Bullying in the Staff Room

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Kerry hated a lot of things but most of all she hated young teachers – arrogant, irresponsible and idle, the lot of them.

This was a firmly-held view that was regularly aired throughout the unpleasant year a teacher from London (teacher A) spent as Kerry’s colleague.

She had been excited about Kerry’s arrival. In her three years of teaching, the department had always been chaotic, largely because it was overseen by a gentle mother hen who was as well-meaning as she was disorganised.
Pupils were given the wrong assessment questions, data was accidentally deleted and a cloud of panic permanently hung over the muddled, over-crowded office. So when the prospect of a new second-in-charge was presented, staff were optimistic. Would Kerry be the organised, inspirational leader they had been crying out for? No.

The doom set in quickly. Department meetings were transformed from lengthy sessions of tea, biscuits and chatter into bitter diatribes about poor practice. Challenges were brushed off with an unwavering egotism – the phrase “and how would you know?” was a favourite – while new ideas were simply squashed.

Their pitch for shared planning was dismissed as laziness. The behaviour issues staff raised were nothing more than signs of their inability to control a class. When one of Kerry’s essays was moved down a grade in moderation, she was so enraged that she stormed out and drove home. Staff quickly found the way to get through was to keep quiet and try not to cry. They often failed.

When teacher A was promoted to key stage four co-ordinator, things got nasty. Teacher A, would send schemes of work to the department and receive a response moments later insisting on some fatal, idiotic flaw. She would post long-term outlines only to receive a flat-out refusal to teach ‘Of Mice And Men.’ When she proposed switching exam boards, Kerry copied the entire management team into the email calling her “a cheat”.

Kerry was pushing Teacher A, and she was stumbling. She started to doubt every decision she made. She had always been well organised, but she began triple checking the most minute of details with Kerry’s voice ringing in her mind. She would lay awake in bed with my heart racing because a meeting was scheduled for the next day.

Kerry would refuse to share a worksheet as it was her “intellectual property”. She would interrupt the headteacher during professional development sessions to point out spelling errors.

Things were becoming more and more difficult. On the advice of her union rep, she started to keep a diary of their interactions.

• May 2. Kerry told me to “read the f…… mark scheme”.
• May 21. Kerry said I was “disgusting” when I asked about payment for weekend revision classes.
• May 30. A year 10 pupil said Kerry had been telling her class that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Teacher A was assertive and assured in every other aspect of her life, and yet she allowed Kerry to kick the confidence right out of her.

Another (recently promoted) colleague was suffering the same treatment, so they took their concerns to the head of department. She shrugged them off with the phrase: “That’s just Kerry”. When they escalated the problem to management, they insisted the issue was our all-female department. The deputy head suggested employing a man to “sort you ladies out”.

So they took the only sensible option, and left. Six of their 10-person department resigned that year. A poor girl who’d been Kerry’s mentee had been told she’d failed an observation in front of her class. Another had ended up in tears when Kerry followed her, shouting, into the car park.

“As we vented, at long last, there was a sense that if we had come together before, organised ourselves better, we could have taken her on. But we were inexperienced, intimidated and, ultimately, drained from the day-to-day battles we had to fight
It’s tempting to try and salvage some great significance from the experience. I wish I could say Kerry taught me a useful lesson about myself or the profession, but all I limped away with was disbelief at how hostile a workplace can be. To anyone in the same position, I can only offer my version of the 3Rs – record it, report it, and if that doesn’t work, run.”

Taken from the Guardian, teacher network 16th November 2013

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