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

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