Toxic Environment Vs. Just Stressful?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by DressageLady, Sep 15, 2015.

  1. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 15, 2015

    How do you know which you're dealing with? I am struggling right now and don't have enough experience to tell.

    This is my second year teaching. It took me a year to find a position, and I thought I had landed into the dream situation when I finally did get an offer. The P at my school was overworked, no doubt about that. But she was also very supportive of her staff and was very student oriented. There was a clear sense of community.

    I had a tough class last year, but it was acknowledged and I ended up holding my own against my three grade level team-mates as far as test scores went. I had the second highest scores out of four grade level team members. And the teacher who "beat me" is a third generation teacher who came out of the womb knowing how to do this. I had high hopes for this year.

    There were changes announced last spring. The P left for a position in the district office. The new district superintendent restructured the grade level teams, parring down grade level teams to three teachers in each building. Some of us lost our positions at my school due to this. I was retained and was very grateful.

    We are now four and a half weeks into the school year and everything feels just horrible. The new P is much, much different from the old P. I have already been called into the office to discuss an "issue". This new P brought a paraprofessional with her from her old school (where she was a teacher; she hasn't been an administrator for five years and even then she was an assistant P and not the one and only administrator in a building). This para had complained to her that I was unnecessarily harsh with a couple of students when I picked them up at the end of that specials class. The P ended this "discussion" by saying that "although my job was safe", she was going to put a note in my file that there had been concerns. I have NEVER had my interactions with students or co-workers called into question. I am older than your average second year teacher. I have worked with children for thirty plus years and this was a first.

    The transition at school has been difficult. The P has made some changes that impacted everyone. She is very paper work driven and does not even attempt to interact with students. And she has piled on the extra work. She mandated that every teacher call and talk to every family in our class and share one positive thing about their student. Okay, I get that and it is something that I did anyway. But since she got a positive response at the district for doing that, she decided that more is even better and it is now mandatory we do it every month. It is stuff like this that piles up and is extending our work day well into the evening. She approved the PTA requiring every teacher participate in a Fall Carnival. We have to do it. We have to create and man a game booth. Each of us. And stock it with prizes. Out of our pocket.

    She said that all grade level teams have to teach the same things in the same way. There was some disagreement in my grade level team about how to implement small group instruction materials from the new Language Arts curriculum. We have a forty-five minute reading intervention block and have used small group instruction materials for this purpose. This is the case for the entire building and much of the district. But one person on my team had been working with the very low group during intervention, the small group materials didn't apply to her intervention planning and she had been using them during her own class LA block and wanted to continue.

    The P came in and told us that we needed to reach a consensus and that she was NOT going to dictate what we were going to do. The Title One teacher agreed with me and the other team member that the small group instruction was most beneficial during intervention. The dissenting team member refused to agree and went to the P and complained and we were told yesterday that since we didn't have enough time to implement small group instruction into our own class LA block, the P was "taking away" our first grade recess in the morning, and taking away 15 minutes from our intervention block and adding it to our class block. Oh, and we are now required to provide some kind of "game" break during instruction so the students won't feel cheated out of their recess. And somehow still find time to implement small group instruction into our class LA block, because she did dictate that we will do it that way. And my dear, sweet team-mate who refused to hear what we were all saying just sat there and looked on. I guess it pays to be a suck up.

    I cried all the way home yesterday. The building feels like we are on some kind of forced death march. The P has stated that her mandate has been to "improve the school however she sees fit". We weren't even aware that we were in trouble. Suddenly student mastery on assessments is 80% and above. Last year mastery was considered 100%. We aren't improving our teaching, we are just lowering the bar. Looks good on paper, but it feels like cheating. Our PDs are now weekly dumping sessions where we are told what we will be going and any kind of questioning gets us these long diatribes on how messed up the school was and how this is what the new normal looks like because she is there to improve the test scores.

    Most of the teachers in the building are walking around shell shocked. There are a few that are suddenly being included and who adore the new P. My new mentor is a nice lady, but she is a horrible mentor. She is the worst gossip in the building, and I don't feel like I can go to her and even simply vent without it being spread all over by dinner time. Our social committee was disbanded, and we are now supposed to just volunteer for a social event if we feel like it. And yet we got lectured like little kids about how despite the P being told about the strong sense of community at the school. she just wasn't seeing more than little pockets here and there in the building.

