I Love my Job but My Boss is Making me Crazy.
September 11, 2010 4:46 AM   Subscribe

My boss has begun reprimanding me for events that never occurred, and it's stressing me out. In my third (tenure year) as a special ed teacher at a public school; my first 2 years of reviews were excellent.

The only less than stellar review point was for team communication because I had a tendency to have ideas and run with them, and I've been asked to work more with other teaching teams before doing that. Fair enough.

My immediate superior previously held a similar teaching position. She's on my case frequently with little helpful suggestions; but up until recently it's been fairly innocuous.

Since the start of school, she's called me in multiple times to discuss instances where I (once again) was engaging in the behavior I've been asked to improve. She accused me of throwing a teammate under the bus, of ignoring proper channels, etc.

The problem is: none of these events happened. When I collected my thoughts and tried to explain that I had no idea what she was talking about, she became angry and gave me a long speech about accepting responsibility for mistakes, not pretending they didn't happen.

I documented the incidents (what she said, my replies, etc.), but...

I love the job, I enjoy my colleagues and I really don't want to look for another position. I want to ensure I'm thinking about this clearly.

I've never had a boss who accused me of nonsense and further compounded it with chastising me for not accepting responsibility.

What do I do? (It's a public school system with an archaic administrative hierarchy...so it would be at the least very tricky and at most very unpleasant to go above her at this point).
posted by dzaz to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When your boss starts to have it in for you, it's time to dust off your CV. You'll either leave through stress or be forced out. Have your lifeboat prepared.
posted by Solomon at 5:05 AM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

Is it possible that some Iago is whispering misinformation in your boss' ear?
posted by kidelo at 5:19 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

kidelo: "Is it possible that some Iago is whispering misinformation in your boss' ear?"

Maybe. And if so, she's believing their story, not my innocence.

Maybe I just need to get through this contractual year and start looking for a new job when I can.
posted by dzaz at 5:22 AM on September 11, 2010

You're already documenting this stuff (good for you, keep it up), but what documentation is your boss doing? Are these just a bunch of verbal warnings or is there a paper trail being built up against you? Will your teammates (for example, the one you're falsely accused of undermining) back you up?
posted by Gator at 5:39 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you a member of a teachers' union?
posted by jon1270 at 5:43 AM on September 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

You need to check your contract, the regulations about firing, find out what documentation your boss has been doing, and if you have a union and a representative, now would be a good time to call.

And dust off your CV. In other words, do everything the posters above have suggested.

This may not be the case--I don't know your district--but if your district is broke or cutting budgets, this is how you get away with not granting tenure after two years of excellent reviews in the public school system. Then you hire someone cheaper.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

Sad to say, but this sounds a lot like the typical public school "somebody has decided to get rid of you the easy way" method. Might not be, and it's worth trying to figure out if something else is going on, but it sounds like time to at least plan that that might be the case.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:43 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

This strikes me as a good time to start talking to your union steward.
posted by alms at 6:46 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Could you talk to other teachers to figure out possible sources of these tales, and to get support for the truth of events, or would that over-complicate things?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:34 AM on September 11, 2010

Talk to your teacher's union rep. They are setting you up to not be given tenure.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:36 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

have an "off the record" conversation with the supervisor. If they are just wanting you gone, tell them fine you'll leave at the end of the year and in return they will give you a good reference and leave you alone this year.
It is no fun working where you aren't wanted. Nobody ends up happy that way. Is it fair? NO, but much less stressful than fighting the system you can't beat. Once the paper trail is created it stays with you.
posted by busboy789 at 7:43 AM on September 11, 2010

Depending on the specific politics of your situation, I would speak to your union rep, your principal, and/or your district HR person.

In my district, it wouldn't be inappropriate for a teacher to go to any of these people and say, "I'm having some trouble with my supervisor and I'd like some advice on how to handle it" or whatever. (Rather than leading with, "SHE'S A CRAZY PERSON OUT TO GET ME!") In our district, HR is generally aware of how many supervisors haven't actually had any training and were allowed, under past administrations, to run petty dictatorships based on personal favoritism, and is pretty good at stepping in to mitigate the damage and improve the situation without destroying the interpersonal relationships. YMMV based on your district's politics and your HR's level of suckiness/awesomeness. For us, going to HR with an HR question isn't seen as skipping the hierarchy or going over someone's head; it's seen as prudent.

