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Workplace stress, depression and unwarranted disciplinary action

Discussion in 'Health and wellbeing' started by rosievoice, Jun 23, 2010.

  1. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Hello. This is my first ever posting or request for help and advice.
    We have had an horrendous time since a new head started at my school. If I tried to write in detail it would run to thousands of words and you would give up reading. The school is independent and used to be a lovely place to work.
    It is a familiar story. New head starts. Drives out many older staff or those with a long history with the school, replaces them with newcomers. All recent promotions have gone to outsiders. Staff stability is no longer seen as desirable.
    An older teacher was asked why they were applying for head of a subject "at their age". Some teachers see the writing on the wall and leave. Some, like me, have only a few years to go before retirement so try to stick it out.
    Some much-loved non-teaching staff have their job descriptions re-written to force them to leave, in an attempt to replace all admin staff with part-timers or new people. (It is a big school) Those who want to stay have to accept humiliating treatment, gloating and pay cuts despite the finances of the school being sound.
    Members of SMT are informed that it is unprofessional to be friends with mere teachers, and that they should certainly not socialise with them.
    Some staff become informants as a survival strategy. Head develops favourites with those that are useful. Working hours are increased. Open mornings multiply, as do informative evenings of dubious benefit. The head likes to offer after-school activities, so job descriptions are currently being re-written to coerce teachers to stay. TAs have already been forced to work longer or be replaced.
    A culture of unhappiness and moaning develops. Morale plummets. The head takes a dislike to me as I remain friendly with a member of SMT and do not massage egos. I am always polite and courteous but offer no Stasi-type extras.
    Last November the head instructed my line manager to "really reprimand" me for forgetting to complete an admin task, and that if I transgressed again there would be repurcussions. Two days later, I discover that four other teachers also forgot, but were not threatened. The cold fingers of dread gripped my heart.
    Many other small events occurred which accumulated into the certain knowledge that the head was out to get me. I found myself struggling to do my work and started to work longer and longer hours to try to cope, more than 65 per week, plus commuting. Workload increased with new initiatives, class sizes increased, PPA time was non-existant in KS1 but generous in KS2. (I taught in KS1). Playground duties multiplied, it was possible to have only ten minutes break between 1100 and 1530 for four days out of five.
    I was starting to believe I was losing my mind as I couldn't concentrate, relax, sleep or remember anything, and firmly believe I was about to conk out. The trigger came, not with a ridiculous complaint made by a staff/parent, but with the head's gleeful reaction to it.
    One of the grevous complaints was that I miss-marked two questions whilst suffering from a migraine! A preliminary investigation was conducted without me being told that was what it was. (I was told it was an informal chat to be performed by my line manager). There is a school of thought that says the letter of complaint was a "put-up job". Maybe. My union rep says the complaints are ridiculous and that there is no case to answer.
    I denied the ridiculous allegations, admitted the miss-marking and thought little more of the matter. A few days later, the head informed me that I would be subjected to a full disciplinary process and that there would be consequences. Nice. Other members of staff have done far worse than miss-marking two questions during the time the head has been there, and have not been disciplined in any way. My health crumbled, and I have not been at work now for many weeks.
    My GP diagnosed workplace stress, anxiety and depression. I have physical and mental symptoms which are most upsetting. I seldom leave the house.
    In that time I have learnt that the head has forbidden others to contact me (some brave ones do) and has written frequently to remind me that the disciplinary hearing will take place at some point. Despite sending in regular sick notes, I recently received a "get well" letter stating that if I was not back at work soon a medical report would have to be submitted.
    Having nothing to hide, I agreed. My GP stated I was very ill, had been so for many months. The questions asked of my GP all centred around the disciplinary process. A few days after receiving the report, the head wrote again badgering me to state all my concerns in order for them to be resolved so that the disciplinary hearing could proceed. I am obviously inventing my illness. Staff and parents who enquired where I was have been fobbed off. I have not received the usual whole-staff get well card or flowers, and there have been no concerned phone calls, because I am obviously faking it.
    The head really enjoys the application of power and the ability to humiliate others. I am so saddened and don't know what to do next. I can't afford to retire yet, and need a reference to find another post somewhere, but it is unlikely that a head bent on destruction will write a good one. My GP, family and Union have been very supportive, but feel worse with the passage of time, not better. I miss my pupils and job, but to return would be to face certain destruction of my reputation and to be hounded out as others have been.










