You have to ask yourself: What was the supervisor, who called in Annie time and time again to “talk to her” about a mistake that she knew perfectly well had long since been corrected, actually thinking? Did she somehow forget, each time, that the problem had been resolved? That seems unlikely. Her behavior appears to be a pure exercise of power for its own sake. The pointlessness of the exercise—both Annie and her boss knew nothing would really be achieved by telling someone to fix a problem that’s already been fixed—made  it nothing more than a way for the boss to rub that fact—that this was a relation of pure arbitrary power—in Annie’s face. It was a ritual humiliation that allows the supervisor to show who’s boss in the most literal sense, and it puts the underling in her place, justified no doubt by the sense that underlings are generically guilty at the very least of spiritual insubordination, or resenting the boss’s tyranny, in the same way that police who beat suspects they know to be innocent will tell themselves the victim is undoubtedly guilty of something else.

— David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Bolding is my own.)


It wasn’t long ago that I finished reading this book. Initially, I started reading it to be antagonistic during the final staff meeting because I knew it would be atrocious (and it was—remind me to write about the train metaphor that took the place of a ‘thank you’ to leaving teachers). However, I really started getting into this book because it was definitely something that I was feeling; when I hit this part, a lot of thoughts started clicking into place.

Months before the end of school, back in February, the School Manager and the Head of People and Culture started handing out disciplinary letters as if they were candy at a Halloween party. I was the first person to receive one, which happened immediately after I returned to work from being severely ill; I’d been recovering from being sick with three things, all of which had impacted my ability to work because I’d lost my voice for nearly a month.

For the record, despite having zero voice, I had worked for two weeks before taking sick leave; I’d gradually been losing my voice. After having lost it completely and having a fever so bad that I was shivering uncontrollably, I finally took six days off to recover, and that wasn’t even enough. I returned because I knew that no one was following my daily lesson plans that I was sending in (and I assumed it was largely because they weren’t being shared).

And when I came back, I learned for a fact that my colleagues hadn’t done as I requested. The maths teacher gave the students packet upon packet of multiple-choice grammar work instead of giving them independent reading time or time to work on their projects. I’d literally sent in instructions and lesson plans for each class to make sure they’d have something to do that would be on-topic for my class and ensure they never lost time, but they made decisions that went counter to that in every way.

So when I returned on 25 February 2019 from my sick leave, the School Manager decided that we’d have a meeting because she was “concerned.” This was the first time she’d ever expressed any concerns about my abilities, which she had always said were “above and beyond” and how I was one of “the best teacher’s shed ever seen.”

She’d known for months that I was in need of support because I was constantly asking for it; I was struggling with not having resources, with having to teach five incredibly different classes, with having to spend a lot of time putting on behaviour fires because nothing was being done to help teachers to work with specific students. I was struggling because everyone was struggling, everyone was falling behind.

Her concerns included:

  • Students hadn’t been given feedback on the online gradebook system, which meant that they’d “never received feedback;”
  • Units, current and future, on the online gradebook system were “incomplete” or “not following the five-year plan;”
  • Curriculum required by the Italian system was “not covered thoroughly enough.”

I countered her three concerns with the following:

  • First, students were still receiving feedback, even if there weren’t any comments written in the online gradebook system. The majority of my feedback comes via in-class methods: We take a quiz, I give the answers then and there. I have peer editing groups where I also meet with students individually, students receive two kinds of feedback. Sometimes I write small comments on notes, which I hand back to the students. Verbal feedback is frequent! I’m always giving feedback, even if I haven’t catalogued every single piece of it on the system, which was never required of anyone;
  • All of my past units were completed to the best of my abilities, my current units had all the mandatory components, and the future units were being worked on concurrently. We did not have a requirement that all units be completed, and there was not a single teacher in the school who had their units finished. In fact, almost all of us were universally falling behind because admin work took a backseat to the actual work of being a teacher.
  • I was under the impression that all of my changes to my curriculum during the school year were approved, as I had always told her about how I changed things to make sure I was meeting my students’ needs. Did they need more time with a skill? Did they need an entirely different unit because they were missing skills? I always made sure it was clear, and she never complained before then. As for meeting the Italian curriculum, she always knew what I was covering; if I was missing something, then it would’ve been helpful to have had that Italian partner school that was mentioned two years ago.

