The Dear Addie (Advocate) column is for all ages and provides a confidential forum for important questions to be asked. Here you may also share your experiences or post suggestions and or options that have worked for you. This column will provide insight, knowledge and support for those who are seeking information and or affected by bullying.
I am a male teacher who has loved my job for over 15 years. This changed when a new principle began at our school. There were rumors that landed before she arrived but I kept an open mind. We heard that she was a bully and that many have suffered because of her. She is long past her age of retirement so we just hoped this was a short stint. We were wrong. I kept an open mind and was hopeful until she started bullying me in the first semester. She yelled at me in front of other staff members, threatened to destroy my career, removed me from the work I loved and gave me subjects and age groups that made no sense to anyone. I was not her only target. She wrote letters to the board trying to get me transferred out. They always denied her but surely this shows a pattern? She micro managed, was passive aggressive, overt and covert with her abuse. I made complaints to those who are supposed to be my advocate, protection, and support but they failed me, and others, ….over and over again. They told ME to transfer out saying it was the only way to get away from her. Why won’t they RETIRE her? Take care of the real problem! Stop placing teachers at risk? I am so angry about this injustice. Why wont they give her consequences? Once I complained that my lunch break was being taken over by the supervisions she assigns me. I was to be outside supervising kids. I was given 20 minutes to finish my lunch and use the bathroom. I complained and I was told that “Professionals do not need to eat” and Professions do not need to use the washroom they need to hold it”. This is insanity! I was told to get a doctor’s letter to show that I needed more than 20 minutes to eat or use the facilities. What? Is this for real? Bathrooms are limited for teachers which means we must wait! This what I pay fees for? Aren’t they supposed to stand up for our rights? I did get my doctors letter. My doctor was disgusted with this request. His response was “Professionals have the same health requirements of any other human being. To ask you to hold it is to put you at risk of a health issue”. I realize there is nothing you can do to change this but please post this and invite other teachers to share. I will remain anonymous for my own protection.
Southern Alberta Teacher
Dear Southern Alberta Teacher,
I worry about teachers, many are suffering in silence. I hear from quite a few of them and they sound hopeless and fearful. They feel very stuck, unheard, and undervalued by their leaders. I can’t count how many (from all professions) state that they really love their work but hate the abuse. Targets just want to do the work they enjoy, and do well. Sadly, these offenders are not placing the children’s needs first. I am happy to hear you have made complaints and followed through. If you ever feel you need to talk to one of us, feel free to call. You need support. With this letter, other teachers will know they are not alone. Eventually a pattern/theme will evolve and those who are doing nothing will be held accountable. Especially with the new bill 208. Our goal is to ensure that Employers, Unions, HR, will be held accountable for not reporting or addressing workplace abuse. Those who are reporting and following through need to be recognized for their ethics and bravery.
Your health and safety must come first. Thank you for sharing your doctors statement. We need more doctors speaking out about the stress, anxiety, panic attacks, migraines, gastrointestinal problems, cardiac problems, insomnia, weight loss, that is resulting from the workplace abuse that patients are reporting to them. We need more doctors willing to take training in this area so they can treat this type of workplace stress and illness effectively.
You are courageous for standing up for the health and welfare of your body. Thank for being willing to let us share this story. There are many who need to reach out for help and feel supported by those of us who do this work.
Addie the Advocate
Grateful for Mrs. Campbell (Calgary, Alberta)
My Mom is helping me write this letter. We read a lot about people that don’t stand up for people who are being bullied. I want to tell my story about my teacher Mrs. Campbell. She did stand up for me. It was 2 years ago when I was in grade 4. I started it because I stole a pencil case from a boy in my class. I have never had a nice pencil case. My parents don’t make a lot of money and they have 4 kids to pay for. I got caught and a lot of the kids in my class started to tease me because I stole something. They would not let me forget about it even though I said sorry. My mistake got attention and they called me names. I was so scared to go to school. I started to have stomach aches and even wet the bed. The school did tell my parents about my mistake and though I got grounded, they knew I felt like crap for doing it. My Mom talked to Mrs. Campbell so she knew this was getting to me. Once day I was crying and Mrs. Campbell took me out to the hallway. She told me I was not a bad girl. She told me that I made a mistake and that it is OK. She said I was a better person because I apologized. She said she will make the teasing stop. She asked me if it was OK for her to mention this in class. I thought that was nice of her because I would have been so embarrassed me if she just talked to them in front of me. The next morning, she talked to the class about bullying and name-calling and laughing at people. She did not point me out or make any examples of what they were doing to me. She talked about different stories of bullying and how it makes people feel. Some of the kids started to share stories in class about how they were bullied. The next day at recess some kids tried to tease me again. A few other kids made some comments about telling Mrs. Campbell and the bullying stopped. We are about to start school again soon. I think about Mrs. Campbell and how she has made it easier for me to go back. I feel safe with Mrs. Campbell. I know now she will step in. My problem right now is that I have a friend who’s being bullied at another school. She is having stomachaches and headaches just thinking about going back to school. My parents talked to her parents about what happened to me. My friend and I even started a poster about bullying for her school. We really hope her Principal will say yes to posting it in her school hallway. Making this poster has helped us talk a lot about the bullying. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Campbell we would never have started this project.