    I don't know how to handle this. I can't tell if it is a toxic building now, or if we are all just stressed by these changes. How can I adjust to these changes? I never call in sick and yet here I am, on my second sick day since school started.
     
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  3. Koriemo

    Koriemo Comrade

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    Sep 15, 2015

    Sounds toxic to me.

    Perhaps as the school year goes on it won't get to you as much, but it doesn't sound like a positive environment at all.
     
  4. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Sounds toxic to me as well. I don't know if your principal can require you to supply stuff out of your own pocket, and I hate the idea of taking away recess especially for such a young age.
     
  5. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    I'm terrified something like this will happen to us. We know our principal is leaving soon, and they have started the process of filling the position. It's really concerning to think about what may come next, how we may be treated, etc. We've got a pretty good thing going at our school, and I'd hate to see it brought down because of a principal not respecting what has been working, or at least getting a feel for the system before trying to make major changes.
     
  6. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Sep 15, 2015

    Sounds toxic to me as well. I don't see how the principal can mandate that teachers pay out of pocket for prizes for an event that PTO is putting together. I'm sorry that you are in this type of environment. I can emphasize with you. Our office has changed this year as well, and not for the better.
     
  7. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 15, 2015

    I am at a loss. I really am. I love teaching. I worked hard to get my degree and credential at a time in life when many teachers are looking at retirement. I work hard and I invest a lot of myself in the process. My time. My effort. My money. I love the process.

    I feel so hopeless at this point. The idea of nine more months of this kind of negativity makes me sick. The difference in building vibe is overwhelming to me. And I don't know how to make it better. There is nothing I find positive. Nothing to hold onto as a life raft until the end of a day, let alone until the end of the year. My grade level team has disintegrated. At the building level we devolved into a bunch of closed doors and silent meetings. No more laughing. No more sharing struggles or triumphs. It is just stress now. Stress and unhappy people.

    The union building rep went to the union and it looks like we are on our own. Unions are pretty weak here, and this district has one of the weaker ones.
     
  8. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    We had no idea that a change was in the wind. The former P called us into a meeting one afternoon, unexpectedly, and announced that she was moving into a district office position. About three-to-four weeks later we were introduced to the new P. Nobody at the school was involved in the interview process. It all happened at the district level.

    Changes were made before we ever got called back in August. Our lunch system is different. Our duty schedule is different. We never had a chance to make a case for the things that were working. We came back and were handed a list of changes. She even removed the staff picture frame from the reception area. She said it looked cluttered and that she would replace it with one picture of all of us as a group. Hasn't happened yet.

    Those are just the little things. These other, huge, changes to how we teach are the ones that have left me so heartbroken.
     
  9. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Sep 15, 2015

    Sounds toxic, not just stressful.
     
  10. giraffe326

    giraffe326 Virtuoso

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    Sep 15, 2015

    For me, I could be stressed but I still loved going to work (almost) every day. (I put the almost in there because we all have days where we don't want to go to work- not feeling well, missing something fun, etc...)
    I've worked in two toxic schools. Both times I dreaded going to work every day. I hated it actually. It was so bad that I couldn't even focus on what I love to do- teach and interact with kids.

    I agree with the others, it seems like it is more than stress.
     
  11. brigidy

    brigidy Comrade

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    Sep 15, 2015

    It sounds toxic and draining your positive energy. I don't have words of wisdom, just sending good vibes your way and hope your year gets better.
     
  12. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Sep 15, 2015

    Toxic.

    No union?
     
  13. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    Definitely toxic. I wish I had some advice or words of wisdom for you... The best I can come up with is: get out. I know that's not what you want, and it's easier said than done, but nothing good comes from a toxic environment.

    Also, how can you be required to work at the PTO event? I assume it's outside of contract hours, right?
     