After this discussion, I was given approximately two weeks to complete the tasks, and all of my concerns were shrugged off. One of the two weeks that I was expected to work was a holiday break for Carnival. The School Manager expected that I complete what would’ve been months of work in two weeks, including during my vacation.

I was just told to complete the online gradebook. I was never told to do anything else. She never asked for a scheme of work, never asked for lesson plans, nothing; I even asked if she wanted me to provide them, and I was told not to worry.

I had a scheme of work, for the record.


Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t able to complete any of the work.

I had ended up in the emergency room due to the aforementioned illness, my loss of voice further compounded by my inability to breathe. A combination of bronchitis and laryngitis; it felt like a prolonged asthma attack that just refused to leave.

I spent days sleeping because I was so sick and feverish, and I could barely focus on anything.

So when school started back on 11 March, I had another meeting with the School Manager to discuss all of my alleged “problems,” this time adding into the equation that my inability to complete the tasks and not come prepared with plans for the future was unprofessional.

Refusing my schemes of work and my suggestions for my classes, she had determined that I should implement her lessons because she knew what was best for students she had barely seen while at school, with the exception of her own daughter and the kids who were constantly in trouble for something (they’re also worth writing about, but it’s not because they were the problem).

I left that meeting angry. I already knew what I needed to do, what I was trying to do, what I had very little time to do; it was a waste of my time because everything became about her and what she wanted my classes to look like.

It wasn’t because she had critiqued my teaching or had been suggesting things to help and support me that I was angry; she wasn’t doing that at all because she had never seen me teach, even when she was “observing” me. She didn’t know how I taught, she didn’t know how I connected with students, and she didn’t know that I’d been working on differentiating to ensure all students had the skills they needed but that they might be acquired in many ways.

Oh, and fun side note: The second and last time that she’d observed me, she’d been doing other “more important” work; it was even more telling because one of my seventh graders literally asked me why she was “observing” me if she was sending emails the whole time and had never looked at anyone. Another student was so frustrated that she’d been so rude leaving my classroom, huffing out and knocking over a chair and distracting the students. Administrators, this is why you don’t sit in front of the students when you’re “observing” your teaching staff.


Click to enlarge. This is the second version of a disciplinary letter that I received, as the first was taken off me prior to a union meeting.

On 12 March, I get a literal five minute warning from our intern-turned-Finance Manager telling me that the School Manager and the Head of People and Culture wanted to see me. These people had seen me at lunch, walked by me, and then sent this person at 1:25 to tell me to “meet them in the upstairs office at 1:30.” They’d never sent me an email, never tried finding me in the morning, and actively ignored me when they had seen me.

And I was the unprofessional one.

So I went upstairs for this impromptu meeting, and I was met by both people and a faux apology: “I’m sorry, I don’t like to do this, but we really have to do this in situations like this.” I politely disagreed, pointing out that I had never been in any administrative trouble before and that—as Human Resources was something I had experience in—this was an extremely inappropriate way to deal with a first-time offence. I pointed out that they did not recognise the work that I had been able to complete despite my illness and that they did not support me when I requested it (and that they did not support any other teachers asking for help).

I made it very clear that I did not support the way in which they were handling this situation, that it felt like they were actively trying to harass me by constantly calling me into hour-long meetings that took up time I did not have and made it impossible for me to complete the work they wanted me to finish.

In response, they handed me the first version of my disciplinary letter, reading it to me as if I were a small child. (I’m dyslexic, but I really didn’t need for them to read to me; I could, in fact, do it for myself.) I remind them that I have students that I promised to work with, that they were taking my time away from them.

