Bullying: Experienced and Chronicled


I kept the local union president and state uniserv rep appraised of the bullying of teachers for two years. The union president declared at one point, "Nothing will ever happen because you are the only one complaining."

An error of fact: the previous year another teacher (who had been given statewide recognition as one the the state's best teachers) complained to union AND administration before deciding to "retire" rather than put up with "the treatment." I responded to the union president, "Well, then the bullying is working just as it's supposed to!! Everybody is too petrified to speak up."

After I publicly exposed the principal and office manager as bullies, I was essentially fired. When the uniserv rep gave me the "settlement agreement" he said, "This is the best offer you are going to get." This was not said in a friendly manner. At no time did he defend me or argue that my firing was illegal or even morally wrong.

"Whistleblower" didn't seem to be in his vocabulary. He seemed as glad to get rid of me as the district. Just before exposing the principal, the union put out a flier on bullying that said it wasn't illegal but to let them know about it anyway. Why? So they could warn the administration that union member X was onto what they were doing?

As a building union rep, I observed, experienced, and/or heard of bullying behaviors of the principal and office manager toward teachers, paraprofessionals, and office staff at our middle school for three years. I began collecting documentation of the abuse in September 2004. Later in the game, other teachers were also involved in the bullying having been recruited to the service of the office manager and principal (even the other union rep bullied me!!).

The main bullying tactic used was to create chaos for the targeted teacher, then frequently remind them that "If you don't like it here, you can go someplace else." The favored fulcrum was to find what the targeted teacher loved to do and then take it away from them or make it very difficult to accomplish. One teacher had her for-high-school-credit biology class swamped with students who were not capable of the rigor of the class then the principal complained that she was "failing" as a teacher. In another case, the Japanese teacher had 6 more students assigned to her class than she had books; she was called on the carpet for mentioning it in the faculty room.

In the case of my wife and I (we worked in the same building), it was our use of National History Day (NHD) in our curriculum. While exhorting the staff to create and use "rigorous" curriculum with "student choice" (students get to choose their topic and it IS rigorous!), the principal moved me from 8th to 7th grade ("we need more men at 7th" then went about hiring men and placing them at 8th while moving more women to 7th) and told me to not use NHD because it wasn't "in scope and sequence." NHD is everything that the principal wanted in the way of curriculum and the state education office was beginning to institute classroom-based assessments and URGING the use of NHD, We the People, and other programs already in place to fulfill the requirement. Additionally, he eliminated the LA/SS block that we had, reducing the time to do NHD from two periods to one and increasing the number of students we handled from 60 to 144. So we were forced to try to do NHD with more than twice the number of students in half the time. Much to his chagrin, we continued to send students through regional exhibits to the State level. In fact, one of our students won in her State category and went to Nationals in D.C. (He refused to acknowledge us or our student for this accomplishment.) In fact, that year, ALL of the students we sent to State either placed in their category or were in the final judging round. A 100% success rate and it was still "not in scope and sequence."

Another tactic used was to allow the office manager to bully staff, too. She bullied the registrar so harshly that the principal moved the registrar into a back room; he didn't tell the office manager to stop bullying, he just moved the target. This then left the office to the very sour personality of the office manager; students began refusing to volunteer to run errands to the office because they were treated badly by her and parents complained about her as well. Another tactic of hers was to ignore us; if we needed something from her she would service all others (with a smile) and only then would she turn to us (without smiling or talking to show off her power) and silently take care of our needs, or perhaps say, "I'm too busy now, I'll do it later." Meanwhile many faculty realized what was happening and would privately ask, "If they can do that to YOU, what can they do to me?" That, of course, was the whole point; make an example of one of the high profile teachers and all the rest will cower in fear of their jobs. My comments to the union president were absolutely on the mark, and he refused to acknowledge it. Why? What did he gain by ignoring the poor treatment of his union members?

