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Robina Cosser says : These are the sorts of questions that Queensland teachers are asking.
Please remember that I have no legal qualifications.
So my advice is just that of a friend who has 'been there' and who wishes you well.
Robina Cosser M.Ed (SYD).
I have noticed that certain groups of teachers seem to be at particular risk of being bullied in Queensland -
A. Teachers who make suggestions or try to discuss problems at their school ...
I would say that making a suggestion is pretty well the worst thing you can do, career-wise, when working for the Queensland Department of Education.
Teachers who make suggestions, or who try to engage in professional discussion, are very much at risk of finding themselves categorised as a 'troublemaker'.
... particularly teachers who try to discuss behaviour management problems with their principal.
This seems to be the most common reason why teachers are bullied in Queensland.
I have noticed that teachers who discuss behaviour management problems with their principal often seem to be attacked and driven out of work.
I have the impression that principals are afraid of parents, and that it is much quicker and easier for them to put a teacher on Managing Unsatisfactory Performance than to deal with the poorly-behaved children and their ( possibly angry, irrational and violent ) parents.
Parents can complain to the Department or to local newspapers, while the Education Department Code of Conduct prevents teachers from complaining.
Putting a teacher on MUP for discussing student behaviour problems also discourages the other teachers from reporting behaviour problems.
B. Teachers who have migrated from America, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Teachers from these countries have what I would call 'traditional colonial' values. They believe that 'a man is as good as his word', 'a man's word is his bond', etc. But these values are not held in Queensland. In Queensland the values are 'go with the flow', 'don't rock the boat', 'accept the things you cannot change', etc.
I suspect that this is because Queensland was originally a criminal colony where prisoners had to spend seven years working obediently for a colonial master before they were given a 'ticket of leave'. That culture of fear, oppression and silence seems to prevail to this day.
If you think about the working conditions of teachers in Queensland, they are very similar to those of the early convicts. Teachers have to pay for their own training, so they have huge debts. They can only get permanent work if they spend three years working in a remote community. And if they are being bullied in the remote community and want to escape, they will have to re-pay their transfer costs and probably never get work as a teacher in Queensland again. So they are held captive like the early prisoners.
C. Secondary maths, science, computing teachers.
These teachers tend to think in a very logical manner.
They read the official polices and expect them to be followed.
They send me long emails recounting the irrational manner in which they have been treated.
They don't realise that the official polices may be quite the opposite of the real practices.
Their intelligence and logical thinking style puts them at very high risk of workplace abuse.
They may try to discuss a professional concern - and that will be the end of their career.
D. Special Needs teachers.
Special Needs teachers seem to be at particular risk of false allegations. If the false allegations make them ill, they can find themselves forced into an impoverished retirement.
(Special needs teachers also seem to be at greater risk of injury by violent students. Any teacher injured at work may find themselves declared 'unfit for work' and forcibly ill-health retired, with only a small lump sum to last them for the rest of their lives.)
E. Experienced teachers.
Experienced teachers may be seen as 'troublemakers' by less experienced (and possibly less literate) school administrators.
Experienced teachers are also more expensive to employ and cannot be sent to work in the remote areas.
The department needs to economise and it also needs a continual churn of new teachers to send out to the remote communities.
So experienced teachers may find that they are vulnerable to workplace abuse.
If the abuse makes them ill, they can be declared 'unfit for work' and can be forced into an impoverished retirement. Then they can be replaced with a less experienced teacher who is easier to manipulate, cheaper and who can be sent out to work in the remote areas.
F. Teachers working in remote areas -
a) Teachers working in remote areas are exposed to problems with their accommodation - single teachers, in particular, may be forced to share a very basic bathroom, kitchen and living room with someone a generation older or younger than them, with a totally different lifestyle, men may be forced to share with women, with de-facto couples, with people from a totally different background to their own, heavy smokers or drinkers, maybe even with somebody carrying a disease. And then you have to go to work with these people. It can be a very difficult situation.
b) And it is so difficult for teachers in remote areas to access legal or medical advice and support. They are very vulnerable to abuse.
G. Teachers who take their work seriously.
If you take on extra responsibility, if you really care about your community, if you really try to do your job to the best of your ability - you will be attacked.
Mediocrity seems to be what is wanted.
Because mediocrity creates less work for the executive.
H. Well-qualified teachers.
Almost as soon as I arrived in Queensland, I realised that well-qualified teachers were regarded as 'troublemakers'.
During the first few weeks, I flew out to visit a remote school with a more senior departmental officer who told me that there was a trouble maker at this school - a teacher who had won the college medal in her program!
The words were spoken with a snear.
I had also won the college medal for my first degree, as I am sure that this senior officer knew.
I worked with another principal who regularly told me that he couldn't tell the difference between a teacher who had a Masters Degree ( I had a Master's Degree ) and any other teacher.
And I believed him.
He could not spell, he could not understand the meaning of words, his handwriting was incomprehensible, he could not write a sentence or a paragraph that conveyed any clear meaning - and if you tried to help him, he could not understand what you were trying to tell him.
