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Public Shaming

I have received a flood of messages today from colleagues, and colleagues from other schools. All due to a very insensitive write-up in our union’s semi-annual mail-out. This mail-out goes to every single teacher in my district, which is one of the largest in Ontario. It arrives in our mailboxes at school, and is a lunchtime favourite for teachers, who sit around the lunch table, crunching an apple in one hand, and turning the pages of this mail-out in the other. This publication outlines all of the retirements, new hires, transfers, births, promotions, and condolences. Basically, it is the gossip column for the largest school board in Ontario, but NEVER have I ever read negative news that was not consented- even condolences have needed to be approved by the member affected.

Given all of this, you can imagine how surprised as shit I was when a colleague from another school text messaged me a photo of my name mentioned in the fall/winter union mail-out. In fact, the exact words were:

“We would also like to say farewell to the following staff who are on leave: _____________ .”

First of all, since when is it anyone else’s business that I am on leave??

Second of all, “farewell”????? Where the hell do they think I am going? They use “farewell” when people transfer schools, are promoted, or retire. It is not appropriate in this context. How the hell is that supposed to make me feel? How is it supposed to make me feel about coming back to work?

Thirdly, why was this included without my consent?

Lastly, how insensitive for the colleague who wrote and submitted this, to not consider the repercussions of announcing to essentially the public that for some unknown reason, I am not working. For example, the emails and messages from other colleagues who are wondering if “everything is okay?”. This puts me in a position where I either have to disclose our miscarriage to people that I have a professional relationship with, or come off as an asshole for not replying/not revealing. Even worse, most people assume that a “leave” is usually stress related unless it specifies maternity or illness. So as it reads, everyone who doesn’t know what’s going on in my private life is led to believe that I’m having a hard time “hacking it” at my job. When in reality, I’m physically and emotionally trying to grieve, and know that it’s not fair to me or my students if this isn’t done properly.

I haven’t slept in two nights, as my anxiety has been sky-high from a phone call from our school board’s long term disability provider (I’m not collecting LTD yet, and probably won’t be at all because my leave is so short), asking all sorts of intrusive questions about the nature of my leave, feigning sympathy, what medications I’m on, who my specialists are, and etc. Apparently I have the right to not disclose anything to her, as she works for the insurer and indirectly, my employer. But I told her everything, and I did so honestly. I became shorter with my answers though, when she started to sound like she was really prying, and asking inappropriate questions. I called our union to complain about this phone call, as it truly set me back in my emotional recovery. And remember, I’m not just grieving one miscarriage, I am grieving our two years of infertility, three miscarriages, my mistreatment at work while this has been happening, as well as processing the fact that my body killed off a perfect, chromosomally normal baby girl.

The publication of my “unspecified leave”, and its distribution to the entire membership of my district, feels like a public shaming, and has brought me to a higher level of anxious and pissed than ever before. A medium that is normally used in the same way as your great aunt’s Christmas family update mail-outs, should not have been used to share my private status with my school with the 15,000 other staff in the board.

Needless to say, I am extremely pissed off by this. DW plans to email the editor of this publication to urge her to create guidelines on what schools can submit for these updates (yes, it was my school that submitted this little shaming piece- the same school who has made my time miserable). I feel like I deserve an apology from my school, but I am not holding my breath, because I know it will never come. So for now, I will just keep blindly emptying my inbox, because those who matter, already know, and those who don’t, are just looking for more gossip.

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32 thoughts on “Public Shaming

  1. Oh sweetheart, my heart just broke for you!!
    First, I know other people who are teachers in Ontario (Toronto to be specific), and they too struggle all the time – one in fact ended up taking a long term stress leave due to all the crap. Mind you, I think all teachers and education staff struggle as they work in one of the hardest and least undervalued, yet one of the most critical professions.
    Anyways, I am sooo sorry you are dealing with this. I know its not the same, because i was in control of the messaging when I chose to go on a medical leave and then eventually resign from my company, but I did choose to tell people the honest truth – 4 miscarriages in 2 years. I hate to admit it, but one of the main reasons I was so honest is that I would rather have people knowing about my pregnancy failures then have people think I was on some sort of stress-leave because I couldn’t hack it. (I’m a bit ashamed of this feeling, because people who need stress leaves, shouldn’t be embarrassed by it, but for me, I had to be clear that I was not one of “those people”). As for people prying, I’d be blunt and say simply say I do not feel comfortable talking about these details, and would prefer not to. This will effectively end any sort of further inappropriate inquiry. For me, I always said something like, “I have decided to go on medical leave due to the fact that we’ve had 4 miscarriages, and I need to take some time to refocus on my health and my family needs.” When I resigned, I added on that “right now work isn’t my priority, and until I am prepared to give it 100%, I need to take a break.” It was hard, but I do think because I was firm and honest in my delivery of the message, people we always supportive (at least to my face).
    Anyways, I am so sorry you are faced with this. You are right, it was completely inappropriate and unacceptable. And to make it worse, there is now no-way to fix the situation. The damage is done and you are now left to pick up the pieces. Wishing you so much strength to deal with all of this.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences. You are so right when you mentioned the stigma of stress-related leaves, and how our society doesn’t seem to legitimize mental health. Sadly, I too, would rather people know that I am on a miscarriage-related leave because the system is so quick to write off those who recognize their work-related stress limits. I actually think they are the more brave ones to identify and make changes for their own health.