  14. mathteachertobe

    mathteachertobe Cohort

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    Sep 15, 2015

    I agree with others that this situation sounds pretty toxic. As a fellow newish teacher of a certain age, I want to encourage you to try to figure out a way to make this bearable. It sounds like this P is probably operating from a sense of fear herself, and in that context some of these behaviors/mandates make a little sense. Focus on the kids and enjoying/celebrating your successes with them. Is tenure on the agenda in your state? I do think that is a valuable goal to keep your eye on. Once achieved, transferring within your district is much more straight-forward. Best of luck to you, and (((HUGS)))
     
  15. isabunny

    isabunny Comrade

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    Sep 16, 2015

    Sorry about the start of the year being so stressful. I have a couple of ideas for you. One, have your room mom or parents donate for the carnival and also have parents work your booth. This gives you time to talk to the parents and kids. Ask for one type of item for donation (lollypops, pencils, or glow bracelets) or just let your room parents coordinate. Your game, once it's made, can be used every year. Can be simple like a basketball thrown into a basket. Don't stress over the carnival. That should be fun and a great way to connect with your parents & students.
    Secondly, vent on this discussion group all you want. There are some great teachers on here who are extremely supportive. Don't vent at school with other teachers. Try to keep your head up and concentrate on your students. Parents will probably be upset over recess being taken away. I am sure that mandate will not last long. All current research is reflecting students needing more recess during the day, not less.
     
  16. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 16, 2015

    Well, darn. I was hoping I would hear that this is just normal stress from the change in administration.

    We do have a union here and I am a member. We do not have tenure. At all. I am not sure I would want to stay in the same district, if this kind of rough treatment is considered okay by district officials. But I am fearful that I wouldn't be able to get a position in the other districts. That is a bridge I will wait to cross.

    I stayed home again today. I went to the doctor yesterday afternoon and was referred to an audiologist for the ringing in my ears. I was also given a prescription to help with the dizziness. My doctor was concerned about my blood pressure being high and I have to go back in next week to get it checked. He told me to cut out caffeine and eliminate stress from my life. I laughed so hard I started to cry. No coffee? No stress? Funniest thing he has ever said to me!

    I will suck it up and go back to school tomorrow. I hate the thought of it. But I don't want to quit. That would surely be throwing away my career before it ever really go off the ground.

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies. It has helped to just get it off my chest.

    ETA: I am noticing a lot of stuff being scheduled for outside contract hours now. There is no way we can contact every student's family, every month, inside of contract hours. And I am surely not going to use my home phone or cell phone to make that contact (I don't want to open myself up to phone calls on Sunday evening because Little Johnny can't remember if they have P.E. on Monday or not), so that means staying at school to get those calls made.

    Earlier this morning, when I logged into my school e-mail account to get my password for Aesop, I saw that the P has scheduled a first grade PLC for 3:00-4:00 this afternoon. That is outside our contract hours, too. Not by much, but even still. Less than 24 hours notice and outside contract hours. This is the new normal.
     
  17. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Our contract specifically mentions that on occasion we will be required to work outside of the normal contract time--and sets up the nature of those, so it can't be abused. Required work outside of the contract (which I suppose is actually in the contract) is kept to the necessary exception.

    I'm sorry, but your principal is getting way out of line.

    Another bit of advice in regards to stress: focus on your class and students because that is what matters, but also stick to your basics at this time until you can find a decent foothold for yourself in this mess.

    I would also consider getting the Remind 101 app (or something similar) and setting it up for the parents. It's not meant to replace personal contact, but it's great for all those little mass reminders and could take some stress off.
     
  18. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    We know that there are two events that are mandatory and we must be there outside of contract hours: Back to School Night and graduation. Other than that, we are asked. My complaint is always about being asked to donate to this or that, or join this or that. But I've never gotten too much grief about not.
     
  19. missrebecca

    missrebecca Comrade

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    Sep 16, 2015

    That... is a bad environment. I was in a similar situation a couple years ago, stuck it out until the end of the year, then switched schools and never looked back! When it starts affecting your health, something has to change. Either your environment changes, or you leave the environment.

    I wish you the best with these changes! It may be helpful to inform the school board of what's going on, as your P seems to be making extremely questionable decisions. I don't think they can legally require you to work off the clock AND pay for your own carnival prizes out of pocket. Someone higher up on the chain of command needs to be notified that this is happening.
     