Some principals in Queensland are not really literate - and this causes huge problems because they don't really understand the Department of Education policies.
These principals often seem to ring each other up and make up their own version of the official policies.
Literate, well-qualified teachers seem to make these principals nervous.
They seem to feel a need to attack well-qualified teachers and prove that the well-qualified teachers are bad teachers.
You might consider creating a time-line on a website to explain what really happened.
WEBs have free websites.
You can create a password so only people who have the password can read the pages of the website.
Then email a link to the website to the mother, HOD, principal, etc.
That way you get to explain what really happened once (less stressful than repeating it over and over again) and you cannot be shouted down.
You can also print the webpage out and hand it to the mother, the HOD, the principal, etc.
It is less stressful than trying to explain the same thing over and over again.
And if you are not happy with the outcome you can publish the website.
Robina says : I have recently re-read some of the emails that have been sent to me over the years and I have realised that some of the teachers who contact me are thinking about suicide.
This is not my area of expertise.
My only advice would be - are you taking any medication?
Read up on the side effects of the medication.
Could the side effects of the medication be affecting your mood?
Talk to your GP. You may need to change your medication.
And are you drinking? It may be dangerous to mix alcohol with your medication.
Sometimes people think that if they say they are thinking of suicide, people in power will take them seriously and investigate the bullying.
But that is not what happens.
If you say you are thinking of suicide, the problem then becomes you - your mental health problem.
The reason why you are thinking of suicide is forgotten.
The Department will rush you out of work ASAP - they don't want a coroner's inquest into the bullying.
The police will be called and you may even be committed to a mental institution - see The Second Kuranda Story.
Newspaper and TV reporters won't publish your story - they hear alarm bells when you talk about suicide.
They don't want to be blamed if you commit suicide, they don't want to be blamed for any 'copycat' suicides and they know that their readers do not like reading about suicide.
My advice would be to get the best financial settlement for yourself that you possibly can - you will need to fight for this - then look at your options.
This young teacher cried in Queensland when he was driven out of work - but he is laughing now in London.
You do have options.
And if you are old enough - retirement is wonderful.
And you can use your experience to expose what is going on in Queensland schools.
Write about your experience.
Publish your story on this website.
Make a You-Tube video to explain what is going on.
Start a website or a blog http://www.webs.com/.
Webs is really easy to use.
Whistleblow to Crikey http://www.crikey.com.au/tipoff .
Make a true record of what is going on - record abusive conversations.
Is it OK to record a person when he or she is speaking to you?
Queensland Privacy Commissioner, Lemm Ex, says that in Queensland a private conversation can be recorded without all parties being aware, as long as the person doing the recording is privy to the conversation and is not a third party, and the recording is for their own personal records.
And Andrew Knott suggests that it may be appropriate to openly record a conversation to which one is a party, for example, with an abusive or threatening parent or in a discussion which may affect your career.
But Mr Knott says that secretly recording conversations is risky.
Even if the secret recordings substantiated that you were being bullied, it would be difficult to return to work in a school where you were known to have been secretly recording your conversations.
Robina Cosser says : I have openly recorded my conversations with a) a very senior member of the Queensland public service and b) a very senior officer in the Education Queensland Ethical Conduct Department.
I just put my tape recorder on the table.
They did not object.
I would very strongly suggest that you record an abusive principal.
I would suspect that it would prompt him or her to behave in a much more professional manner.
And if you don't record what is being said, the official written records of the meeting may be significantly falsified to your disadvantage.
Queenslanders in the dark on privacy laws, Katherine Feeney, 9 July 2013, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/queenslanders-in-the-dark-on-privacy-laws-20130709-2pnz5.html
The dangers of secretly tape recording conversations, Andrew Knott, TRESSCOX, p.22, The Queensland Teachers Journal, Vol 118 No 8 ,22 November 2013.
Don't let the horrible people win.
Fight back every way you can - or their horrible behaviour will be rewarded and they will do the same thing to other teachers.
And fighting back is actually the best thing that you can do for your health.
Because, while you are fighting, you have hope.
We all must reach out to help keep hope alive, Daniel Knowles, P.3, The Courier-Mail, 21 February 2012.
"A little stress is good, but it is unhealthy, even lethal, to keep your stress levels elevated over time.
Hope is your weapon for controlling stress.
The ultimate antidote to stress, it sends tension and anxiety plummeting.
Search for solutions to the problem ... devise a plan ... create a schedule.
Your fear will begin to melt away.
You will have hope."
pp. 190-191, The Sugar Solution, The Editors, Prevention Magazine and Ann Fittante, Rodale Inc., 2007
Lifeline : 131114
Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22
Salvo Crisis Line (02) 9331 2000
Suicide Call Back Service from Crisis Support Services 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline (for young people aged 5 to 25 years): 1800 551 800
Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978
Helpline - mental illness, support and referral: 1800 18 SANE (7263)
Reach Out: www.reachout.com
The Black Dog Institute website www.blackdog.org.au
or see your doctor - GP's know that Queensland teachers are being bullied at work.
