Bullying at school – when administrators master it and then look the other way

http://m.sfgate.com/sfchron/db_106665/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=nOrkIS7w

Yesterday morning as I was doing work at home I listened in on the discussion Michael Krasney on NPR was having with a variety of people on his show regarding bullying.  While bullying seems to be the new ‘in’ word to describe bad behavior, there is nothing new about it, most especially at schools.  If anything, bullying has become a tour de force set of behaviors that have only gotten the attention or notice deserved because of the most recent suicides and physical/emotional issues seeing the light of day.  In the past, it was almost unconscionable to talk about bullying, much like child or spousal abuse. Finally we are not stumbling over the carnage, we are addressing a very real issue affecting both students at school, the adults who work at the school and society at large.

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-02/bullying-bosses-affect-more-just-their-targets

As I listened to to various callers, I could not help but well up and cry. I had not been bullied in any substantial way as a child, rather just the generic kids being kids being obnoxious behavior. Perhaps that is why as an adult it was so darn difficult to see the bullying happening to me and around me when I taught at Cal Prep (Aspire Public Schools) in Oakland, CA.

As a teacher at Cal Prep, I watched an 8th Grader , D,  beat up a 3rd Grader from Berkley Maynard at break. He was back at school a couple days later as the then principal wanted to ‘work things out’ since this particular student, although violent, scored high on tests. In my classroom, I had 7th Grade males calling one female, who shall go by J, double D.  At first I thought they may have been talking about a rapper and gave it the benefit of the doubt as J said it was okay. When it persisted and I knew it related to breast size, of which this student was large, I put the kabosh on – or at least I thought I did. The principal felt I was too caught up in the name calling taunts and needed to back off so the boys would stop.  I had a student who hated gays/fags and made it quite clear at PE. I called in the parents. The parents were all over it and took the student to task.  The principal again felt that it was just a typical behavior from these types of kids and to lay off and they would stop.  The group in charge of being the real discipline or guards at the school just happened to be some of the employees from The Black Muslim Brotherhood.

In a staff meeting, myself and another teacher stated we felt ishy about the school guards. I was later told by the principal in private that I needed to better understand the community I was serving, as in I am white, a portion of the community is black and essentially I was racist.  I later found out the uncomfortable feeling I had was because the school guards were ex cons and pretty much everyone in Oakland had an issue with them, black, white or other.

To add insult to the various physical and emotional injuries going on around me with students,  other teachers and myself were abused by the principal and administrative staff (V P’s) of Aspire Public Schools.  I was ultimately tormented for being exhausted and anemic (the precursors to needing a hysterectomy) because I was ‘letting down my colleagues’  and then needing surgery – the hysterectomy, which could have interfered with school testing because it could require 4-6 weeks of me beingh out of work. I was denied the help to pack up my classroom or unpack it, both with written medical requests from  the surgeon at Kaiser Permanente because the school was running low on funds and I just needed to figure it out.  At the same time I was being tormented, another teacher who had a reoccurence of breast cancer was similarly being tormented and ultimately fired. I chose to leave from the pervasive and continuous harrassment so according to FEHA rules and regulations, I made an admission of guilt to my poor teaching due to exhaustion/anemia, in spite of everything else going on around me and was with an employer who used an at will contract.  Another teacher (also a professor at Cal Berkeley) was physically and emotionally abused by the principal.  The teacher with breast cancer won an out of court settlement so it did not need to go to trial (Lawless and Lawless). The professor compelled UC Berkeley to take appropriate action. I was left high and dry because technically, I could be let go for wearing the wrong color dress (at will contract).  Another employee at our school who was diabetic, was regularly scorned and not allowed appropriate nutrition breaks.  And yet two other employees were variously asked to schedule ‘differntly’ their  medical appointments so it did not get in the way of the flow of the school as it was difficult to find substitute teachers/coverage.

In addition, the professors from the education department at UC Berkeley who were brought in as consultants, knew what was going on both with students and staff and let it pass. They did not want to get caught up in the politics.  Parents, one of which is an administrator at UC Berkeley, one an employee at the law library were allowed without compunction to hassle the teaching staff in a vareity of e-mails as they were on the school board and the principal wanted very badly to have good PR with these two parents.