The letter’s pretty vague with little to no real information, it has a blatant lie on it about who was involved in a meeting on 25 February, and it doesn’t have any evidence that shows why I’m doing a “bad job.” I take it and leave, planning to hand it off to the union.

Oh, right, the union was coming to the school that day.

I go back to working with different groups of students, and the Head of People and Culture—you know, the same person who assisted in handing me a letter talking about how I “don’t give feedback”—invades my classroom to take back the first version (which he took without my permission) and forces me to take and sign another because he would not stop interrupting my students.

At this point, my disciplinary letter was not only affecting me, it was also affecting my students because he refused to let me do the very job they claimed I wasn’t doing. (I wonder if he’s heard of irony.) He was making me more upset because he just refused to leave me alone until I signed the letter, acknowledging that I’d received it, because he “had a lot of work to do” (as if he wasn’t interrupting mine at that very moment).


I will end this post with the response I wish I’d given them (instead of the one the union helped me write):

Dear Administration:

I appreciate that you started your letter by lying about how the MYP Deputy Coordinator was in the meeting, which ensures that you’ve set the appropriate tone for the rest of this letter. I appreciate that you gave me no leeway for being ill, even when many of my families were more than aware that I was falling apart and had been sending me messages to “get better soon.”

It’s interesting that you claim the “academic requirements have not been respected for the last two months,” when your staff handbook also says that my Coordinator is responsible for checking on teachers every month. My Coordinator, for the record, is also the School Manager. How was she neglecting me for two months and not aware of what was happening? How was she not aware when I made sure that I kept her in the loop and informed her of decisions to change my units, which she okayed? I’m afraid that I don’t understand how no one knew what was going on when I made it very clear what I was doing at all times (in staff meetings, in emails, in one-to-one meetings).

I’m curious as to how you know that my assignments are “not appropriate” in terms of my students’ levels, too. Have either of you taught my students in order to know their levels? What do you mean by “not appropriate” anyway? Are my assignments ‘too high’ or ‘too low’ for my students? Why do you think I never correct work for grammar? Is it because I don’t correct their writing journal for grammar because, as I told you multiple times before, that is not the point of it and not everything needs to be corrected for grammar

I correct everything else: essays, blog posts, reviews, scripts for podcasts and videos, and even video games they make. The writing journal is supposed to be their space where they practice writing as a habit, where they don’t have to worry about being graded for grammar, because that is not the point.

You pretend I don’t give feedback, but have you ever been in my classroom? I never see either of you anywhere near my room; I rarely see you near children outside of going to lunch (and ignoring them as you chat amongst yourselves). If you were to enter my classroom, you’d see a range of feedback: verbal, editing circles, individual meetings, quick notes… You’d see that all of my feedback is individualised.

But that requires you to engage with the school and learn about the students within it. We’re small, fewer than 100 children. It is not that difficult to take time out of your day to come and talk with kids, to come look in on classes and see the brilliance of your teachers and students. But you couldn’t just ‘check in’ with us unless you wanted to find something to nitpick, to catch us out on, to complain about because you don’t know the context of that single moment.

It requires both of you to know what the IB Curriculum says and requires, which neither of you understand. One of you has never worked in a school and knows literally nothing about it; the other refuses to see that other people also have valid ideas and that she cannot continually compare the PYP (primary) and MYP (middle) Curriculum to DP (diploma).

I would say how dare you put me, a teacher with almost a decade of experience, under “constant supervision,” but the only thing you want from that is power. She will never write lesson plans because she “doesn’t have time,” but she wants to meet as often as possible to make sure that “her lesson plans” (which are the ones I that I will write and she will inevitably take credit for) meet her standards and openly harass me for all to hear when they are not.

Sincerely,
n

When I started working in late August of 2017, I was not a legal employee. I don’t think the few parents who interacted with me recognised that; I’m not sure they recognised that, for the first couple months of my work, I did not have legal rights to work at the school that had hired me.