  20. txmomteacher2

    txmomteacher2 Enthusiast

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    I want to preface this post with this is just my opinion. I don't want anyone to think that I don't understand where you are coming from.
    That being said I really don't see anything that says that this is a toxic environment. I see it as an entire campus having to adjust to a new way of leadership. Let me tell you why I think that. Seven years ago I came to this campus. I was hired by a man who let us have total control of our teaching. He treated like we had brains, he was a great leader just very laid back. Very supportive of teachers. Four years ago we got a new principal. Complete opposite of what we were used too. She runs a tight ship. She is data driven. We do nothing that isn't going to have an outcome on paper. The first year she was on campus she made very little changes except she had VERY high standards. We pretty much went from total freedom to micro managed. It was a horrible year! Not to mention the following year she made some changes to staffing. Several people including me got moved to other grade levels. She took away anything fun that we as teachers did on campus. Like I said horrible and I was ready to jump ship. She is now into her fourth year, and although she is still tough to get along with at times I have come to respect her. She is slowly letting go of some of the micro managing stuff. She has realized that we are capable of getting things done. She still has very high expectations and she makes us work HARD! I guess where I am going with all this is change is hard, but hopefully sometime in the future you can say you survived and it's all good. That is where I am at today. I survived, it was tough, but I am a better teacher.
    Your team mate though is a different story. I have one I dislike intensely and the feeling is mutual. This week we were at a meeting where I was teaching the new people to our grade level how to input grades. Every time I said something she would say, "That's not how I did it!" Finally in the end I said to her, "Do you want to teach them, because apparently I am not doing this correctly." She was like oh no you are the expert. I just wanted to throw her off the nearest bridge at that point. She does things like that all the time. I ignore most of it. Vent to my husband and BF and go on with life.
     
  21. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 18, 2015

    I locked myself in my room this afternoon after dismissal and cried. This afternoon, during lunch recess, two of my problematic students went into the girl's restroom and according to multiple reports, started kissing the girls that were in there. These were two boys, by the way.

    I have been going around and around with these two kiddos since the first day of school. And every recess duty and specials teacher has brought their naughty behavior to my attention. I have talked to parents. I have put them on behavior contracts. Nothing is working.

    Before school even started, during one of our in-service days, the new P said there was going to be a new set of expectations for students and deviation would not be tolerated. I figured that I was now at the second level of response with these two boys and followed the directions we had been given. I called the office and asked that the P deal with them.

    The P came down to my room, pulled me out into the hallway and treated me as if I was the child in trouble. "What consequences have you given them already" was her first question. When I started to list the behaviors and consequences prior, she interrupted me and said, "No, that is not what I asked you! What consequences have you given them for this incident". When I explained that I hadn't given any consequences yet, she said that if she steps in and does it for me then I will loose all power in their eyes. I commented that I wasn't asking her to do anything for me, but rather I thought I was following the new protocol she had put in place and even if that wasn't the case, I didn't feel like any of us had any credibility with these students anyway and I was hoping that she would be able to put the "fear of the principal into them". Her response was to say, "I will ask you again if you're okay with losing credibility with your own students". What the heck?

    I can't do anything right with this woman. I think I am doing one thing and she responds to me as if I was doing something else entirely. I feel so unsupported and isolated.

    I think I need to request a sit down with her where I can explain that I think we are not communicating successfully. But at this point I am so thrown by her manner and tone that I worry it might be the wrong thing to do.

    But, then again, how much worse can it get? I don't know if I can do this for the rest of the year.
     
  22. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    Your last post makes me think you have my previous principal! She reacted that exact same way with behavior situations. She absolutely refused to do anything about behavior because it would "take the teacher's power away." I had a severe EBD student that year who would walk around and tip over others' desks, take their things, get in their faces, rip up materials/ cry/scream/throw things at the wall for hours on end, and I was not allowed to have her removed from the classroom for any reason. I was expected to teach over her. The only consequence I could give was to call her mother, who was supportive of me but had no idea what to do about the behavior either. My principal stated that students wanted to go to the office and so sending them there wasn't effective. IMO, if you're the principal and you realize kids like going to the office when they get in trouble, it's your job to make sure it's an unlikeable experience! We were not allowed to take away anything (recess, field trips, special events, etc.) and if we tried we were accused of "targeting" the children. I also always felt like she talked to staff members as if we were the kids in trouble.