At the point I quit, my family and friends were astounded by how willing I had been to accept the abuse for myself and possibly believe the principal might be right.  It took a while to understand I had been badly bullied by the principal, Aspire Public Schools, parents and my reaction was pretty reasonable considering the situation.  I was overcome with a horrible sense of guilt rather than realizing I was only trying to protect myself.

Not only was I witness to bullying being perpatrated and tolerated at the school, it was used on me and at least three other teachers quite effectively so the principal could exercise his ego.  The principal was promoted, another one came in.  Aspire calls all of this a learning experience. They are so good at bullying they can even put it in a nice package and hand it to you.

Update:   22 October 2010

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2026632,00.html

The end result is a educational leadership system that baffles people in the private as well as the public sector.
 The Army “is very clearly up or out,” says James Wilcox, a former Army officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot who is now CEO of Aspire Public Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools in California.
 But in public schools, he says, “it’s up and stay.”
All of this would be easier to digest if I did not have the paperwork including a lawsuit against my previous principal, my FEHA/EEOC paperwork against my past principal and Aspire Public schools and know about my previous principals promotion out of the school to the administrative offices of Aspire Public Schools.  Aspire is no different than public schools, they just use different names and meanings in the same way Michelle Rhee practices anomoly theory.
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3 thoughts on “Bullying at school – when administrators master it and then look the other way

  1. I am so relieved to find your posts about your experience at the Oakland charter! I was considering joining their teacher residency program and couldn’t quite get past this unexplainable desire to stay far away from this employer. Even though the ‘residency recruiting staff were outwardly pleasant, something underneath the shiny exterior was amiss and foreshadowed a certain mixture of dread, terror and and pain, should I take the plunge.

    I hope you are in a healthier place and your health is back on track. I am so sorry you endured such a hostile work environment. Thank you though for sharing the hard earned pearls of your wisdom and experience with others. Your posts will likely inform and inspire those would be teachers avoid hire with Aspire.

  2. Dear Jadedserf,
    At the time of this blog being originally written, there was no teacher residency program. Aspire (and other charter school groups) created this ‘phenomenon’ for a variety of reasons: (1) there were no more people in local communities who wished to work for them (2) there were some people desperate for a teaching credential and wished to believe what Aspire cobbled together was a worthy masters program (3) there was high unemployment and people DESPERATE for employment so Aspire ‘incentivized’ people who could not break into job market yet had Bachelors (4) it allows Aspire to hire foreign teachers for substantially less- there was their debacle with teachers from Spain the year I left 🙂 (5) they need some way to spend all the money being f’ed into the coffers which is not directly used on students (Reed Hastings of Netfix fame gives untold $$$ to Aspire under some agreement/political move) (6) most charter schools are non-union and the revolving door must be fed (7) like any corporation, better to hire people with less training and ‘indoctrinate’ to corporate way of thinking (7) far less expensive to hire people under qualified and supervise. The list could go on and on. Suffice it to say something wrong with their planning, business model and conduct as people, especially idealistic teachers or recent grads should be flocking to them AND they should not need to expand to TN to balance their books….just food for thought. I have moved forward and continue to maintain great relationships with colleagues who also LEFT Aspire.

  3. Dear Jadedserf,
    At the time of this blog being originally written, there was no teacher residency program. Aspire (and other charter school groups) created this ‘phenomenon’ for a variety of reasons: (1) there were no more people in local communities who wished to work for them (2) there were some people desperate for a teaching credential and wished to believe what Aspire cobbled together was a worthy masters program (3) there was high unemployment and people DESPERATE for employment so Aspire ‘incentivized’ people who could not break into job market yet had Bachelors (4) it allows Aspire to hire foreign teachers for substantially less- there was their debacle with teachers from Spain the year I left 🙂 (5) they need some way to spend all the money being f’ed into the coffers which is not directly used on students (Reed Hastings of Netfix fame gives untold $$$ to Aspire under some agreement/political move) (6) most charter schools are non-union and the revolving door must be fed (7) like any corporation, better to hire people with less training and ‘indoctrinate’ to corporate way of thinking (7) far less expensive to hire people under qualified and supervise. The list could go on and on. Suffice it to say something wrong with their planning, business model and conduct as people, especially idealistic teachers or recent grads should be flocking to them AND they should not need to expand to TN to balance their books….just food for thought. I have moved forward and continue to maintain great relationships with colleagues who also LEFT Aspire.

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