It was Friday around March 2016 when my manager called me into the office. I was meant to be working in a school, but I was told to go straightaway. Perhaps it’d be about the music concert that was coming up. I wasn’t told what the meeting would be about.
When I sat down, I was told that there was an allegation made against me. He couldn’t tell me what I was accused of, but that I’d have to take notes reflecting on what I’d done over the past week.
I didn’t sleep that night. My mind was racing, because when someone says the word ‘allegation’, I thought – Racial? Sexual? Physical? My mind went to the worst possible places, and I was terrified. The next day, I was told that actually it wasn’t in the last week, but it happened 2 weeks ago. My eyes welled up. I couldn’t hide my tears, as I really couldn’t think of anything I’d done at all. I wracked my brain trying to think of anything, and revealed that I may have left some children in a classroom for 30 seconds while going to get some water. By this time, he knew what I was accused of, but he refused to tell me. I still had to go away and think about what I’d done.
That weekend, I thought a lot. I thought about what on earth I could’ve been accused of. I thought about this job and I required to do the job – my car. I needed access to a car to drive between the several schools in which I worked. I then thought, if I don’t have my car anymore, I’d have to stop working. It became logical that getting rid of the car was the only way to get myself out of this environment. I thought about deliberately crashing my car to make it not drivable anymore. To me, there was no other way out of this situation – I had to total the car, in order to stop working for
them. My own safety didn’t factor at all, because I wasn’t worth anything.
I didn’t find out what I’d been accused of until Wednesday.
When I arrived, my manager was there with a HR rep (despite being told it was an informal meeting and I didn’t need my union rep there). I then found out what I’d been accused of. A child had reported me throwing a reed across the classroom. If my manager had asked me what had happened, I could’ve explained that the child
dropped their instrument on the floor and the reed broke, so I raised my voice. It was the only time I ever had to raise my voice with these children, because they were so well-behaved. They weren’t used to me raising my voice. I dropped the broken reed onto the table and it rolled onto the floor.
A teacher reported it too late, and it was escalated way too far. It went up to the city council. If it had been dealt with in-house, I could’ve calmly explained what had actually happened. I didn’t find out what I’d been accused of for 5 days. I thought I would never be allowed to work with children again, because I had no idea what I had been accused of. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I did anything else, I would be sacked. In the formal letter, they’d used information I’d said against me – that I’d left children alone in a classroom, as well as the allegation. I’d only told them this, because I was pressured to think of any bad thing I’d done and tell them. I became severely anxious in every classroom. I could simply look at a child and be accused of something. I wouldn’t dare hug a child in case it’d come back to me as some kind of abuse. I lost weight, lost sleep, my hair fell out, I made myself bleed by picking off scabs again and again. At any
time, for any reason, I’d be accused of something and I’d lose my job, lose my credibility as a teacher and lose my future of working with children and young people.
It got to June. I’d already handed in my three-month notice. My dissertation supervisor called me to ask how I was, and I burst into tears. I had never cried so hard in my life. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything. Somehow I ended up on the phone to my friend and she told me to go to the GP right away. I was signed off with work-related stress for 6 weeks.
I felt like a complete and utter failure. I felt like I failed those children. I failed at finishing the year in the ‘right way’, because I didn’t make it to the end of term. I let everybody down. Its taken years of therapy to realise it wasn’t me who failed. It was management that failed me. It was the lack of supervision. It was the lack of training and absence of lesson observations. It was the lack of any source of support. They didn’t know me at all, because they didn’t bother to get to know me, or see how I taught lessons, to coach, train, supervise me. They couldn’t vouch for me or support me when I really needed management to believe in me.
I’m only just starting to realise that I am worth something. I’m speaking now because back then, I had no voice. I now work at a major University in the UK. I’ve run sessions for students on workplace rights, on resilience in the workplace and what to expect. I could’ve warned students about this company, but I never did, I’ve never publicly stated the horrific experience I had with this organisation. But if this post helps just one person avoid going through what I went through, then this whole experience was worth it.