I want to say thank you to Mrs. Campbell and I hope that she will see this post
Dear Addie is busy trying to locate Mrs. Campbell for a SHOUT OUT from ABRC. Stay Tuned!
My Gym Teacher is Bullying Me
Mrs. Baxter (name changed) is my gym teacher and she’s a bully. I am in grade 8 but I’m not going to name the school for it might make things worse. I don’t know why teachers think that grade 7 and 8 students are too stupid to notice how they flirt or act inappropriately with others. Believe me, we see it and we talk about it all the time. For three years I have seen Mrs. Baxter try her best to get the attention of the male teachers. It’s gross! She wears tight jumpsuits or tops and she plays with her zipper (up-and-down) showing off. Her big chest is pretty hard to miss so for me and my friends, this is disgusting. We all know our male gym teacher is a married man. She’s married too. This is our role model? I think she knows we are on to her. She caught us laughing at her zipping routine and started to bully a few of us. I am on the gymnastics team, volleyball team, and the basketball team. I’m around her a lot. I used to be one of her main picks for competitions. Now does everything in her power to make me feel useless. When I do well, she takes the attention or reward for my being good at what I do and she NOTHING to me. Last year she humiliated me in front of my friends and some other students. We were having a gymnastic try out and I was not feeling very well. I had a virus so I did not perform to my best. I went to the change room and cried – I disappointed myself. She didn’t come in to see me or offer me any support. She did praise my friend – right in front me while I was still crying, and told her how humiliated she was by my performance. She told my team mate she was embarrassed to have me on the team. My peer was totally wrapped up in her excitement (she did great) and didn’t notice how abusive Mrs. Baxter was being. I was the target of abuse by this teacher for a year and I felt there was nothing I can do. The principal and assistant principal are males. They all like her. She knows that too. My voice will mean nothing to them. How does a teen get to feel any hope when it is (popular) teacher against student? I am really disappointed that people would allow her to chip away students’ self-esteem. I am definitely not the only one. If Mrs. Baxter feels someone made her look bad – look out! I talked to my parents about her. We read a book about bullying and I know bullying is about the abuse of power. Mrs. Baxter is a bully but she uses her body/looks to get her power. My parents agree with me. They helped me understand things and to write this letter. My problem now is that sports is really important to me and this really affected my performance. She chipped away at me every time I saw her. I could feel my self-confidence shrinking. Then I did a little worse. Do I give up sports? Leave the school? We decided I would leave but I am sad about not seeing my friends. I know I never have to go back to that school now but I wonder about the next kids. I’m sharing my story because I want parents – teachers and principals to hear what some kids go through. If you read this and it helps someone I feel better. Thank you for helping me find a way to get this out. I sure hope my story helps someone.
Stay tuned for Dear Addie’s September Blog response!
Two Male Teachers
I am in a school from kindergarten to grade 12. We are in a small town. I was in grade 6 when I noticed that our science and social studies teachers, both males, stand in the hallway outside their classroom doors and laugh as they look down female student’s shirts. A lot of the girls wear low cut tops and show way too much I think it’s dumb, but I guess these two teachers are ok with it. I see these girls just laughing at the teachers. They just roll it off like it’s a joke. It’s so disgusting. What perverts two men are. We are just kids. I know this is wrong but is this bullying? I think about reporting them but I get scared. How I prove this? It would be 2 teaches against me, or even a group of us, and we are already labelled as “silly teenage girls”. I have not told my parents because it is gross and they are having problems. So what do we do?
Stay tuned for Dear Addie’s September Blog response!