     
  2. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Hello. This is my first ever posting or request for help and advice.
    We have had an horrendous time since a new head started at my school. If I tried to write in detail it would run to thousands of words and you would give up reading. The school is independent and used to be a lovely place to work.
    It is a familiar story. New head starts. Drives out many older staff or those with a long history with the school, replaces them with newcomers. All recent promotions have gone to outsiders. Staff stability is no longer seen as desirable.
    An older teacher was asked why they were applying for head of a subject "at their age". Some teachers see the writing on the wall and leave. Some, like me, have only a few years to go before retirement so try to stick it out.
    Some much-loved non-teaching staff have their job descriptions re-written to force them to leave, in an attempt to replace all admin staff with part-timers or new people. (It is a big school) Those who want to stay have to accept humiliating treatment, gloating and pay cuts despite the finances of the school being sound.
    Members of SMT are informed that it is unprofessional to be friends with mere teachers, and that they should certainly not socialise with them.
    Some staff become informants as a survival strategy. Head develops favourites with those that are useful. Working hours are increased. Open mornings multiply, as do informative evenings of dubious benefit. The head likes to offer after-school activities, so job descriptions are currently being re-written to coerce teachers to stay. TAs have already been forced to work longer or be replaced.
    A culture of unhappiness and moaning develops. Morale plummets. The head takes a dislike to me as I remain friendly with a member of SMT and do not massage egos. I am always polite and courteous but offer no Stasi-type extras.
    Last November the head instructed my line manager to "really reprimand" me for forgetting to complete an admin task, and that if I transgressed again there would be repurcussions. Two days later, I discover that four other teachers also forgot, but were not threatened. The cold fingers of dread gripped my heart.
    Many other small events occurred which accumulated into the certain knowledge that the head was out to get me. I found myself struggling to do my work and started to work longer and longer hours to try to cope, more than 65 per week, plus commuting. Workload increased with new initiatives, class sizes increased, PPA time was non-existant in KS1 but generous in KS2. (I taught in KS1). Playground duties multiplied, it was possible to have only ten minutes break between 1100 and 1530 for four days out of five.
    I was starting to believe I was losing my mind as I couldn't concentrate, relax, sleep or remember anything, and firmly believe I was about to conk out. The trigger came, not with a ridiculous complaint made by a staff/parent, but with the head's gleeful reaction to it.
    One of the grevous complaints was that I miss-marked two questions whilst suffering from a migraine! A preliminary investigation was conducted without me being told that was what it was. (I was told it was an informal chat to be performed by my line manager). There is a school of thought that says the letter of complaint was a "put-up job". Maybe. My union rep says the complaints are ridiculous and that there is no case to answer.
    I denied the ridiculous allegations, admitted the miss-marking and thought little more of the matter. A few days later, the head informed me that I would be subjected to a full disciplinary process and that there would be consequences. Nice. Other members of staff have done far worse than miss-marking two questions during the time the head has been there, and have not been disciplined in any way. My health crumbled, and I have not been at work now for many weeks.
    My GP diagnosed workplace stress, anxiety and depression. I have physical and mental symptoms which are most upsetting. I seldom leave the house.
    In that time I have learnt that the head has forbidden others to contact me (some brave ones do) and has written frequently to remind me that the disciplinary hearing will take place at some point. Despite sending in regular sick notes, I recently received a "get well" letter stating that if I was not back at work soon a medical report would have to be submitted.
    Having nothing to hide, I agreed. My GP stated I was very ill, had been so for many months. The questions asked of my GP all centred around the disciplinary process. A few days after receiving the report, the head wrote again badgering me to state all my concerns in order for them to be resolved so that the disciplinary hearing could proceed. I am obviously inventing my illness. Staff and parents who enquired where I was have been fobbed off. I have not received the usual whole-staff get well card or flowers, and there have been no concerned phone calls, because I am obviously faking it.
    The head really enjoys the application of power and the ability to humiliate others. I am so saddened and don't know what to do next. I can't afford to retire yet, and need a reference to find another post somewhere, but it is unlikely that a head bent on destruction will write a good one. My GP, family and Union have been very supportive, but feel worse with the passage of time, not better. I miss my pupils and job, but to return would be to face certain destruction of my reputation and to be hounded out as others have been.