Honestly, I couldn’t have worked anywhere in Italy because I didn’t have proper paperwork.

And I wasn’t the only person in this situation working at this school. There were two of us, both Americans, who found ourselves working at a place illegally. We were coerced into this work, as it was not our decision. It was expected that we work, and we would be paid for our work.

But we would be underpaid for our work because we had no legal recourse, as they would deduct for taxes. That left me wondering: “How are they paying taxes on this?”

For me, I was underpaid roughly €2000 for the work that I did. They penalised me for “not working” when I was sent home to complete the visa procedures, even though I was working from the United States to help get the library in place. That was a full-time job on its own.

They never repaid this. One excuse I ran into was that, since they “paid for my flights,” they were deducting this from my pay. This wasn’t something discussed with me, and these flights were not my fault or choice.

But I wasn’t ever surprised about this.


The money was never the main issue for me; it was the situation that I had found myself in. When I uprooted my life in China to move to Italy, nothing about the process was made clear to me.

I expected that the visa procedure would be clear and mostly obvious, as it had been in both Taiwan and China, since I was getting a visa through work.

Generally, the employer (be they a company or a school or whatever) knows the processes because they have people who work with those topics in Human Resources, even if it’s an “outsourced” or “third-party” Human Resources office. I mean, these people are paid to know or figure it out. That’s literally part of their job.

Except, apparently, these people didn’t know anything about visa procedures because it “was the first time they had to work with it.” This was an excuse that I ran into repeatedly, even up to the point that an in-house HR representative was hired (via nepotism).

At one point, the HR company sent me a list of papers I needed. Most of it was normal: my passport, my degrees, my transcripts, and translations. These all made perfect sense. But there was one that didn’t quite make sense: a declaration of valor? Exactly what is that? So I asked.

They responded: You get it at a consulate. We don’t know. Ask them.

So I engaged in a months long process of sending inquiring email after inquiring email to three separate consulates to obtain information that my employer’s Human Resources should’ve had clearly outlined.

In the end, I finally had all the necessary paperwork to start the visa process after roughly five months. I sent back to let the HR office know it was complete and to inquire about whether or not I needed to do anything else. I wanted to make sure, since I was clearly engaging on this on my own, that I would have everything prepared.

There was no answer. Later, I would learn, that Italy basically closes for August. They were on vacation, and all of my inquiries would go ignored until I brought them up with my boss in email and in person (and then she would act incredibly put upon).

I learned, at the beginning of September, that I would be sent home because I needed to leave the EU and Schengen region, since I’d already been inside of it for three months. At this point, I’d been working illegally for about a month; I’d been teaching, setting up the MYP curriculum, and setting up the library.

My assumption, at the time that I’d been told I’d be going home, was that I’d be sent to the United States for at least a week if I needed to visit a consulate. In fact, before the told me anything, I wasn’t even sure if I required a visit to the consulate, thinking that perhaps I’d be sent to the immigration office to obtain the necessary documentation to be considered “legal.”

The first assumption was correct: I was sent back to the United States. However, I was wrong about the length of time: It would take one month for me to get an appointment at the consulate to finally acquire the visa that I needed to then get my permiso de soggiorno.

It would take one month because the Italian consulate in Chicago had a massive jurisdiction and only operated for three hours. Due to my residence, I was unable to visit another consulate in any other jurisdiction.

Not a person had bothered to learn about the process and adequately prepared me for this. They continually told me it was “because they were new to the process of getting visas for Americans,” which always felt like a cop out. Surely someone had to have done it before? Another company, another agency, anyone?

Throughout this period of time no support was given. I was expected to plan lessons for my boss to “teach” for me, only to later find out that she never did them; I learned that she rarely taught my class, handing it off to some available teacher (who’d teach their subject in place of mine because my boss encouraged it, not alerting me to any of these changes until I arrived back at work).

My boss would even use my absence against me when I told her how I “didn’t feel like a part of the team,” claiming that I had “missed the window” to become part of it and doing nothing to make sure I was included somehow (which is another post for another day).