Small Town Dear Addie
I live in a small town, everyone knows everyone. I am scared to death to talk about my work situation. Our boss has worked for our employer for over 30 years. Those in charge just keep transferring him from one work location to another because no one can work with him. Every time they move him – a new worksite becomes toxic. Over the years those in charge have received many complaints and far too many have gone on sick leave because of him. Others just transfer out or resign. I know for a fact that many people shared evidence (emails, witness statements) with Human Resources. Yet the employer does nothing. Why don’t they care about their employees? Why don’t they care about the vulnerable clients we serve? Why don’t they abide by our code of conduct? Code of ethics? Work standards? Mission statements? I am strong, independent, assertive, and a successful professional. That changed when I became his target one year ago. He has attacked my work reputation, friendships, client relationships, and personal life. I have made complaints and the abuse just gets worse. I am so sick from the stress I have collapsed. I am so ashamed of being weak and sick. I just can’t believe this has happened to someone like me. If I reach out for help, my community will know. There are no other jobs in my community. I am trapped and I am scared to death of losing everything. I need help but my confidentially must be protected.
Small Town Professional.
Dear Small Town Professional,
Thank you for writing in and sharing some of your experience with us. First I want to assure you that ABRC fully protects your confidentiality. Next I want to share with you that you are not alone. Being in a small town with limitations really does make things more difficult. All of us at ABRC understand the many emotions and fears you are experiencing. I am very glad you reached out. It is easier to sort things out with others supporting you. We will find a way to connect with you. Do you have internet where you are? Can we meet on skype? If not can we talk on the phone or facetime? Can you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what larger town or the City you are closest too? Once we can establish a way to connect with you it will be helpful to know more about your story. We will protect your confidentiality while providing you with support in the form of: consultation with your situation, brainstorming solutions with you, offering tools and guidance to help you gain back your clarity, health, and strength. Isolation will make things worse so let us help you connect to people that understand your turmoil and can help you build your resources. Please email us with day/time of availability and we will go from there. Thank you for allowing us to post your question, your situation will help many others who are experiencing workplace abuse.
Dear Addie, Landlords Get Bullied Too
I am writing to you to tell you my story. I am a 50 year old single lady who has always had lot of confidence and many successes. I have had some sorrows in life like all others, but nothing ever affected me the way my bullying situation has. I recently became a landlord. It was a very exciting time, the prospect of building an extra income for my retirement. There was a bit of upgrading to do, so I spent 4 months of my free time completing them. I met my new tenants Karla and Paul. Paul begged me to rent him the property. His charm was undeniable. Prior to the move in, I showed them the basement and explained the renovations and they understood. I also explained that they rented the upstairs suite and the basement was not their concern. The renovations were done by 5 and never started before 9, as well Sunday was excluded. There were initial instances with Paul where I felt uneasy being alone with him. I just felt that he wanted to physically hurt me. Then instances of verbal abuse became regular. He told me to get the f*** out of his house. The renovations were finished shortly thereafter and I thought- okay things will calm down. When a renter occupied the lower suite, Paul and Karla struck with their master plan. The basement was not yet legalized and they demanded repayment for all the rent they’d paid. I however had been in accordance with the city and had everything in order.
The bullying and harassing escalated. There were threatening calls, ultimatums. Fortunately their rent check bounced and I could serve them a concrete reason for eviction. There were days with 17 calls and texts. They appealed eviction. After 2 court dates they were finally out of the house but still wanted restitution. At the court proceedings a judge ruled in their favor and awarded them a stipend for their troubles. Through the ordeal police were called 3 times, his mother left threatening messages, there was screaming on the front street. I am proud to say I acted in a courteous and composed manner; however it was not how I felt.
I had 4 panic attacks; 2 which I had to leave work over, missed 2 days of work, went home 2 other days of work. I slept for 2 hours for 4 months. I had nightmares that replayed every situation all night as well as day long. I was disinterested in friends and family. I did not want to celebrate Christmas. I had no idea another persons actions could cripple your life. I had no escape from the situation; it just overtook my whole existence. No one had ever been mean, lied, humiliated, taunted, manipulated and finally gloated me to that extent. Those people are evil and go through life treating others that don’t give them what they want like that.
I am finally out of this situation. I have hired a lawyer to prevent them from contact, since police cannot get involved in a non violent civil matter. I am reverting back to who I was. I have learned how to identify people like that and also how to deal with them. This was one of the worst instances I’ve lived through, but I did.
I am very sorry to hear of your ordeal. You bring to light the fact that bullying occurs in all forms of employment. Yours is the first story I have heard from a landlord and I thank you that. You explain the affects of bullying well and many will relate to you. I am very glad to hear you are recovering from this experience. Never hesitate to seek professional supports for there may be times when you just need to talk to someone who has experience with trauma, anxiety and/or panic attacks for example. For some it can feel somewhat uneasy to reach out for professional support from time to time but I assure you we are worth this level of self care. I want you to know that I admire your desire to share this story, this will help others. Thank you so very much!
