Introductory Note: I’m well aware that we often view people who openly complain about being in bad situations as being negative and spiteful; I’m also aware that we view anyone who talks about being a victim as being melodramatic and irrational. I’m none of these things; I’m literally coping with PTSD as a result of my former job, and that is not a joke. While this is my story, there are a number of others from the ten other people who left it with me. I will not tell their stories (unless their stories collide with mine, and I will tell what I was involved with), but I know I am not alone in what happened there.

One of the reasons that I left my previous school, as it may become more readily obvious in the future, is because of an administration that seemed to enjoy targeting multiple teachers with constant abuse and harassment. The School Manager would berate teachers for trying to do their best with what little they had; the ‘Head of People and Culture’ (read: Human Resources Manager) evaded every question, sided with the School Manager, and openly engaged in illegal activities (according to the local union).

It was exhausting in every way possible. I spent the majority of my time quite literally looking over my shoulder, and I would jump at the sound of high heels going past my classroom. My students’ work was constantly interrupted as the School Manager invaded my classroom to “give them messages,” yelling at them because of some minor issue that could’ve been addressed at another time.

And this is ridiculous because the school could have been great. It had all the trappings of one until this year: highly qualified and enthusiastic teachers, a campus that needed a little care to make it welcoming, non-managerial administrative staff who seemed up to the challenge of working in a school, and a large group of people who all wanted to work together to build the best possible school and community they could.

All of which was entirely interrupted by two people who knew very little about what they professed to know a lot about and were actively sabotaging everything that was happening.

It was hard to watch the School Manager praise me for being “the best” at my job to my union representatives, even while they were punishing me for being sick and falling behind in my administrative tasks.

It pained me to see so many people breaking down. We were all somewhere between tears and shutting down completely; some people did both at the same time. And due the gaslighting of our management, we always found ourselves conflicted between the knowledge that we were doing way too much and had zero work-life balance and the incessant complaints that we weren’t doing enough. We were struggling to do the job we were hired to do and find time to include other randomly assigned tasks that meant nothing; they were always busy work.

Personally, I was hired to teach two subjects: Individuals & Societies (integrated humanities) and English Language & Literature. As time went on and more desires of the school were made clear, I ended up taking on an additional coordination position that encompassed all of the Service activities in the school. Due to the lack of training, I ended up picking up the slack for someone else who continually made mistakes because the School Manager refused to acknowledge both that this person didn’t know what they were doing and expected that I should be doing it anyway (while the other person received credit for it).

Somewhere around the end of February, the longest-lasting illness I’ve had in years hit me. I thought it was a cold, and I pushed on because I didn’t have sick days to use. Later, I lost my voice but was still teaching because other teachers refused to do the work that I requested of them (and the maths teacher loved to force my students to do grammar tests so he could point out “how I wasn’t doing my job” when he gave students work above their grade level). Finally, when it was clear my immune system refused to let me get better, I took a week off to rest.

It was a requirement to submit lesson plans (though the School Manager’s favourites never did), so I sent them when I could. I was chastised repeatedly for not doing it in the latter half of the week, but I couldn’t submit lesson plans when the person substituting for me didn’t tell me what happened. I can’t plan for future classes, assuming the students did what I needed them to do, if I have no information.

Tired of that nonsense, I came back for one more week. Thankfully, this week was the final one of school and right before Easter. I had no voice, I was still coughing, sometimes I had headaches, and I was still shifting between hot and cold. While I initially felt better, I quickly regretted my decision. But I was tired of falling behind because other people refused to keep me in the loop for my classes. That whole week, I worked through everything by writing notes to my students and cuddling cups of hot tea. My students even took care of me, many of them staying mostly silent because they knew how bad I felt.

During this time, my School Manager called me down to her office to complain that I “wasn’t getting my work done,” that my “units on Managebac were incomplete,” and that my “grading had fallen behind.” Supposedly, though she offered no evidence, was receiving complaints from parents about how the work their kids were doing for me wasn’t being marked. Seemingly, she forgot that I had been sick for an entire week (while working), that I’d been sick for another week (at home resting), and that I had come back again and was still unwell. Clearly, I was struggling.

Being the ‘wonderful’ person she was, she demanded that I do all my work over Easter break. I told her that it was unlikely that I could complete everything at that time (and really wanted to point out that my holidays are holidays and belong to me). I asked if people could cover for me on recess duties for a couple weeks to give me unbroken administrative time. This was requested for two reasons: 1) as a person with ADHD, I sometimes require unbroken time that I can mark as ‘non-distract’ to complete tasks and 2) I was the teacher with the most hours and coordinating responsibilities in my team, requiring additional time. This was refused, and she simply implied that I was “being lazy” and “using ADHD as an excuse.”

Over the weekend, I went to the emergency room. This was largely at the request of my partner, as he was worried that I wasn’t getting better at all and was shivering violently throughout the night. Three different infections were found, and I was given rounds of medications that pretty much knocked me out for the entirety of Easter break. There was no way I could do the work that I was ‘required’ to do, even if I wanted to.

