previously been on had even been accessible via googling. I was wrong about the TES board, and naive. But should I be summarily dismissed for it? Should I lose my life for it?


Thanks for listening....

UPDATE: 1.2.05

I started my job with the new district in the US. I had to declare what happened in the first week on the job, as I had to fill out a new form (all new teachers starting then did) and I could not deny that this happened. Lying would be far worse than telling it and seeing what the consequences were. After declaring on the form, I and my Union Rep friend went to see the principal and tell her exactly what happened. She phoned the district to speed up the processing.

I had a call from the county and we talked over the phone. I told all to the personnel representative and offered to send copies of both the school's and my evidence. She said she'd speak to the director and get back to me. Later that afternoon, she rang and said that the principal decided to hang onto me. The principal came by while I was in a meeting and took me out and said the district decided not to make it an issue (it's not a case of child protection, after all).

However, the class I was given (and I must say that I don't think it mattered which class I had!!) was extremely difficult. Again, being low in spirits, and frightened to death, as we were all in our 3 month probationary period (where we could be dismissed without cause at any time -and where we could also resign without being in breach of contract) destroyed my health entirely. I went to the doctor, finally, and got on anti-depressants and anti- convulsive drugs. I was ill every single day. Went to the EAP and got help from a counselor, but that didn't work either. It was the job, on top of what happened in England. I started looking around for other work and did secure a job elsewhere, doing teaching but different sphere entirely. I quit the school, which hurt enormously as the people there were SO supportive!! My principal had apparently contacted some of my former principals in the county and said that they'd said lovely things about me. But the fit just wasn't right. I'm sure I would have prevailed had I persisted, but I lost 20 pounds over 3 weeks and was just miserable. I wasn't ready to tackle a tough group - and that's a shame, because those are the kinds of kids I used to enjoy teaching, and have done so successfully for so many years.

I'm in a new place now, also with supportive people all around. I feel valued again, but still was sick this morning going back after the holiday.

As for England, the General Teaching Council got in touch in October and said they received the information from the DfES, and that they DfES said it was not a matter for them to deal with. This puts a big hole in the school's claim that I put pupils at risk by disclosure, as it would have been a child protection issue had my posts actually made pupils identifiable. Considering that one of the witnesses who worked very closely with some of these kids ALSO GOT IT WRONG about who I was talking about, it puts the entire situation under suspicion.

They have contacted my union rep just before Christmas (the GTC) and said they would be investigating, and asked for our packet. I spent a large part of the week before Christmas emailing and faxing extra documents to the representative, to put into my evidence file, because I have letters dating back to my first days of teaching stating that I have always been professional in my dealings with staff, pupils and parents - both in the US and the UK. They're due to do this on the 21st of February.

I have also been in contact with lawyers in England, because if the GTC either chooses not to pursue the case (which they could decide depending on how important they feel it is), I will see about the viability of personal lawsuit against the school. I do expect the GTC to pursue it, however, because this is a precedent-setting case. They could choose either to say I had done wrong and not assign consequences, or to clear me. I'm hoping the latter, but will be happy with the former. If they choose either one, then I will do as intended - consult a solicitor about how to pursue a case against the school for bullying and harassment.

The more I've looked at this situation, with the objectivity of anti-depressants, the more I see the financial angle the school took. By depriving me of my pay for July and August, they were able to pull the school out of debt. After all, I had already resigned! They were going to be rid of me, in the end. They knew it from February. The head even wrote me a district reference form, and put all "excellent's" down on it. He hadn't rescinded the form, after my going. And now that the county knows, it's unlikely anything he says will be taken into account here. BUT....I still want justice.

A TEACHER WAITING FOR JUSTICE

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