Is there anything I can do to make the bully in my office (my supervisor) stop her abusive behaviors? I have watched her go from one target to the next and now it is my turn. I know she is setting me up. This is like watching a train wreck and my career is the causality. How do I make this stop?
Sadly, you are not alone on that train track!I am the first to admit that there are no easy answers. Keeping in mind that I am not aware of your circumstances, and that each workplace and individuals personal situation is different, I will provide a broad stroke answer to your question. Lucille it has been my experience that you cannot put a stop to serial bullies behaviours without making things more difficult for yourself. In light of this here are some suggestions to consider.
Be sure to document well and kept records of what you have witnessed and experienced. Keep the emotions out of your documentation and be detailed and specific. If safe, ask your colleagues to do the same. We can use our own professional code of ethics as guidelines for work safe behaviors and protection. Know that complaints can be filed against us if we do not report the abuse we have witnessed.
Be sure to do a review of your options e.g. you’re your company policy and complaint procedures including mission statement, code of conduct, charter of rights, and so on. (Note: if these do not exist you could approach management on leading their development). Follow your company complaint process and document well. This should include for example, approaching management, human resources, union, and or human rights. Depending on the circumstances, you could consider filing a complaint (ethics complaint) through your supervisor’s professional association. Again these are not easy answers.
First and foremost is your health and safety. Be sure to increase your knowledge on bullying dynamics (see ABRC resource section), and share this with your supports and your colleagues. Seek professional support and be sure that they are knowledgeable on bullying issues. If you cannot find someone with this knowledge, ask that they review material on workplace bullying before you see them. Your company may have an EAP program you can access.
You can request that your employer (and or professional association) bring in a professional expert to provide a workshop on workplace bullying, or attend one on your own. Some unions provide a workplace bullying workshop but do note that these are very basic overviews.
Many pursue other employment options. If you are considering leaving work, I recommend if it is possible, that you take time away from your place of employment first. What I mean is, use your sick time or holidays to take a step back and breath. This is an overwhelming experience and sometimes we regret exiting without a strategy in place. Develop a strategy and use your supports to help you see issues you may miss. For example you may want to ask for a written reference. Before I announced that I was leaving my place of employment,I advised leadership and select colleaguesthat I needed written references asa requirement for attending a professional development program.
If and when you do leave, please consider requesting an ‘exit meeting’ with your manager so that you can enlighten him/her on your true reasons for leaving. The next target will appreciate this very much. I am available for a more personalized detailed assessment and recommendation. Let us know what happens for you and best of luck to you.
I Regret Not Reporting My Son’s Teacher
My son was bullied by a teacher. I feel she may have bullied me too (single parent). She seems to have power over all the other teachers because they see what she is doing and yet I see no facial response from them to help him. My son is a shy, gentle boy who has never been outspoken or a fighter. He has very few friends, a bit of a loner like his father. He can be a joker, but only when he is with his family/friends he knows well. Just 3 weeks into the school year I was called to come in and talk to her.
She stated my son was a trouble maker, instigating other kids to act out, advising me he will be disciplined. I responded in shock ‘you must have the wrong kid’! I said, he doesn’t have the confidence (negative or not) or courage to do any of that! She was furious, adamant, unwilling to assess or investigate further. She refused to listen to me. I was ordered to attend a board meeting or he will be suspended. Three teachers sitting at a table and me by myself shaking in front of them. How intimidating! She was the only who spoke in anger about my son’s behaviours. The others appeared to be ornaments to support her presence. I defended my son over and over again. I told her many of the boys looks the same she’s made a mistake, he is so fearful of being at this new school. I stated….”IF” he was behaving this way it would be the first time in his life and would be his nerves. If he is trying to find a way to cope with the stress of junior high, trying out new behaviours, then we need to teach and support him. NOT DISCIPLINE HIM!
She dismissed my comments (looking at her colleagues and rolling her eyes) and insisted he was the bad child instigating problems for her. She wanted him disciplined and threatened suspension. I left that office with my son and could not even drive. We both sat and cried. This was over 10 yrs ago and I still feel pain when I pass this school. I wish I had reported her to the principal AND superintendent. I should have shown my son that we will have his back and stood up to these people. I didn’t feel strong then. I didn’t feel I had support. I would have called you if you had been around!
I am speaking out now so other parents don’t’ make my mistake. I regret this over and over again. Please stand up to the school systems, go up the ladder, don’t give up. Call the Ministers office, or your Ombudsman. This is a precious experience that your child will learn from. Your children need to know they have rights and we fight for them.