This entire event was my first red flag. They had shown me precisely who they were: liars, cheats, and thieves.


Bonus material:

It was after my colleague and I went through this process that they had very loudly and very frequently proclaimed that they “would never hire Americans” who didn’t already have permission to live and work in Italy because “this was too much work” and “took far too long.” I assume they also made this decision because it required that they put forth any resources to help the employee obtain a visa (but did not reimburse any expenses paid in the process of acquiring necessary paperwork).

I recently found out that they have changed this decision, which I presume is out of desperation for having lost seven very good teachers (almost all of whom comprise one entire section of the school). I also learned that these teachers will be arriving late due to visa issues. How funny.

“We treat everyone equally here!”

This is one of the last things that I ever heard from my former boss. It was after completing a meeting with the my Deputy Coordinator about what I needed to do to complete the school year with that company (as the administration called it), what I intended to complete of my Managebac units so that I could assist the next teacher by making it clear what the students should (in theory) have learned, and what areas I intended to leave blank because they would disappear in the transition to the next school year and never be viewed again.

It was after she ambushed me in a meeting where, as that same Deputy Coordinator had promised me, she wouldn’t be in attendance because she hadn’t been planning to attend any of those meetings.

It was after I walked off because, as I had told the Deputy Coordinator the day prior, I would leave that room if she ever entered it because I could not sit through yet another meeting where she took every moment she could to insult and abuse me while he just nodded in response, allowing her to get away with it because he “needed” that job. I had told him that I refused to sit through yet another meeting where she refused to acknowledge her responsibility in the decline of my work because she had decreased my planning and prep time in order to fill it with her tirades against me or because of the way her constant undermining of me affected my students students.

I had made it very clear that I did not wish to be condescended to because of my neurological differences, as she always took particular target at my being ADHD and claimed that I was purely lazy because I required minor accommodations to make my life a little easier (even though she never gave me those accommodations).

“We treat everyone equally here!”

She had chased me down the stairs after I had left the room, her heels clicking obnoxiously loud on the tile floor. I hate those heels; I really hate that sound because of her. I always wince everytime I hear another person’s heels clicking against tiles; I still instinctively hide behind doors or in alcoves.

But I digress.

I was upset. I had been lied to by the Deputy Coordinator. It wasn’t the first time he’d done it; I shouldn’t have been surprised. He was a jellyfish; he never stood his ground or fought for the teachers who comprised his team. He never protected us, especially those who voiced our concerns. He always quietly allowed abuse to go unchecked, to stand silently as some of us were made to feel like fools for even trying.

But again, I digress.

My boss was trying to convince me to “do my job,” despite the fact that I had more than completed my job. In all honesty, I had performed many more duties than those that were contractually required of me. My contract stated that I was an MYP (Middle Years Program) Teacher, but they had required that I complete the development of two DP (Diploma Program) programs in order for them to progress in the IB’s authorisation process.

The year before that, I acted as the school’s librarian because they never hired one. I sourced books, I collaborated with other teachers to make appropriate orders, and I looked for library management software they would accept because it was “within budget” (i.e., cheap enough). Again, this work was never part of my contract.

I did it all without complaint or a hint of appreciation.

“We treat everyone equally here!”

I told her that I refused to meet with her alone; she pointed out that the Deputy Coordinator would be there.

I openly stated that I did not feel comfortable in a meeting, as we had already attempted this combination of people and it never felt safe; she said I could “have anyone I wanted.”

But I knew I couldn’t. That was a trap. If I picked anyone, if I asked anyone to join me, I knew they would be targeted by her later. If I picked someone who I trusted, they would’ve been abused equally for some other offense she would claim they committed.

She knew this. It was always part of her game. She loves these kinds of games.

I refused to put any of my colleagues through this, even those who were also leaving. None of the people I trusted felt safe in her presence. The people I trusted had either been explicitly and publicly targeted; the people I trusted suffered from anxiety when they thought about talking to her.

