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The most common types of bullying are described below. This is not intended to represent an exhaustive list and some people who bully use a mixture of tactics. Letís hope they are not already all too familiar!
Some managers appear to cultivate a close friendship with a member of their staff. You may find it embarrassing to be singled out for private chats, particularly if they are not directly related to your special professional interests and accountabilities. You may be praised in front of your peers ≠ often alienating them if they think you are receiving special consideration or favours. Then, just as suddenly, your manager drops any pretence of friendship and turns into a hypercritical and unfair boss. You find yourself the subject of open and unjust criticism, and self-doubt follows. This can be so demoralising that your efficiency and effectiveness do actually decrease.
The `refrigerator' makes it plain that s/he is unwilling to have anything to do with you. Your opinion is never invited and your contributions at meetings are completely ignored. If you complete a valuable piece of work, praise goes to someone else, or your success is not even mentioned. Treating someone as though s/he is not there and giving the impression that her or his views are not worth hearing can be very damaging to morale. This is undoubtedly a form of bullying. Ask yourself whether you are on the receiving end because the bully regards your ability as a threat.
Some managers attempt to undermine staff in the most unsubtle ways. They bawl people out, not only in the privacy of an office but also in front of their peers and/or ≠even worse ≠ in front of pupils. It can be very intimidating to be subjected to a tirade of abuse. This may be presented as justified criticism, but you have no real opportunity to respond in a calm and collected manner.
Headteachers and senior managers have wide-ranging powers to allocate tasks and resources, and it is important that they should be seen to do so fairly and reasonably. The timetable can be used to make a teacher's life tolerable or unbearable. Key factors would be:
It is essential for all staff to feel that they have been given a fair crack of the whip and that they are not facing a disproportionate withdrawal of resources or an unfair allocation of all the difficult classes. Headteachers or line managers are guilty of bullying if they allocate the worst jobs in the school to particular individuals; often this tactic affects the most junior and/or least experienced member of staff. If they protest against such discrimination, her/his competence may be called into question.
Good managers treat all employees consistently, fairly and equally. Not knowing what your manager's reaction will be in any given situation is exceptionally stressful - one day all is well, the next you are criticised ruthlessly and undeservedly. Your self-confidence is inevitably jeopardised.
The snide critic
Members know that the one weapon to avoid with learners is sneering and snide criticism. Nonetheless, managers often use this tactic against teachers. The sharp `clever, clever' barb can deflate and wound so effectively and damagingly that it should never be used by a manager.
Reporting other people's opinions is a prevalent form of bullying, for example, `I hear from X that... What have you got to say for yourself?' Without any warning that anything is wrong, it may be just as stressful to be confronted by your manager telling you: `I am swamped with complaints about you from parents and now even from the children. No, you may not know whether the complaints came by telephone or letter, and there is no question of your knowing who made the complaints or any specific details of them. They were given to me in confidence and who knows what damage you might do if you knew who had complained against you?'
This is a particularly nasty form of bullying where the headteacher, or sometimes a head of department, uses school procedures exhaustively to undermine morale. For example, you may have made a minor error. Instead of listening to your side of the story and accepting an apology in the knowledge that there is no risk of re-offence, the headteacher initiates full use of the available procedures before deciding what is to be done. The great weapon here is suspense. It is difficult to avoid becoming increasingly stressed and worried as the days drag out into weeks and months.
A lively member of staff can be reduced to a nervous wreck, yet those in authority can claim that, by carrying out an exhaustive investigation in accordance with agreed procedures, they are giving the teacher every opportunity to present her/his case fairly.
Help and support
For further advice on this issue, ATL members can speak to their school rep, their branch secretary or their regional official. They can also call the London (020 7930 6441), Cardiff (029 2046 5000), Belfast (028 9078 2020) or Edinburgh (0131 272 2748) offices or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For out of hours enquiries, call the out of office hours helpline on 020 7782 1612 (Monday-Friday, 5-8pm during term time).
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