Dear Parent Regrets
Thank you for sharing this story and turning your experience into advocating for others. I have been receiving more and more calls from parents who state the teachers and/or principals are the ones bullying the children. This is a side of the phenomenon that is rarely spoken about. Support and approaches to this will be very different from the current anti-bullying resources that exist today. I am doing some research in this area and now. Parents can call me to develop strategies for their children, how to address the schools and other systems, and for counselling their child or entire family. If your wounds are still bubbling up now and then, considering seeing a counsellor and having a discussion, (with or without your son) so that this period of time can heal once and for all.
I have been in recovery from my bullying experience for about 2 years now. I find I still get triggered and choked up by things that remind me of what happened to me. Does this mean I am not recovering? Is it understandable or acceptable for me to still have these emotions, anxiety, anger, sadness and all those other feelings that come up for me? Confused
This is a great question. I find recovery from bullying is very similar to the experience of grief and loss. It takes time and there are some things we need to do to ensure our recovery is moving forward. For example, sharing our story in a form that works for our personal style. Allowing ourselves time to let our emotions flow. Tears are healing. We need to explore ways that bring us nurturing. This is different for everyone and a counsellor experienced in this area will help people find their own way. For example, it has been several years since I lost my parents and yet I have waves of grief that are intense. Once I do the things that I need to do to process these waves of feelings (cry, talk, time alone, time with good people etc) these grief waves do not take my joy for weeks or months anymore. These reactions to loss or to bullying take a few minutes or hours or even a few days to process. I return to me much sooner. Though I will never get over the loss of my parents, I have adjusted. Bullying is the same. We will never fully forget but if we do our personal work, we will adjust/ and we can move on. Accept these waves of emotions as waves. They are real when they arrive but they can move through you. It is important to trust and accept that your body is telling you something very important. Like it is time for a bit more healing. Talk to someone, write, create, nurture. Notice the time period for the intensity of your pain to decrease as you take care of yourself.
An individual at my workplace has been bullying me for 4 years. They belittle me in meetings, groups, and take credit for the work I have done. This person calls me names and puts me down because of my disability. This person also gets me to do all of their work while skipping out. I have spoken to management about this. In fact others have spoken to management on my behalf. One of the many shocking answers that I receive from the management is that “we need to be understanding of this person due to this persons disability”. How do I advocate for myself when I also have a disability! In fact, I am in an organization where the majority of us have a disability! How can one be treated protected (the one who is abusing me) and others sacrificed?
Thank you for your letter for it demonstrates another aspect of complexity for WPB. Depending on your circumstances you may have a case of discrimination under the Human Rights Act. www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca
Do whatever you can to continually remind yourself that you do not deserve this treatment. And believe that! For some reason this person has a weakness and uses ‘abuse’ to feel better. If this person is hitting a sore spot of yours from the past, seek some healing for this sore spot so that you may be free of that trigger for ever! But do not take this abuse personally. I know that is hard to do sometimes, so do get some help with this. One common affect from being targeted is a seducing ‘self doubt’. Before self doubt grabs a hold of you, get your supports in place. You may need reality checks, validation and strength to stand up for yourself. The inadequacy in this situation is not yours.
With limited details, I can only provide you with a few suggestions to get you and your colleagues brainstorming. First I am wondering if you can brainstorm ideas for protecting your work. For example, at the end of our work day we each handed a tracking sheet which was then recorded on excel by our admin staff. This was for stats but it also showed our work load. In my case I liked it for no one could take credit for my work. Or, maybe your manager would be willing to receive an email from you outlining your completed projects. It is never easy to be placed in an embarrassing situation during meetings or groups. This is where I needed to take some assertive classes and I recommend it for you too. Are you like many who have a hard time saying no? This part is yours to work on. We must stick to our job descriptions, (unless there is a trusted and respected give and take), and hold on to our healthy workplace boundaries.
Another suggestion for you is to document the meeting or group scene that affected you “in a role play format”. Ask your manager to assist you with exploring effective and comfortable responses. Role play the scene to demonstrate your willingness to find a win/win solution, and allow your manager to have a clear perspective of the abuse. Let your manager be you in the role play! If the manager is not a person you can approach with this, try practising with your colleagues or other supports. A counsellor who is familiar with bullying issues would be the best! You may also want to ask your manager to meet with you and this individual for a supportive discussion around name calling. Your manager is accountable for a safe workplace. Each of you deserve to feel respected, safe and supported. Would your supports at work agree to meet with you and your manager to discuss these issues? I hope these help get you started on some creative solutions. Your health and wellness needs to come first. Please read through my resources, attend a WPB workshop, and share this material. Remember, if you decide to leave, (if possible) take time to develop a strategy. Contact my number if you need further assistance. Good luck!
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