When the Workplace is a School

©2013 Gail Pursell Elliott

       With the new school year just beginning, many anti-bullying programs are getting attention.  A student came home last year after his principal had presented a well meaning bullying assembly program and observed that the program taught the students more of how to bully someone rather than how to stop it.  While that certainly was not the intent, the focus of many of the programs presented to students is on what not to do rather than on expectations.  Recently, New Jersey extended the interpretation of its bullying in schools legislation to include bullying by teachers, specifically meaning bullying of students by teachers which was triggered by a specific case.  It would have been easy to extend the law to anyone and everyone in the schools, regardless of status, if someone had had the courage and insight to do so.   

It is unfortunate that the interpretation of school bullying legislation in every state is not extended to the school district as a whole, whether in the classroom or among employees.  Those who would never dream of bullying a student often participate in mobbing of their peers and subordinates in that same environment where the expectation is that students will be protected.  If you think that mobbing and bullying in schools is just among students, think again. It is currently estimated that twenty-five to thirty percent of school employees have either been targeted or have observed others subjected to workplace mobbing and bullying.  Over the years I have been contacted for help by many teachers, both in K-12 schools and on the college level, who have been subjected to this abuse in their workplaces.  With the emphasis on students bullying students the concept of mobbing and bullying among faculty and school leadership is rarely recognized or addressed.  Schools are workplaces where mobbing can and does exist. 

It does not seem to matter whether the teacher is new to the school, part of a teaching team, or a seasoned professional who has been with the district for many years.  All of the examples do have clear indicators of mobbing/bullying behaviors, some with clear examples of retaliation which should have been but were not addressed.  Here are two cases examples. Both teachers are no longer with their school districts and to date are no longer teaching, which is tragic as both were well experienced with good track records before they were mobbed.  This is not unusual. A serious issue for school professionals who are subjected to mobbing is similar to that of students who are mobbed. As I point out in my book School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse (2003, Taylor and Francis) it is not easy to just leave and look elsewhere without uprooting an entire family.  Others subjected to workplace mobbing may have more options available to them in the same or surrounding communities. In addition, McCarthy-era style blacklisting in an attempt to mask these less than ethical activities can occur. We see this issue in other industries as well but it is glaring here. 

Case #1 – A physical education teacher and athletic coach had been with the same school district for 18 years.  He was well liked, provided teaching and coaching for many different grade levels and had grown up in the community.  With cutbacks in funding, it came to the attention of the administration that this teacher’s salary was a hefty portion of the budget in comparison with less experienced teachers. This was the root cause of this teacher being targeted, but as he had tenure with the district he would have to choose to resign, be let go for cause or be forced into resignation.  A subtle smear campaign was launched within the community including having him arrested for trespassing.  The charges were dropped but it served to feed the rumor mill, while confusing and mystifying the target who could not believe that people he had known for years were acting like this.  It took over a year but the teacher finally left. 

Case #2 – An experienced Science teacher begins work at a middle school and quickly sees that she is being subjected to racial discrimination.  When she brings this up, the school administration acts incensed that she would even suggest this although they are party to what is happening. By the middle of the school year, she resigns with the effective date at the end of the school year.  Rather than this easing the situation, she begins to be evaluated almost daily by members of the school administration which not only impacts her teaching but causes snickering among her students.  Finally she is reassigned to another classification within the school and forced to work at a small table and chair set up in a science department storage area, next to toxic chemicals improperly stored.  She reports the storage issue to OSHA.

In both of these cases, while the mobbing was underway, the teachers requested help.  Both contacted various authorities within their districts and on the state level, including the teachers union in their states, with unsatisfying results.  In both cases, these teachers were not the first in their respective schools to receive this type of treatment and unfortunately will not be the last. 

Teachers can be perpetrators as well as targets.  Some teachers pride themselves in being able to force out another school employee, such as a guidance counselor without teaching experience.  When this type of behavior is displayed in front of the students, who are not completely oblivious, it sets a poor example and impacts the abilities of others to do their work well.  There is a pecking order in academia just as there is in health care and other professions that serve human beings. The consequences are safety issues for those entrusted to their care and service.  The real question is: how can we prevent bullying and emotional abuse among our young people when we cannot recognize it in ourselves?

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Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.  Her weekly Food for Thought is read by people around the world.  Gail trains employees for corporations, associations and universities, designs sessions upon request to address specific needs and timely issues, and is a featured speaker at conferences as well as a media expert on workplace and school violence.  Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio. 

Contact Gail through her website:  http://www.innovations-training.com




3 comments on “When the Workplace is a School

  1. There are too many people who are harmed by their bosses and peers through workplace bullying and mobbing. Sadly, it is not only legal but also commonplace in the US, whereas it is not in many other countries. The field of education is no exception. The US definitely lags far behind in protecting and supporting workers who experience damaging bullying and mobbing. Thank you for writing and publishing this article, Gail; I appreciate it!

  2. Reblogged this on blogbymichele and commented:
    There are too many people who are harmed by their bosses and peers through workplace bullying and mobbing. Sadly, it is not only legal but also commonplace in the US, whereas it is not in many other countries. The field of education is no exception. The US definitely lags far behind in protecting and supporting workers who experience damaging bullying and mobbing. Thank you for writing and publishing this article, Gail; I appreciate it!

  3. Relational bullying also happens in the teacher lunchroom where gossip, rumors and put-downs are exchanged about a fellow staff member who does not fit in with the popular teacher crowd. Teachers can participate in this kind of exclusion and unkindness and teach about bullying to students without ever realizing what they themselves are doing. Strategies to help stop this kind of adult relational bullying are when popular, confident, kind staff stick up for staff people who are being targeted. Sometimes teacher lunchrooms exhibit the same behavior as high school lunchrooms. As always, walking our talk, is a very important thing to do.
    Carol Wintle is author of Empowering Children to Help Stop Bullying at School, published by Character Development Group, Inc.

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