If you know a school board member, it also wouldn't be out of line to give them a heads up, although that can be more tricky. Sometimes the first intimation we get that someone is about to become a problem employee is when a teacher skips the hierarchy and goes right to the school board (which is fine for parents but discouraged for employees, who are meant to follow the "chain of command") and let us know that Supervisor is including events that never happened in these conversations and getting upset when Employee tries to correct the events/provide her side of the story. For me, that would set off alarm bells (partly based on past experience with this kind of thing), and I'd put a bug in the ear of both the superintendent and the attorneys. If it were less specific, I'd file that information away so when we were discussing your school next I might say, "You know, I've heard there's some problems with how evaluations are occurring at School X, and the teachers aren't all happy with it, they're feeling it's unfair ..." Anyway, if you either have good reason to fear retaliation or if you know a board member you can trust to be discrete, you should feel free to go to the board.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:45 AM on September 11, 2010

If you are working for a public school and you're unionized:

Yes, get in touch with your union rep NOW. Someone I care about was recently forced out of her state, unionized job unfairly by a similarly hyper-critical boss. It was puzzling to her while it was happening, as she had an EXTREMELY long and sterling career displaying nothing but excellence in her field. She just assumed her new boss was critical and kind of crazy, and also, unfortunately, thought maybe she was messing up or losing her touch (she was not).

I suspect that managers at state hospitals, schools, etc, are feeling the super pinch with budget cuts. Some of them handle it with grace, and others try to find ways to get rid of their higher-paid staff members.

I don't want to alarm you, but call your union rep now -- it will be much harder to fight back if and when she builds a case of total craziness around you. You don't want to be fighting a long list of "infractions" - some of them true (everybody makes mistakes), some of them exaggerated, and some of them completely false, one by one, all at once, across the table in a review about your competence.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:10 AM on September 11, 2010

I had an aunt who was forced out of a job in a similar way. It turned out that the teacher she had replaced two years before (who quit, rather than taking maternity leave, when she had her baby) wanted her job back. She tried to fight it, but the union was of little help.

Honestly, I'd start your job search now.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:58 AM on September 11, 2010

Just to add, it doesn't make any sense for a mid-level administrator to be trying to run out a third-year teacher for cost-savings. The cost differential between a first-year and fourth-year teacher is minimal and the costs associated with recruiting and training a new person almost offset it (as well as the very real costs associated with constant churn in your non-tenured teachers -- we have been having to do this because of budget cuts and having to release non-tenured teachers first -- it is not only monetarily expensive, but it has observable impact on student test scores, not to mention devastating teacher morale). Budget savings in personnel, in a unionized district, have to come from either absolute cuts in teaching staff (i.e., not cutting old people and replacing them with young people but cutting positions entirely) or from a cut to the entire union salary structure. If there's a building-by-building mandate to reduce staff costs, typically principals will go after the senior people who have "retired on the job" and are not only twice the staff cost of a new person, but are easy to ding on performance evals ... or who may be willing to take retirement incentives.

No, I would tend to suspect this is an individual who either isn't a good manager, who is hearing false information (and isn't a good enough manager to figure it out), or has a thing against the OP for whatever reason.

I'm not sure who "they" would be setting her up not to get tenure, unless someone has a problem with either the OP's performance or there's an interpersonal conflict that the OP isn't aware of.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:49 AM on September 11, 2010

Thanks, everyone. I spoke with my union rep who said that my supervisor has a known tendency to do this to third year teachers. In fact, I'm one of the lucky ones in that of five 3rd year teachers, I'm the only one not on a "Professional Development Plan," (which is what they put you on before they fire you). The rep thinks that last year's nomination for Teacher of the Year is probably the reason I wasn't put on such a plan, but she said I would be correct in perceiving this as a target on my back.

She said to document away, but unfortunately, my boss is a turd. It's my choice as to whether I want to work under these conditions or not.

posted by dzaz at 11:09 AM on September 11, 2010

"I'd be happy to accept responsibility. Please, document your concerns, setting out which standards I am alleged to have breached, in what manner, and how this information came to your attention. I trust I'll be given adequate opportunity to respond."

If no...

"I'd really rather this didn't go to some kind of legal arbitration, but if I think somebody's attacking my professional performance in a way that denies me due process, I won't hesitate to litigate. I understand that I have several colleagues in a similar situation, and I think we could reach a cost-sharing arrangement, as well as relying on union support. I look forward to your letter."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Update: I had my first (of 3) annual reviews, and my administrator pulled out a report that she wanted to go over with me, with the idea that I had written (in her words) "an unprofessional" report and I need improvement.

What she didn't know was that the report was written by our district supervisor. So when I explained that said supervisor was responsible for the report, she said, "Well, let's set that aside for now," and ended the meeting.

It seems like I'll have to learn to live with her unbalanced rants or look elsewhere when my contract is up.
posted by dzaz at 3:50 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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