  2. Wow. I am incensed by this! Abso-fucking-lutely intrusive, disrespectful and horrifying. I’m so sorry this happened. Nobody’s business, and besides, a leave is not a “farewell”. UGH. Can you contact your school and ask who wrote that? Not that it’ll change anything, but I think this person needs to be made aware of how inappropriate this was.

    I’m so sorry. As if you needed another reason to feel upset with this school and how they mistreat you. By the way, don’t feel like it is your duty to respond to everyone who is inquiring. If they genuinely care about you, you’ll sense that and share with them what you feel comfortable sharing. But you’ll recognize the nosy ones for what they are, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to respond. It’s not rude, it’s self-preservation.

    As for the LTD provider being intrusive, I’m glad you let the union know how inappropriate that was. I feel violated FOR you. 😦

    You’re incredibly resilient, and I know you’ll work through this violation of privacy and come out on the “other side” of it all okay. In the meantime, know you have my support and sympathy and plenty of hugs saved up for when I see you next.

    • Thank you Linds. It actually makes me feel better to know other people are angry for me too. A couple of colleagues have also expressed their enragement with the publication of my private matters. You’re right- just because people ask, doesn’t mean I’m obligated to respond. I’ve been checking my email periodically today and just blindly “select[ing] all” and “delet[ing] all”. The first thing I thought about doing when I heard about this was emailing my school’s communications rep and informing her of how insensitive her submission was, but I have a 24-hour-no-emails-when-angry policy, so that I can get all of the facts and respond in a non-emotional way. In fact, DW has agreed to email the editor of the publication on my behalf so that I don’t have to deal with this any more than necessary. Thanks for the hugs. Let’s hang out again soon.

  3. This is positively shameful on the part of both the person who submitted this bit about you AND the person who chose to print it. In California, you’d have grounds to sue. I am SO SORRY this happened to you. It’s absolutely the last thing you needed.

  4. That’s miserable. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. I’d be taking a note of how many emails you do get sent so that if your school says it’s not a big deal you can let them know how many people actually wrote / called etc.

    • It’s not so much a policy, but rather that my school did something unusual and posted the names of people on non-maternity leaves (which violates the privacy of people on leaves for medical reasons). No other schools have done this. I have a friend who used to fill the role of the representative from the school who submits the information, and she said that the only leaves that they were to announce were parental leaves.

  5. This is awful. I can’t believe how unprofessional and insensitive they could be. This almost seems illegal; isn’t being on medical leave private? You must be so pissed. I wish you didn’t have to put up with this on top of everything you’re already going through. I wish I could find you a better job. I’m glad you and DW are strong together and hope you can keep taking care of yourself as you’ve been doing. Hugs.

    • Thank you so much. I feel your support through the blogosphere. Yes, medical leave is private. I am not sure why they went against the convention of only publishing parental leaves, to announcing medical leaves. DW thinks we should complain to the human rights representative at our union, and I agree.

      • Yes, DW and I talked about it more last night, and she will do some investigating to see if some actual rules are in place and if they were indeed broken. She suspects that there may be a human rights issue here because there have already been instances of borderline bullying of me in this workplace. I’ll let you know how it goes. How are you doing, Miss TWW?

  6. Also, I agree about the stigma of stress leaves. I had manipulative, vindictive boss once (she herself was a psychologist – one who gives the profession a bad rap) and she was so horrible to me I finally cracked. I was treated so poorly by HR, in fact I never went back to that nonprofit. It’s too bad “professionals” can’t act mature and caring. You have every right to be on leave, it’s your need and your choice. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. It really does reassure me that I am not alone in how I am feeling about work. I have really enjoyed teaching at the first two schools I have been at, and I know that I am an excellent teacher. It is becoming clear to me that my current school is a toxic environment that extends past the confines of the building itself. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to get transferred, as it would involve competing against many others for a vacancy and requires the good reference from my principal, who has shown very little compassion so far.

      • Thats too bad that you have to be in a placement thats so unhealthy. Its so hard having to work when youre not ready, and working in an environment you dont enjoy. So frustrating. Ill be thinking about you as you figure out what to do.

  7. I just have no words for this. I can’t believe this has happened to you. I’m sorry you are going through this when you have already got things to deal with. 😦 HUGS TO YOU.

  8. excuse my language, but that is some fucked up shit! I woulda spazzzzzzzed! You need to write a letter to the school board, the superintendent, the damn newspaper! To use your image without your consent or approval is appalling, and what they said!!! Are you serious!?! Don’t get me started!! I am so sad and ANGRY for you! I totally see now what you mean about this place. It just doesn’t seem like a very supportive and understanding place at all. I wish that you could just get the hell outta there. As if your life wasn’t stressful enough and like you aren’t going through so much as it is, you have deal with this craziness. This is bullshit and good for DW for standing up for you. This is just ridiculous! I hope the phone calls and emails stop as quickly as they started. Thinking of you, and sending you some calming energy.

    • Thank you. Yes, there was a lot of swearing around here when I found out too! Luckily, the emails have stopped, and from what I am hearing from friends, most people who have seen it have commented on how appalled they are that something like that was submitted by my school in the first place. And you’re right, that workplace is totally toxic, and I’m for sure being bullied, and we will do our best to get me out of there next year.

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