Jun 22, 2015

A Teacher's Story of Workplace Bullying/Incivility in DCPS

Incivility & Workplace Bullying
photo by Kristian Hammerstad
By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Incivility is a general term for social behavior lacking in civility or good manners, on a scale from rudeness or lack of respect for elders, to vandalism and hooliganism, through public drunkenness and threatening behavior. The word "incivility" is derived from the Latin incivilis, meaning "not of a citizen".

I received both criticism and praise on my blog story about principal bullying in DC public schools. It's a story that must be told.

An opinion piece recently featured in the New York Times, titled 'No Time To Be Nice at Work' by Christine Porath highlights how mean bosses can be bad for workers and the company's bottom line. Porath is an associate research professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. She has done extensive research on incivility in the workplace.

In schools, workplace bullying/incivility hurts student success and contributes to teacher turnover (which isn't good for schools).

For as long as I have worked for DC Public Schools (since 1992), rudeness and bad behavior amongst certain school administrators has  been a reoccurring theme. A great deal of my union work in our schools has focused on retaliatory bosses. An increasing number of teachers have reported being subjected to bullying in the workplace by their principals. Administrators often defend their position by describing themselves as tough managers or view it as a way to motivate their staff .

How we treat each other at works matters. Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor states when employees experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often , their immune systems are affected and lead to major health problems like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers.

As if this isn't bad enough, incivility in the workplace has physiological effects as well. It shuts down the pre-frontal cortex. When you instill fear, the ability to think gets compromised.

Incivility has tangible costs too. It's a no brainer, when employers are mean, employees tend to have less focus, contribute less and lose their conviction and creativity. Porath's studies show that a group of participants who were belittled performed 33% worse on tasks and came up with 39% fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task. Participants who encountered rudeness, subsequently performed 61% worse on tasks.

What sort of workplace would condone behavior that engenders fear in its teachers and ultimately hurts our students and their ability to achieve? Teachers cannot contribute their best when under fear of bullying, harassment or abuse.

Teachers fear reprisal and rarely report incidences of workplace bullying even to their union. Having the spotlight on increases the pressure on our schools to do something. Here's a teacher's story on bullying in the workplace. The teachers name and the name of the DC school have been removed to protect confidentiality.

Bullying at My School

To whom it may concern:

"Fortunately, I'm on the principal's good side. She likes me, so she really doesn't bother me. However,
I have witnessed her bully my colleagues, use intimidating techniques, and lie on teachers- creating a divisive environment. I understand that what affects some, will eventually affect all. What bothers me most is hearing her mention how she doesn't like working with African Americans. She is always comparing her previous school which was mostly Caucasian staff to her staff now. She boasts about how she preferred working with this kind of staff. I'm not even Black and this is offensive to me.

Our principal has single handedly ruined staff morale. I hate to say this because we have really great teachers here. She gossips about teachers to one another. I should not know the details of a staff member's medical issues. But I do because the principal discusses teachers' personal information. She has spread rumors about which staff members are sleeping together. It is uncomfortable being in the position where I know things about people that I shouldn't. Isn't this an ethical violation? I am fearful of telling her how I feel. She has demonstrated time and time again, that the way teachers feel isn't her concern. Speaking up will cause me to be added to her 'hate' list. No one wants to be on her 'hate' list. I have witnessed her make teachers miserable because she dislikes them, so it is easier just to be quiet.

Principal X is not a good leader. She is not passionate about student achievement. Student achievement appears to be the least of her concern. She does not motivate and support teachers as it states in the principal job description. According to her job description, she is supposed to implement consistent school-wide instructional practices that are clear, results-oriented and research-based. This is not the case. Principal X is not consistent with anything. Things change from one day to the next and usually occur last minute. She implements practices that are irrelevant to student growth.

She actually believes that student test scores are low because teachers are incompetent. Principal X does not consider the fact that maybe she's a poor leader which affects student test scores, as well. I know that I will continue to work in constant fear. It is hard enough to deal with challenging students. I do not need a leader to make it any worse."

Anonymous teacher in DCPS

Photo courtesy of Kristian Hammerstad- New York Times

© Candi Peterson 2015

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a powerful story. Actually, it sounds like my story and what happens every day at our school. Unlike other teachers who are afraid to tell what's happening or to take action when being retaliated against or bullied, I have reported such abuse and unethical behavior. Instead of getting help, I was punished by DCPS, and from leaders at the highest levels. How is this justice?

Yes, there is a lot of bullying by DCPS principals who will destroy your teaching career and reputation. Keep good documentation if you're facing this at your school. You'll need it.