(*real names have not been used for fear of reprisals. The stories below were told individually to ChildForum. The stories do not form part of any survey or other report. After reading, if you would like to share your experience, perhaps for your story to be added to this page, email us).
Bullied and threatened teacher attempts suicide
Tasha vows she will never return to the ECE industry after a horrendous experience of bullying at a privately-owned centre. She found she had no control over her situation and it culminated in her attempting to take her own life. Although Tasha was the head teacher at the centre she had no authority over the daughter of the owner who worked at the centre as an unqualified teacher. She was the scapegoat for everything that went wrong and was often caught between the owner and daughter and experienced double bullying. It got to the point where it was not safe for Tasha to do what was right. She reported the bullying to the Ministry of Education and gave it the heads up also on the centre’s dishonesty in funding claims. But after one phone call she never heard back from it regarding the bullying. Her wages were cut and her hours were cut. Tasha was threatened by the daughter with retribution from the local head hunter gang that the daughter was supposedly associated with. Tasha said: “My integrity suffered. I began to make mistakes. I was so stressed I tried to take my own life. My husband did not realise how bad things were. He had to call the ambulance. There was nothing he could do.” With her husband’s support Tasha has focused on recovery. “But at times it still overwhelms me. I feel I need to tell my story as this sort of thing in early childhood education needs to stop.” Tasha is a qualified teacher with 20 years of experience in teaching and centre management.
A brutal boss who used and took advantage of staff
Jenna had worked at other centres where she was included as a member of the team and respected. So when she took up a new job she knew something was wrong in the way her boss talked to her. Her boss talked above her and showed no respect. She was told to make sure that she abide by the rules and not to question. The boss’s comments were often brutal. “She made me cry.” Jenna said she was frequently taken advantage of and put into difficult positions. “One day I had finished working but on the spur of the moment she told me I must stay behind and clean chairs. I would offer to face paint the kids but then I would be left alone outside with all the children. I felt used. She told me I was lucky to work for her because I was young and unqualified. It made me quite emotional all of the time. To be bullied all the time is not nice. They had a lot of staff change and I felt sorry for the next staff member taken on.“
You may also be interested in reading:
2. Article by Adele Redmond on the Stuff website: "worrying' extent of bullying among teachers"
3. Article by the NZ Herald "Calls for Ministry of Education to crack down on significant bullying in sector
Bullied for not supporting the bullying of colleagues
Chris had come from a background of successful teaching in childcare and was working at a kindergarten when shoulder-tapped by a senior manager to apply for a position at a kindergarten that was struggling. “I went to take a look to see how the children were being treated. They weren’t being treated well so I thought I could make a difference.” It always had low rolls although there were lots of families who would come to visit but many would not return. The teachers were grumpy and stale in their teaching. “They did not want to change. Head office wanted to move them on.” Not long after Chris started the head teacher left. A head teacher who was a relieving teacher at another kindergarten was put into the position who “was a bigger bully than the other two teachers.” According to Chris “it was a tragedy. The head teacher tried to use me as bait. Every week we had to have separate meetings with the head teacher.” Chris would not agree to support the bullying: “It is morally wrong to be bullying another person and because I backed the other teachers up I was seen to be a trouble maker. It was so bad you couldn’t even talk to the other teachers during session time because you could be accused of conspiring. When someone is making up lies to get at you, you had to constantly watch your back when teaching.” Chris talked to the Professional Services Manager about it “but her job was to clean up the kindergarten so she couldn’t help me. It fell on deaf ears but I couldn’t just leave; I had a mortgage to pay”. Chris needed help. As part of appraisal Chris wrote “I do not feel safe here.” Chris received no response. After that Chris lost faith in the head office. “I looked the manager in the eye and asked ‘Do you think I am a good teacher?’ She said ‘yes’ and I knew then that I had to leave.” Chris hopes one day to return to early childhood teaching but would not work for the kindergarten association again. “That absolute bully of a head teacher now works in head office.”
Control mentality of boss brought enthusiastic intelligent teacher to tears
Connie thought she had found the perfect job after graduating as a qualified teacher. The centre seemed nice, everything on paper and on its website sounded perfect. She was looking forward to undertaking her registration as a teacher. Her boss though insisted that she would be her mentor and she was not allowed to choose her mentor. She was not given written feedback and supported with the registration process and her requests were brushed off. On matters affecting children Connie would make requests but “I felt like I was never being heard. I had to fight for the little things that I should not have to. The last straw was because of some of the teachers leaving I was left in charge of relievers. I didn’t feel it was my place to manage relievers and tell them what to do but I was told to. A rliever complained to the boss and the boss took the relievers side before hearing my story. I was being accused for something I had never done. It felt like absolute torture. I walked to a local cemetery for an hour and just cried. When I found a new job I was told I was not allowed to tell the parents I was leaving. I was close to the children it was hard to leave them but I couldn’t manage it anymore; my health had suffered so much.”