    I actually tried your suggestion about sitting down and telling her that I felt we had gotten off on the wrong foot and wanted to improve my communication with her. I really tried to make it sound like everything was my fault and I wanted to improve. In my case, it backfired. She took it as me being critical of her (even though I made it very clear that's not what I was doing) and was extremely resentful of me from then on. She'd bring up that I "didn't like her style" (NOT what I said) at every meeting I had with her from then on. She was very insecure, and looking back on the situation, it would have been easier for me if I'd just went out of my way to be pleasant and act like I agreed with her. I ended up resigning very early in the winter, before non-renewal decisions were made (my data was excellent, but she didn't care about that- I'm certain she would have tried to get rid of me) so that I wouldn't have to put anything on my applications. She backed off after that. A couple of my friends did the same thing. Many others waited it out, and she ended up non-renewing every probationary teacher on staff that hadn't already resigned. Non-renewal can be a kiss of death around here for your applications so I think I did the right thing. It was still difficult to find another job since I had no reference from her, but I did find one the next year.

    Two of my teammates stayed at the school because they were tenured, and I kept in touch with them. They were wonderful teachers and she treated them horribly. They said the next year was even worse. Finally, last year (her 3rd year) all of her nonsense finally caught up to her and she was fired in the middle of the year. Although I'm glad she finally got what she deserved, it's sad that they allowed her to drive that school into the ground for 3 years, and she probably ruined some good teachers' careers along the way too.
     
  23. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    Sep 19, 2015

    Under my school's new behavior plan, sending them to the office would have totally been the appropriate response. Kissing girls in the bathroom is far beyond a warning on the behavior chart. Is that what she was looking for?
     
  24. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 19, 2015

    I am not sure what she was looking for? I thought I was doing the right thing and following the new policy. These two boys are habitually in trouble for something. They can't get through any class time without needing to time out away from the rest of the class. The specials teachers struggle with them, the duties struggle with them and I certainly struggle with them.

    I tried to tell her that my classroom management plan (that works for the vast majority of my students) doesn't even slow these two boys down, but she was so forceful in her questioning of me and that threw me for such a loop that I think I turned into a babbling idiot. I tried to explain that their consistent breaking of rules is what led me to call her in. But she just kept asking me, "What have you done to address this problem".

    I am sitting here in the safety of my own home and it has been twenty hours since I had this interaction and I am getting choked up thinking about it. It was that unpleasant.

    I honestly don't know what I did to this woman. I have been friendly and welcoming. Shoot, I even tried to support her in a faculty meeting by clarifying that her mandate to teach a character trait lesson weekly and submit that lesson to her wasn't as involved as a full lesson plan.

    I just want to teach. I don't care about power plays and gossip. I don't care about who gets recognition. I just want to teach.
     
  25. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    I daresay this woman has never really seen a behavior management plan in action.
     
  26. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    Were the parents of the girls notified of the alleged assault? That might solve your problems if you can get the parents to press charges. That behavior is absolutely horrendous and should be severely dealt with.
     
  27. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 20, 2015

    The girl's they kissed were not my students, but I did let their teachers know and they said they would notify parents. I will double check with them on Monday to make sure it happened. I also logged the incident into the Power School report section.

    I still can't believe that she do anything beyond talking to them in the hallway for about two minutes. She acted as if it was no big deal.
     
  28. mollydoll

    mollydoll Connoisseur

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    Sep 20, 2015

    Do you have a school social worker that you can send this too? Offenses against other students do not seem to me the type of thing that should be handled in the classroom, by the classroom teacher.

    I teach high school, but anything involving physical contact between students is automatically kicked up to admin.
     
  29. DressageLady

    DressageLady Comrade

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    Sep 20, 2015

    We have a school counselor. This is his first year and he seems a little lost. I stopped him in the hall the other day and asked him when he was going to set up the lesson schedule like our former counselor did (you know, where you schedule a block once a week for the counselor to come in and teach a lesson about "Good Touch, Bad Touch" or "Friendship", etc). He said he didn't know that was his responsibility and he would have to speak to the P about that. He came back later and said that the P wanted classroom teachers to take over those lessons and fold them into the weekly character trait lessons she mandated.

    I stopped him in the hallway the next day and asked for some feedback on a student who spit at me earlier that day and he was flummoxed as to what to do. He came in and observed in my class for about ten minutes and witnessed an absolute zoo.

    Anyway, to make a long answer short: I don't believe the counselor will be helpful and I am not comfortable bringing it to his attention since the P told me on Friday that once she stepped in and handled it for me, it was no longer my situation to act on. She seems so touchy about this stuff. I am sure she would see that as going behind her back.
     

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