Till about 1990, all retired Queensland teachers (and most other Australian public servants) would be paid a pension, often set at 60 per cent of their final salary, with automatic adjustment for inflation, and with the pension continuing until the teacher died (it was then paid, at a lower rate, to any surviving spouse).
Teachers with this type of 'defined benefit' superannuation had no worry about investment market slumps, or inflation, or how to survive financially should they live to a very old age.
But, in about 1990, Queensland teachers were given the choice of swapping over to a new form of superannuation.
Defined super benefits on the way out, Don Stammer, The Australian, 28 September 2011 :
You can't make a public protest about the way that you are being treated.
But your mother, father, husband, son, daughter, friend, etc. - anybody who is not a public servant - can complain on your behalf.
They are not bound by the Code of Conduct so they can speak to the Local Member, reporters, etc.
This is a very common experience.
Deal with the stress of continual explanation by making a one-page outline of how you were bullied.
Keep it short - one page max.
Public servants won't read a lot of detail.
Some public servants will only read the first sentence or the first paragraph of your letter.
So reduce the situation to the key facts and explain them very, very clearly and simply.
It is important to concentrate on explaining how the situation started.
Then put that one page outline at the bottom of all of your emails to public servants, the QTU, etc. and refer to it in the body of your letter ( Dear Sir, in relation to my complaint [detailed below] ... ).
That will prevent the various departments from lying to each other about the situation.
And you will feel a lot less stressed because you will have 'got it off your chest'.
a) The Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission needs to be cleansed of all Labor party members, relatives, supporters and hangers-on.
Then the CMC should be given enough money, power and staff to conduct proper, independent investigations.
b) The Department of Education Head Office and District Offices need to be cleansed of all Labor party members, relatives, supporters and hangers-on.
Then the Department needs to take tough action against bully principals, and to publicise the action that they have taken.
This would demonstrate that the Minister of Education, the Director-General and the senior officers of the Department are serious about dealing with workplace bullies.
c) Queensland principals should not be promoted till they have been examined ( a written exam ) on their comprehension of the departmental policies.
Then principals can be held responsible for their abuse of the policies ( and not hide behind the "I am new to the job, I phoned a friend and he told me to do it" excuse ).
And the written exam would weed out those principals who can't read and / or can't comprehend what they read.
d) The Queensland public service 'natural justice' system of investigating should be changed.
This system is mis-named.
It should be called the 'we just let them lie' system because, when you make a complaint, the bully principal is allowed to introduce a new 'story' to excuse their conduct.
This new story is simply accepted and your case is declared 'closed.
You may be able to disprove the new story - but you are not given the opportunity because you are not allowed to respond before your case is declared 'closed'.
And after your case has been declared 'closed' your letters are ignored.
e) The QTU needs to support teachers when they are bullied by principals, district office staff and Head Office staff.
Really teachers and principals ( and other district and Head Office administrators ) should not be in the same union - it seems to expose teachers ( and principals who are being 'mobbed' by a group of teachers or by a group of district office or head office staff ) to workplace abuse.
This is perhaps the biggest problem.
Bullied teachers should be given QTU legal support, and that legal support should be independent of the QTU lawyers ( at the moment the QTU seem to employ one firm of lawyers to act for both parties to the dispute, or to control the advice given to the bullied teacher by their solicitor ).
The QTU may argue that they cannot afford to provide legal support to the numbers of teachers who are being bullied in Queensland, but they would probably only need to support a few bullied teachers, and to publicise the fact that they are willing to support bullied teachers.
Principals, district office staff and Head Office staff will stop bullying teachers when they know that the government, the department and the union want them to stop.
If you make a mistake because you are ill, nobody will care that you were trying to save the department money.
Take sick leave.
I will publish your story, but only if you want me to publish.
Most people do not want to publish, and this is fine with me.
If you do decide that you want to publish your story, first I will edit out any names.
And then I will change statements like "my principal is a brazen, horrible liar" to "my principal sometimes seems to make statements that do not accord with the facts".
Then I will edit out any details that would identify you, the bully and the school.
It might be safer to wait till you have left the department before you publish your story.
I can phone you for up to an hour on a land-line.
Or you can phone me.
Remember that my advice is just that of a friend who has 'been there' and wishes you well.
Actually, yes, there is.
I received an email today ( 12 July 2011 ) from a Queensland teacher who was bullied out of work. He told me that he is enjoying staying in bed on the cold mornings!
I know just how he feels - here in Cairns I enjoy looking out on rainy mornings, knowing that I do not have to go out into the rain.
I had continual colds when I was teaching.
And I was suffering lots of pains in my heart, lots of dizziness, continual tinnitus, etc. It was the stress. I really believe that the stress would have killed me if I had been forced to continue.
My health has really improved since I retired.
And when you are retired you can travel - I travel a lot now. It is much cheaper when you are not limited to the school holidays.
As this teacher pointed out, the trick seems to be to plan for being bullied out of work when you get older - build up your superannuation and other investments so you can manage financially.