Bullied into silence many times over
Lucy, a highly experienced and qualified early childhood teacher, decided early this year to walk away from early childhood teaching altogether. She says: “I have experienced workplace bullying in various forms which include being threatened and pressured not to inform authorities over concerns of abuse of children. Being bullied to sign contracts and then being cheated out of the 90 day trial period. I have been pressured to go to work when I have been sick more than once. All of these cases made me feel too uncomfortable to stay in early childhood education which can be such a toxic environment to work in so I have left.”
Bullied and run rugged when just trying to do her job then bullied to leave
Michele was hired to lead a team at a centre with a “most beautiful learning environment and all policies and documents in order”. The centre was one in a group of centres and managed remotely by owners and managers in another city. The centre kept getting more children but was not getting more staff. “The owners were angry because I wanted more staff. I didn’t want the children getting hurt because we were understaffed. It was a volatile environment. Different aspects were managed by different senior managers. The micro-managing from a distance was not nice. Some of the things were really petty. Like we supplied children’s food but it was very minimal and I had to take photos of the food in the cupboard to show there was no food. I couldn’t live up to their expectations. I was told I was rude. I was told I was passive aggressive. I knew I was unwell. I knew I could not go on. But I couldn’t take time off work because of the pressure and we were short staffed. I asked to step back and take a break from being team leader for a while but they hired a new head teacher without telling her I had the role. The bullying antics stepped up. Finally I was accused of hurting a child which was not true and I was cleared. They were trying to fire me. There was no apology. I said I couldn’t continue working like this anymore.”
The importance of team members to get through each day
Rebecca has worked under a number of different centre managers and leaders. Her first centre manager "growled at a teacher for a very minor reason. The teacher started having a major panic attack but the manager would not let us call an ambulance, she said no". The teachers called the Ministry of Education and asked for help but it would not do anything. This experience, says Rebecca was her first lesson that it was useless to try to challenge a bully. She's had many further experiences. One that hurt not just her but the children too was when a centre leader declared without consulting teachers that from the beginning of the next week the different ages of children would be mixed and there would no longer be primary carers for the under-twos. "She knew and everyone knew that under-twos was my passion. It was why I was working at the centre to be working with under-twos. She gave no consideration to relationships with children. Children were upset and crying. She was like a wrecking ball. When I protested to head office I was told by the hierarchy in as many words: ‘either you do what you are told and shut up or don't come back to work’." Rebecca says "We need a job. We can't afford to be seen to be speaking up. Everyone knows everyone. Early childhood education is a small world. There is no one to help you. But I have learnt the importance of the team and having friends at work to help each other through each day.”
The price to pay of raising a personal grievance for bullying is the possiblity of never getting another job in the ECE sector
Helen has many years of experience working in early childhood education and experienced varying degrees of bullying at three of the centres she worked at. However, her last centre was the worst and she raised a personal grievance. The effects of bullying at her last centre were serious. She says that she lost a lot of weight and “I didn’t sleep for about a year, my weekends were wasted fretting about Monday that started on Friday nights. I’d cry at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t function at home making meals and dishes etc felt super hard, and my memory really suffered. I couldn’t even speak properly when I ended up in a lawyers office - I physically shook.” She does not have a reference from her former employer to include in job applications and her teacher registration was not signed off before she left. Because she is not earning now, she can’t afford the fee to get back on track for the practising certificate. But the biggest barrier Helen has found to re-employment is that she raised a personal grievance against her former employer. Had she not complained about being bullied she believes she would have had job offers. In jobs she has applied for she’s been asked if she’s taken action against a previous employer. Helen says that “one interview was going very well but then the whole context changed once I had to say what had happened. The only other questions they asked were around that and then they got rid of me as fast as they could and re-advertised the position.” It is a problem that no potential employer has questionned the behaviour of her former boss but instead have viewed her as a troublemaker even though she was the victim. Helen is passionate about early childhood education, she would be an asset to a good and fair employer. She would love to continue working in the sector: “Early childhood is all I’ve ever known and my only experience even as a teenager. I don’t feel capable of further study for a new career and what would I do anyway as early childhood education has been my life.”
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