     
  3. Hello
    First things first you are NOT ALONE.
    Whilst our profession isnt full of people who have experiences as you are now some have. I speak as one who had a very nasty experience last year. Now I am much better, and in a better place in terms of employment as well as everything else
    However, this is not to take away any of how you are feeling right now, maybe ask your GP to refer you for counselling to help come to terms with things as they are.
    You must speak to your union and find out what they are doing to support you; they need to see a copy of any correspondence you have with the school and should be able to mediate and support the situation for your good.
    I am sure the union rep has already asked you to make a record formally of all that has happened; it may be helpful though it will be painful for you.
    You need to meet with your union rep (not the one in school) somone who is at area or regional level and discuss the situation and they should be able to help.
    You should not attend any meetings at the school without some sort of support.
    You may find that the head has asked people not to contact you because you are signed off sick and they dont want to get into further trouble for adding to your stress.
    Do take care of yourself. Look after you and listen to your body.
    Try not to spend too long inside but go for walks or drives which allow you to be outside; spend time with those friends you have outside teaching. Do excercise it does help and make sure you eat and drink enough its hard but it helps.
    I hope this doesnt sound too bosy ... do look after you.
    Take care and keep in touch with the forums - worried sick is also good. There are some people who really helped me (even tho I rarely post).
    C08


     
  4. Eva_Smith

    Eva_Smith Established commenter

    Storis like this disgust me. Bullying and the abuse of power by those in possession of it knacks me sick to my stomach.

    I can do nothing but whole-heartedly offer my sympathies for your situation and encourage to muster the strength to get through this. If you have the support of your union, you are halfway there. Keep records of everything, do not speak to ANYONE without representation present, and when you do, ensure either that the conversation is recorded, or that strict transcripts are taken of what is said.

    I hope you get through this soon.

    Love, Eva x x x
     
  5. Rosie, I'm sorry to hear you are going through this :( Unfortunately, as I have sadly discovered recently, almost anything can happen in education and disciplinary procedures differ from courts of law in one important respect: the school does not have to prove anything. It's enough if they think so.
    My advice would be to get out of there. Can you not take early retirement?
    There's another point as well: if you were disciplined for something other teachers have clearly also committed but were not disciplined or investigated for, then it's clearly a discrimination issue. You don't have a different ethnic background by any chance? (I don't just mean being black or asian, but also, say, half Irish or Welsh or Norwegian or anything) Because then it's also a racial discrimination issue. Raising this will of course not solve the problem but may make the head back down (they are usually scared of racial/religious discrimination issues).
     
  6. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Dear C08
    Thank you for your kind words. My GP has booked me in for counselling, but there is a backlog, unfortunately. I have made a timeline of all that has happened for my union rep, it made me bawl my eyes out but was an accurate account. You are giving the head more credit than he deserves, he isolated and imposed a gag on the other women (and it has been all women so far) that he has treated badly. Isolation is one of his preferred tactics. I have not even received the usual whole-school get well card.
    I promise that I will take care of myself now, should have done it years ago...
    Regards
    Rosie
     
  7. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Thank you Eva. My union chap is lovely and helpful, but is retiring next month. I am to meet his replacement soon, and all three of us will discuss where next to go. I will ensure I am never alone and unrepresented.
    Rosie xxx
     
  8. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Dear Spool
    I am sorry to hear you have also been through the mill. There are times when I would like to get out of there but am caught in a nightmare.Off sick at the moment, but I am trying hard to get better. When I am, I shall return to face the head's horror show, and disciplinary action, because I promise you, fair or not, that is what will happen. There will be a note on my file, and surprise, surprise, further insubstantial infractions will be discovered and further notes on the file. Lo and behold, I am suddenly unreliable and asked to leave.
    If I hand in my notice now, the vindictive side of the head will ensure that my references are unsatisfactory, despite twenty years of parents being more than satisfied with my performance, and I will find it very difficult to get another job. I am not being paranoid when I say this, he has acted irrationally before to a member of staff. I cannot give specifics as it would identify the school. Suffice it to say that a parent backed up a specific staff action with vital first-hand evidence, but it was dismissed out of hand, and the member of staff was elbowed out. No, I am not a member of a minority, just old and expensive.
    Regards
    Rosie
     
  9. jonowen

    jonowen Occasional commenter

    Rosie, sorry to hear what you are going through, and I wish you all the very best in the world. One of my (adult) children is in a similar position (but young and cheap!) with regard to requiring a reference from a bully boss. It is a horrible situation to be in and nobody should have to be in these dark places.
    Take care
    Joni
     
  10. Rosie, just a few bits of info:
    The disciplinary will go ahead even without you (yes, I know how absurd it is, but I know it from my union rep), so they may simply not wait till you get better. They may also refer you to OH to assess specifically whether you are fit enough to attend a meeting (=the disciplinary).
    If the union can argue a compromise agreement for you to leave, the school may (!) drop the disciplinary. This is the only way you won't have it on your reference. Otherwise, even if you spend ten more years at the school and then decide to find another job, the reference form of a new school will have something like "Has this person ever been subject to disciplinary procedures?" on it and your present school will have to tell. On the other hand a compromise agreement usually includes an agreed reference.
    Hope you are taking good care of yourself; I know it's very hard, but try not to let it shadow your whole existence...
     
