I have wanted to write this blog for a very long time. I think it is a conversation that has to be had in education. The combination of Early Years Well Being Week and Mental Health Awareness Week have spurred me on and so here I lay bare my own experience in the hope that I can stop it happening to anyone else.
1992 saw me fresh faced and fired up as an NQT embarking on my first teaching position. I wanted to change the world for the children in my class......i still want to change the world for the children I work with. But I very nearly didn't see it through.
It wasnt long before i realised that the team i had been recruited into resented me being there. In hindsight I was fresh out of university and i was cheap. Cheaper than the teacher who had been covering my class before me and who, apparently didnt get the job. But i soon got the message. My first half term was awash with undermining actions, cutting me out of team meetings, arranging things without me and critism chipping away at me. It wasnt long before i felt alienated and alone chooosing to spend my breaks in my classroom desperately trying to do what I thought i needed to to be accepted. No I didnt know everything, I was new to is all and I probably did make mistakes......but I didnt need the nit picking, the bitchy comments and the back stabbing. I needed support, I needed mentoring, I needed guidance and help. I didnt get it .......it took its toll as the term went on and when the children started to come down with mumps I quickly followed and spent the last week of term and my first half term holiday in bed recovering.....and dreading going back. When i walked back into work i was quickly diverted to the heads office and sat wondering what i had done wrong, what was i there for and why couldnt i just get on with getting my classroom sorted for the children? Then came the lowest of blows....in my abscence I had been replaced by the teacher who wanted my job in the first place! I was to job share in Reception for 6 weeks and then take on the new intake in Jan. I left that office crushed, my confidence and self esteem in tatters and thinking I had made the worst mistake ever going into teaching.
Fast forward 26 years and here I am ...supporting new teachers as they enter into their careers, training teachers who have worked in early years for ages and meeting people from all over the world. It turned out that the teacher they teamed me up with was my inspiration. She took me under her wing, she nurtured me, showed me the ropes and made me feel i was valued. She gave me someone to talk to in the staff room and she answered my questions when i wasnt sure. It turned out in strange way to be the best thing that happened to me....but at the time it felt like the end of the world.
Yet still I hear stories of undermining behaviours, of nit picking critism and of catty comments in our schools, our nurseries and our preschools. This IS bullying .....it IS NOT acceptable and it needs to stop. In any other work place people would be disciplined for this kind of behaviour and yet our archaic hyerarchy seems to think its ok for one teacher to chip away at anothers confidence. Cliques form easily in settings and we forget to do the one think we trained to do....to support those we work with, to offer a shoulder when one is needed and advise when it is sort. We are professionals trained in the impact of positive behaviours yet we feel scared to speak out when we witness school based bullying.
Brave women all over the world have stepped forward as part of the me too campaign . What I would love to see is teachers and school staff standing up and telling their stories and saying together "we too" have been bullied at work and its not right, its not ok and I will stand up and be counted. It IS just a job, we should not feel guilt at being ill or having to look after our own poorly children.
So to those teachers who thought it was ok to make me feel useless, who chipped away at my professional confidence and took away my self esteem........ You left me in tatters...you left me depressed, alienated and alone in a world of women twice my age. You nearly destroyed my career before it had even started....you nearly destroyed me....but I am here now and I know what you did is wrong and I am determined to stop it happening to any other person. I am strong in spite of you, I am the teacher i am today because i decided to be different to you.
I'm Kirstine Beeley, early years training consultant, author and mother ......I was bullied as a teacher and I came through the other side.