I would not submit other people, people who I cared about, to her abuse.

Instead, I told her that I would not be participating in this meeting because I didn’t feel comfortable or safe, that the Deputy Coordinator had more than enough information to “bring her up to speed,” and that I had already discussed which areas of my units I would complete before leaving the school. I stated that all key concepts, related concepts, statements of inquiry, and inquiry questions would be finished; I told her that I would make sure all of the criteria I observed for the units were available, along with the ATL (Approaches to Learning) skills that the students engaged in.

I reminded her that, due to their need to reset the iPads immediately, I couldn’t do my work at work. I no longer had a device to access, making it a little more than difficult.

One simple question threw her: If you wanted me to work here, shouldn’t you have waited for my final day to request the return of my iPad?

That wasn’t the response she wanted; she was going to make that clear.

“We treat everyone equally here!”

She continued screaming at me, trying to explain how I wasn’t “required” to be at work and that she “didn’t know where the idea had come from.” I should’ve been aware, she claimed, that I could “work from home.”

Perhaps, I thought, she should’ve consulted her Head of People and Culture, the very person who informed me that I couldn’t leave until June 28 and who sent out an email about how “people with logged hours” could leave earlier, contradicting everything she had been screaming at me. He was the same one who told me that I “had no hours,” though I didn’t know how he arrived at this decision because no one knew where these hours even came from.

I didn’t remind her about any of this. I just stared out the window, never looking at her, as she continued screaming at me. I only ever responded to say, in a tone of indifference, “Okay.” I don’t remember how many times I said it.

This unnerved her, and she became louder and more condescending.

“We treat everyone equally here!”

It was her final call, it seemed. I don’t think she ever thought anything caught my attention.

But she had the audacity to tell me how everyone was treated equally, which meant that the same things were expected of everyone. The problem with that statement is that everyone who heard it — and multiple people were in the room and hallway heard her say it — knew it was a blatant lie.

I continued to stand there, thinking of so many issues that I ran into as I worked there that I would have loved for her to explain to me:

  • If everyone was equal, how did her close and personal friend got a job in the school?
  • If everyone was equal, why was she able to offer a job to another close and personal friend (who, thankfully for her, rejected the offer)?
  • If everyone was equal, why were the ideas of women and femme-presenting people considered to be ridiculous and tedious when we said them, but they made perfect sense when a man very slightly reworded them (sometimes at our own suggestion and to prove a point)?
  • If everyone was equal, why was my subject leader a person who was literally less qualified than I was?
  • If everyone was equal, why did men notice how cold and distant she was with most women and femme-presenting teachers (except the ones she wanted in her good graces), pointing it out to us?
  • If everyone was equal, why was a teacher who had ten years of experience left as an extremely underpaid assistant while two un- or lesser-qualified people moved into positions as classroom teachers?
  • If everyone was equal, why weren’t we all allowed to use the school bus (without punishment) when there were open spaces due to students participating in extracurricular activities?
  • If everyone was equal, why was I told to ‘deal with’ and ‘get used to’ a man trying to take over work I had been leading for weeks, but he was let off the hook for disrespecting me?
  • If everyone was equal, why weren’t all teachers offered tickets for games played by a major football (soccer) team?
  • If everyone was equal, how did an intern become a financial manager after six months?
  • If everyone was equal, why did only a few people receive disciplinary letters for offences that literally everyone was guilty of (such as incomplete units)?

“We treat EVERYONE equally here!”

This phrase hasn’t left me yet, and it’s been weeks since my last day at that horrible school (at the date of writing). To be honest, I don’t think it ever will.

It’s something that will stick with me for a long time, that will remind me of just how awful people can be just because of their position in a hierarchy, just because they’re sick with power. It’s something that’ll remind me of how people treat others horribly and lie to cover up their own short-comings. And it’s something that’ll remind me of how people respond when we don’t react to their power-trips in ways that they ‘need’ us to.

As if I needed more of that in this world.