“Educators experience workplace bullying at a much higher rate — more that three times as high — than other workers,” say researchers in the newly published 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, released by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Badass Teachers Association. This year, 830 AFT members, educators in two New York school districts “where educator unions have built strong collaborative labor-management practices on the quality of their work life,” and an additional 4,000 educators responded to their 30-question survey.
Most educators surveyed reported that their schools have workplace harassment policies prohibiting bullying, yet bullying still happens at a high frequency. Stress from workplace bullying is compounded by large workloads, feelings of having to be “always on,” a lack of resources, changing expectations, deficient building conditions, equipment and staff shortages, and insufficient time to prepare and collaborate with colleagues — in other words, limited feelings of respect, control, and influence in their work.
What’s more: “in 2015, 34 percent of our respondents noted that their mental health was ‘not good’ for seven or more of the past 30 days. In 2017, among the more than 4,000 respondents to the public version of our survey, that number had climbed to 58 percent,” explain researchers, noting that the presidential election took place in between those years.
The result: “teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-recommended levels of health outcomes and sleep per night,” according to the study.
When educators don’t have healthy and productive environments, students don’t either. “Districts that fail to recognize the importance of educator well-being may be faced with higher turnover, more teacher and staff health issues, and greater burnout, all of which leads to higher costs, less stability for kids and, ultimately, lower student achievement,” say the survey researchers.
A better way
Respondents overwhelmingly said that strong educator unions are vital to supportive learning environments. “We can ensure safe, welcoming, supportive learning environments for kids when communities, parents, educators and administrators work together to build supportive working environments for teachers and school staff…. Forthcoming research from Saul Rubinstein and John McCarthy shows that union-district partnerships produce increased school-level collaborative environments and, in turn, improved student outcomes,” say the researchers. Educators in the two surveyed school districts report collaborative environments, including teacher mentoring programs and peer evaluations. Teachers in these districts were bullied by supervisors less frequently, found work to be less stressful than teachers in other districts, felt more respected by supervisors, had fewer physical stress symptoms, and were less likely to plan to leave teaching.
Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill advocates and educators Torii Bottomley and John Pepi backed New York City teachers, who testified in support of the New York Healthy Workplace Bill at the New York State House in Albany on Monday, February 8. After his corrupt administrators bullied him and his union offered no support (similar to Torii, John, other MA educators and nurses), New York City teacher Francesco Portelos led other disenfranchised New York City educators to form United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Solidarity, a group that endorses the New York Healthy Workplace Bill.
Bottomley explained that it’s important to emphasize the financial impact of workplace bullying to legislators: $22 million annually in taxpayer dollars for New York City alone according to the Huffington Post. When New York City administrators conspire to bully teachers, the administrators send teachers to what’s called a rubber room – unused space where teachers do nothing.
Bottomley also observed that with corruption, bullies target those who “know too much,” and higher-ups let it happen because these employees “cost too much.” She added “if you know the dirty history of the players, you’re more expert or qualified than your boss, and you make more money than your colleagues from age or experience, you end up with a target on your back. If followed, protocols only serve to give the boss’ actions legitimacy. You are on your own.”
Professor Gregg Morris revealed, “This is the first time in a long time that I felt great about being a teacher.” Bottomley reported that legislators seemed to be receptive to the testimony but they should continue to hear from those outside education so that legislators understand that workplace bullying cuts across every industry.