  11. polly.glot

    polly.glot New commenter

    Rosie, the same thing happened to me a few years ago. I too am old and nearing retirement. If you would like to chat, please email me. pukeko_nz1950@yahoo.co.uk.
    Take very good care of yourself
    polly.
     
  12. snowstorm

    snowstorm New commenter

    Dear OP
    Everything that you are being subjected to can be challenged, including the bullying behaviour of the head, but you need to have the will and stamina to deal with it. Written records of everything are essential should you wish to take it further. Even the minutest of discriminaory comments should be noted and stored for future reference.
    Would you go to tribunal eg? Acas can also help you. dont just rely on your union rep.
    Ageism, harrassment and bullying at work is unlawful and there are sources of support available to teachers, not just the union who generally just go for the easiest and cheapest option which is broking a compronise agreement and an agreed reference.
    SSx
     
  13. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Thank you Joni. I keep hearing about more and more incidents like mine. It shouldn't happen in any workplace, especially so in a "caring" profession.
    Regards
    Rosie
     
  14. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Thank you Polly, I will.
     
  15. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Dear Spool
    It seems ridiculous, but let him go ahead with it if he wants. Somehow though, I don't believe he will. I think he likes you to be present as he humiliates or wields power. My union rep says that he will represent me in my absence, if it comes to this. I only know that I do not want to ever again be in the same room as this man. I would rather fill shelves in Tesco...
    I can't see him dropping the issue, having generated it. The head is a controlling person, and a bit ASD. My life is on hold at the moment with the grim symptoms of workplace stress. The proposed hearing is a separate and very minor part. (but was the trigger that precipitated my absence) I know now that I was going to end up being signed off anyway as I slowly ceased to function properly.
    Thank you.
    Rosie
     
  16. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Dear Snowstorm
    Thank you. I have no stamina at the moment, but it could return. I am starting to do a "brain dump" (?) to recall and record all the incidents that I can. My long term memory is OK but the short term version is kippered. As the unpleasantness occurred some time ago ( I have been off months) there is a good chance of recovering the past. However, witnesses/victims/targets still at school are fearful of coming forward. At one of the staff meetings last year, following a number of staff "leaving", the head said "I expect you are wondering who I am going after next, ha ha" . Charming chap.
    I shall discuss your suggestions with my union.
    Thank you
    Rosie
     
  17. snowstorm

    snowstorm New commenter

    At one of the staff meetings last year, following a number of staff "leaving", the head said "I expect you are wondering who I am going after next, ha ha"

    Dear Rosie
    It's this type of comment that needs to be noted with time, date, who was present, where etc; one day it will come back to bite him on his bottom; HARD!
    SS
     
  18. Dear Rosie
    I really feel for you. A very similar situation occurred at the indie I worked at a couple of years ago.
    I did reams of research into my options and was forced to conclude that, perhaps all the more so because it was an indie school, I hadn't a leg to stand on. I was absolutely raging that I had played into the bully's hands by making an error in my work. But he could, and did, opt to blow the mistake up to monstrous proportions, because he wanted me out.
    There was no way I could win. I got the area rep to negotiate me a fair reference and walked, vowing never to work in a school again. I took 18 months to recover sufficiently to get back in a classroom. To this day I still get panic attacks, flashbacks and distressing nightmares once in a while.
    I comfort myself with the fact that good staff have since left the place in droves and the head has had sex and drug scandals to contend with - far more embarrassing than my ***-up!
    I know you despair of finding work after this school because you are expensive - but what price your health?
    Take care.
     
  19. rosievoice

    rosievoice Star commenter

    Dear Liliski
    How many more evil heads are there out there? In what deluded universe is it OK to bully and drive good teachers out, or to ruin their health? I know stress can happen in any occupation, but my GP told me that the only people he sees with serious workplace stress are teachers. That is shameful.
    Regards,
    Rosie
     
  20. Dear Rosie, please do take good care of yourself, your health is more important than any meddling head, it is more important than a job, for that matter. Stress can do major damage to your health, especially if it lasts long. Unfortunately what Liliski writes about is far too common... :((( But at least you know you are not alone. I can't offer much more than some cyberhugs: (((Rosie))).
     

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