The only thing I got for trying to work was abuse and punishment. I kept complaining about having no time (across two weeks, I had ten prep hours to do the work I needed to for all my positions); instead of giving me more time (either by removing me from duties or giving deadline extensions), my School Manager decided she needed to take one of my prep hours every week to “go over my lesson plans” (read: change to her preference).

During those meetings, she felt the need to insult me constantly. I “wasn’t working hard enough,” and I “didn’t care enough about my students.” It didn’t matter that I gave students feedback on their work in every way possible (written in notebooks, verbal during conferences, and on Managebac); it didn’t matter that I structured my classes to give them time to do workshopping and learn from each other. My units “were all over the place” and “didn’t match the five-year plan,” which I had been told was a living document that could be changed to meet my students’ needs; I changed units to meet their needs but also adapt to a lack of resources, and I always sent notices that I was doing this. These notices were always met with positive responses until the moment I got sick; when I started struggling and needing support, my decisions were no longer ‘good enough’.

When we returned from Easter Break, I was slammed with a two hour meeting (decreasing my already low-prep hour count) and was once again chastised for “not completing my work” over the holidays (despite sitting there still talking in a whisper and reminding them that I had been in the emergency room). The meeting was entirely one-sided, but I left with the assumption that I would be working on everything that week and have time doing so.

Nope. Instead, I was slammed with a disciplinary letter. At 13:25, the ‘Head of People and Culture’ sent a message with his lackey (otherwise known as a former intern who became the financial manager). My presence was requested in his office at 13:30. Five minutes. I was given five minutes. I remember this so well because the colleague I was with commented on the absurdity of both the ‘Head of People and Culture’ and the School Manager not talking to me at lunch and the fact that they wanted me to come to the office in five minutes.

As I entered the office, they hit me with the disciplinary letter. The first version of it, that is. They read it out loud to me, as if I was in pre-school and wouldn’t really understand it. I commented that I would be giving a copy to the union and left. Oh, and there was a second version. The ‘Head of People and Culture’ basically stole the first version back and gave me a “more specific” version that was still (as noted) quite vague and without substance or evidence.

The management gave me no warning that I would be receiving this before that meeting, and it was largely because they wanted me to permanently leave the school. The letter included brilliantly useless passages such as:

On the basis of the controls carried out by the School Manager, as already made clear in the meetings held, the academic requirements in the last couple months have not been met violating school policies. More specifically, it has emerged that academic programs have not been developed appropriately.

Forgetting to elaborate on which school policies I was violating (hint: I wasn’t) and the specific dates of my alleged violations (because “last couple months” is vague) was intentional. As was another bit of vague nonsense that had no meaning without knowing the students:

… [T]asks assigned to students are often not appropriate in terms of level and difficulty and there is scarce evidence of appropriate feedback being provided, language development was not fostered as students’ work is seldom corrected for grammar and language accuracy etc.

Intriguingly, no evidence of this was provided. No definition of “appropriate feedback,” no recognition that I can correct grammar at other times or that students received physical feedback (and that just because they lose it doesn’t mean I didn’t do it), and ignorance of the fact that ‘language development’ takes many forms.

The other element of this disciplinary letter, which I found quite hilarious, was this:

All the above has created and still is creating serious issues (as well as image repercussions) on our School as students are not taught properly and this is enduring regardless of the specific communications and requests made to you to respect the current academic requirements that unexplainably went unattended.

Once more, comments without evidence, comments with no definition, comments without specificity. What do you mean by “not taught properly” (when management never spent time in the classrooms or anywhere near them)? How are you so certain that these things “unexplainably went unattended” (despite emails I sent saying I was in the emergency room or asking for additional time or accommodations)? What are the “current academic requirements” (which had no definition in any staff-held document)?

This whole situation allowed me to learn a few lessons (which, honestly, I knew but remembered through harsh reminders).

Lesson 1: No job is worth your health. If you can, take sick leave. If you can’t, unionise so that you can in the future (or so others can). If your union isn’t strong, make sure you have a strong and cohesive team behind you because you need the support of those outside management. Most managers do not care about the well-being of their employees, even though this impacts them negatively, too.

Lesson 2: No matter how hard you work, managers are never happy with the results. It doesn’t matter that you’ve built good relationships with your students; it doesn’t matter that you’re meeting their needs and developing the skills they require now. It only matters to them that you have quantifiable information, even when parents are happy.

Lesson 3: School managers lie. They lie about communications with parents and often interrupt the relationships. They lie about events. They change situations to benefit themselves and maintain their scraps of power, especially when they know they don’t deserve it. School managers interrupt these connections in order to destabilise a teacher, making it easier to isolate them.

Lesson 4: Capitalism is super trash and negatively influences pretty much everything it touches, particularly education.

Leave a Reply