Should I File A Complaint?

Question:

For the last 16 months, I have been working with a teacher that constantly has put my colleagues and me down. She always states at staff meetings that we are not a team. At two meetings, she has yelled and put me down in front of a group of teachers. I was just asking a question. It has been very difficult to work with this person. She puts us down at other meetings. I don’t know what her problem is. She constantly tells me that I don’t care about my students because I don’t stay until 6:00 p.m.

Hey, I get my plans and classroom prepared, and I am always a week or two ahead of my plans. Students leave at 2:40 p.m. and my work schedule ends at 3:00 p.m. She even tells my boss everything. I don’t feel comfortable telling my boss about this teacher because she also yells. The work environment has been very negative and I am ready to transfer. Should I put in a complaint or should I just ignore it all and transfer in March?

Signed,

Teacher in a Hostile Environment


Answer:

Dear Teacher in a Hostile Environment:

One of our guest respondents who has both high school teaching and administrative experience, Barry Hester, provides these thoughts: Feel lucky in that you have the option of transferring out of this unprofessional and hostile environment. If you feel comfortable with that course of action, then you have solved your own problem. However, you would leave others in that environment to suffer. Perhaps you can institute change for the good of all parties concerned. In a nutshell, your co-worked is acting, at a minimum, unprofessionally. In addition, her actions seem to be creating a hostile work environment as well. In my community in Georgia, the latter is a serious matter; and board policy offers redress. I suggest that you peruse your local policy manual to ascertain whether or not it is addressed in your school system. If so, the quickest remedy might be to follow procedures outlined in the policy. There are other means, also, whereby this problem can be addressed. You do not state the position of this negative worker in the organizational chain of command. Does she have authority over you? If so, the solution is not as simple as it would be if she were a mere peer. However, the following procedure might render relief. You need to graphically illustrate the extent of the problem. One way to do so is by maintaining a written incident log. I suggest you do so for a three-week period. Record the incidents of attack. Include date, time, parties involved, and a summary of the act. One simple way of unobtrusively maintaining such a journal is to keep a note card handy. Write details on it and transfer your recordings to a more formal document later when alone and collected.

At the end of the three weeks, review the document. Is the problem as severe as you thought? Or is it more severe than you thought? If the answer to either of these questions is positive, then you need to take definite action. As you keep your document, perhaps others in the department might join you in a collaborative effort. If the situation is as you describe, they will probably welcome the opportunity; but take care not to target this woman in gossip.

You state that this negative worker accuses you of not caring for your students. Rest assured that it is not the amount but the quality of the time put in that counts. I have suspect that your students are just as successful as are your co-worker’s since you plan ahead and place yourself in position to adapt as the situation dictates. Compare standardized test scores. What do they show? How do your students test out compared to hers? She may be spinning her wheels due to lack of organization or expertise whereas you manage your time and teaching strategies more efficiently. If her students score significantly better, then re-evaluate your approach in terms of time and strategy. But, if your student achievement is equal to or better than hers, use this data for your benefit. Create a document comparing the data. Once your incident log determines the extent of the put down problem, and if you find that it is as you describe, confront the teacher. Set up a conference without divulging its purpose: “We have some problems to discuss. When can we meet?” Don’t ask if she will meet; instead ask for a time. In the conference, tell her point blank that she is creating an unprofessional and negative/hostile environment. Indicate what changes you expect. Offer help in re-focusing her energy. If others collaborate with you, they should attend and participate in this conference also. Don’t let her take charge. You be in control, and if things get out of hand, if she does not want to listen, stop her in her tracks: “This isn’t getting us anywhere, I will consult with administration and ask for their help. Incidentally, I have compared standardized test scores for our students and would like to share this document with you.” Then get up and leave.

Go straight to administration with your data and take your collaborators with you. Share your data and indicate as strongly as possible that your working environment is both unprofessional and hostile. Use the term “hostile” throughout the meeting. It should wave a red flag. Ask the administrator for help in alleviating the problem and set a date for additional meetings to evaluate progress. Overnight summarize the meeting, actions planned, and dates for additional conferences. Present this to administration and others involved the next morning before classes start. This document could take the form of a letter and can serve as legal documentation that you have filed a complaint. If administration does not act, go up the chain of command.

Another avenue might be to work through your professional organization or union to determine the extent of the problem and possible solutions. If you do not have skin thick enough to take this approach, then you either stay and suffer or hope for a transfer. The bottom line is that once you file a complaint of this nature, an investigation should take place. If it doesn’t occur, you have the option of filing a formal grievance in keeping with local board policy and procedures. Good luck with your problem. Let us know how things progress.

Barry Hester