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What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know

Bully Principal

I am a school teacher in the US. Six years ago, I took a new position at a brand new middle school. The principal of the school was the domestic partner of my best friend. I was coming from a school that was in total disarray due to an incompetent principal, and I could not wait to be somewhere different. It was different alright. The bullying and intimidation began before the school officially opened.

Over the summer, many days I would hang out with my friend by her pool, but any time her partner arrived home, she would yell and scream at me for being over there. This started to create a lot of tension in their personal relationship, which I always ended up in the middle. One day, the principal was so enraged that I was there (mind you this was my friend and my normal summer routine - the only thing different was I now worked for my friend's partner) that she threw a can at my head and cursed out my children (one who would be starting as a student at her school). The next day, I went by there to go to the movie with my friend and her kids. We left my car at her house and took her car. When we arrived back home, my principal was there, so the kids and I got straight in my car and left. The next day, I had errands to run, and while driving my tire came off my car. I managed to keep from wrecking, which was a miracle. The next day, my friend called me to tell me she had found my lug nuts in her garage. My principal said she found them on the driveway where they had apparently "fallen off" my tire. I believed the story.

School started, and it was a roller coaster ride. My friend and my principal were having serious relationship problems, and my principal kept dragging me into the middle of it. When I refused, she would find things to go after me professionally. One day I would be her favorite person, and the next I would be yelled at (in front of students and co-workers), threatened, and humiliated. By the end of the year, I couldn't take any more and told my friend that for the sake of my professional life, she and I were going to have to quit communicating. She warned me that my principal was out to get me, and that I was making a huge mistake.

I expected the next school year to be better, but it was worse. The principal hired a new AP who became her "henchman" of sorts. The two of them would not leave me alone. It was constant - from making fun of my weight (loudly enough that others - including my students - heard) to nitpicking everything I did. By the end of the year, they moved me to an electives class (which was the principal's usual way of getting rid of teachers).

Finally, one morning, I was called to the assistant principal's office. She told me that an email had been sent accidentally to the whole school. She said it was from the principal meant to just go to her partner. The email was supposedly about her concern about me. She told me not to worry because the email had been recalled. I got to my room, signed on my computer, and there was the email and about 50 replies to me. The email was horrible. It said that I "reeked of cat pee," that I was "nasty" and had to go. I was devastated! I did not want to leave school - didn't want her to win, so I stayed for most of the day until a co-worker made me go home. I was numb. I was so humiliated that I couldn't even function.

The next day the principal called me in her office to apologize and acted as if everything was just fine between us. I told her that I wouldn't file a complaint if she promised to leave me alone. About a week later, though, I received a call from the county board of education for me to come in. My union representative was there because someone had forwarded her the email. I told them that I did not wish to file a complaint. Honestly I was too embarrassed to file a complaint. I just wanted it to go away. They said my principal has been reprimanded with a letter in her personnel file.

Months went by but the harassment continued - not from the principal directly but from her assistant. They called family and children services on me saying I neglected my own children (case immediately dropped), and eventually told me that I was being displaced because they didn't have a position for me the next year (even though I had years more service than many others). At this I went to the county again only to find that I was not displaced - I was not on the list - they were messing with me. It was all out psychological warfare. Still I did not file a formal complaint - I was afraid of being branded a trouble maker.

Finally after another school year with on and off harassment, the principal announced that she was leaving to go back to the classroom. Over that summer, the assistant principal was transferred to another school, and we got a new principal and assistant. Our new administration is wonderful, but I still suffer.

I have never in my life been a person who needed or wanted accolades or affirmation, but all this changed due to my experiences. I am constantly besieged by doubts and worry. Our workplace is transformed and a wonderful place to work, but I still am looking around every corner afraid that I will not live up to expectations - that I will some how get in trouble. It's awful. I long for the old me who trusted her own instincts and needed no affirmations other than internal. It's been three years now since I worked for my bully boss. Most days are wonderful, but then something will happen and it all comes flooding back. If I had it to do over again, I would file that complaint and file a personal lawsuit against my former principal. But hindsight is 20/20.

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