In February 2006, I accidentally witnessed the principal and office manager bullying two students, threatening them with the punishment of going to the principal's house and rototilling his yard, dressed in matching cover-alls for "the last two years of screwing around." A week later, I wrote an e-mail to the office manager requesting that she stop bullying me. This is what we teach our students to do when bullied; tell the bully to stop (a year earlier, I had had a meeting with the principal and office manger about this topic and was excoriated by them both for even THINKING that the office manager had said anything negative to me; what a bad, thankless person I was!). I listed specific behaviors that she was to stop immediately. I sent the e-mail to all staff in the building, the union president and uniserv rep, human resources (also previously notified, but who had, nine months earlier, cancelled a meeting with me the day before it was to occur where I was to outline my case against the bullies) and the assistant superintendent that I had also previously warned about the behavior (who told me, after consulting with the offending principal, that the principal told him that I was not being treated in the manner that I described and that I needed to "adjust my attitude"). I was put on administrative leave pending an "investigation" (improper use of company e-mail-threatening and bullying!!) that was to be completed within 5 days. Three weeks passed before the "investigation" of me (not the bullying of the principal and office manager) even started.

When I was finally called in to be "interviewed," I pulled out my 2" thick, three-ring binder with 2 years' worth of documentation of our treatment and said, "Where would you like me to start?" The HR guy and uniserve rep (who was supposed to be "representing" me, but who didn't say one word during the entire interview) literally dropped their jaws on the table and immediately started backpedalling in his position; I had them and they knew it. Mentioning the physical and psychological damage that had been done to me by "the treatment" accidentally gave them the opening they needed to get rid of me; I resigned my position for "personal and health reasons." I was physically sick and tired of the way I was treated by those who were supposed to be protecting our students. The behavior of the administration and union was sickening as they closed ranks to get rid of me. Later inquiries to lawyers drew two responses 1) sympathy for the ordeal, but no one willing to invest any time on it and 2) stopping the meeting at the point that I said, "And the union did nothing," saying that they had done work for the state union and would have a conflict of interest and could not represent me. I apparently had a better case against the union for "failure to represent" than I did against the district over the bullying.

The principal announced suddenly a couple of months later that he had a "wonderful opportunity" to work with a private educational firm (wink, wink) and would take a years' leave of absence. The office manager announced at the beginning of the next year that she was leaving for a new job at a local community college (more winking). My wife, in the meantime, was bullied by the NEW principal the next fall and "retired" within 3 months, 5 years early. The former principal turned up a year later (after the grapevine had it that he would NOT be offered an administrative position with the district at the end of his leave) as a finalist for the position of assistant superintendent in charge of teaching and learning! The guy who had tried to keep us from doing rigorous curriculum was to be head of teaching and learning!! My wife attended a public forum with the candidates and outed him as a bully in public with the superintendent sitting two rows behind her. I had continued communicating with the HR guy to try to get them to realize that they still had a bullying problem with the new principal, to which he admitted (union and administration were "consulting" with her; she and several other bullying teachers were sent to a "bullying workshop" but I highly doubt that they were told that THEY were considered the bullies.)

The district thought that after resigning, I would just go away; I didn't. I tried to remain engaged to continue to try to protect the students and my faculty colleagues. Eventually, the district wrote out a "no trespass" order against both of us. They claimed that our "continued communication...has become increasingly aggressive and...is deemed threatening and disruptive..." The assistant superintendent, whom I had warned about the bullying, went to our former school along with the HR guy and told our former colleagues that we were a "threat" to students and staff and that they were placing a police car on the grounds (we had moved 230 miles away) for their safety. They also threatened our former colleagues with disciplinary action if they contacted us using district equipment: a clear threat to their job if they so much as talked to us, by extension, on their home phones or computers. This was a direct attack on freedom of association and speech. This was also a clear indication that the district considered us a POLITICAL threat, using the imaginary, trumped up physical threat as an excuse to issue the "no trespass" order and bring to bear the weight of the police on us. The "no trespass" order has no judicial review; once served you cannot challenge it. How's THAT for heavy-handed?!

We figure that we have lost $800,000 in income, reduced retirement and social security benefits; interest on other retirement accounts we maintained; and paying for medical insurance coverage which would have been paid through work. Our income was cut from around $100K to $34K. That doesn't even begin to calculate the toll to our physical and mental health. We still occasionally wake in the middle of the night and are unable to get back to sleep. Prolonged duress stress disorder (PDSD) is related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It presents in very similar ways and takes years to work through. Sometimes people crack under the stress and become violent to themselves or others; five times more likely to harm themselves. Is this what we want to risk in our schools? Virginia Tech? Northern Illinois University? Columbine?

We "retire" with less than 1/3 of the funds we had planned to have available. And the district administrators have given themselves a new round of raises. Edmonds School District in Washington State.

Richard Reuther