Standing up

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One Slice of My Life – Entry 6

Published April 19, 2014 by Vida Caramela

IMG_0227It’s been about two months since I wrote about the incident with the “mean girls” at my job, and how I planned to file a formal complaint about them. Well. I wrote a letter to my union, sharing with them what had occurred and requesting their assistance in handling the matter. I shared the letter with my supervisor, the “big shark”, who assured me, “don’t worry about it”.  I have to tell you the truth, I thought that they were going to retaliate, and that it would get ugly. I was advised by my union rep. not to say anything to any of them. and I didn’t.  I admit, I was paranoid at first. I thought for a minute, that they were giving me the cold shoulder when I entered the building, but by the end of the second week, it was just a pleasant “Good Morning”, and that’s all. Now, it’s even more collegial than that. It’s quite a lengthy story, but I think it’s worth the telling.

I had to stand my ground once again. This time with a couple of fathers who did not like the grades that their children got on their report cards. This one father wrote me an email that was clearly intended to intimidate me into changing his daughter’s grade. I don’t think you can truly understand unless I share a bit of it with you, so here goes (the names and dates have been changed to protect the guilty. he, he):

Dear Ms. Caramela:

        How come 93 + 101 + 95 + 95 + all completed assignments, homework and participations = 60??????????
        There is something very wrong with what you are doing to my daughter. If my daughter report is not corrected and given to her tomorrow, I will not only come that School X and make a scene, I’ll report this on going issues to the Board of Ed and all the media outlets that I have connection with, including 1010Wins, New York Post and the likes.

        You are failing my daugher and I know it’s all you this marking period as I know every single one of my daugher’s grades.

        If necessary, I’ll take an attorney and file a case against School X if this is not corrected tomorrow, March 20, 2014.

        VERY DISAPPOINTED OF YOU AND SCHOOL X FOR LETTING YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS!!!!!
Enough!
Mr. Z

Here is my response:

        Dear Mr. Z,

        I shared your concerns with Mrs. Y, the head of guidance. She informed me that she was going to set up a meeting with you to discuss your concerns and to find a way to help Jane to improve her performance in her class. The strategies  that we have tried in the past have not resulted in any improvements. She continues to score well on exams, but she struggles with  meeting assignment deadlines, and she continues to exhibit a pattern of missing assignments. Please contact Mrs. Y to set up a  meeting. She can be reached at 555-555-2255, extention 5555 Thank you.

        Sincerely,
        V. Caramela, Teacher

Here is his response to my letter:

        THIS IS NOT JANE’S ISSUE! THIS IS YOUR ISSUE!
        You are not telling the truth!
        She gave all her assignments in on time and were there were not graded on time.
        DO NOT POINT THE FIGURE TO MY DAUGHTER!!!

        My daughter’s performance is execellent.
        If you do as much as to point the figure to my daugher on this, it will be a media mess for School X.
        I had enough of you FAILING my child.  YOUR JOB IS TO TEACH…

        I REALLY BELIEVE YOU HAVE TOO MUCH ON YOUR PLATE AND YOU FAIL KIDS BECAUSE YOU GET AWAY WITH IT.

        IT HAS TO STOP!!!

        I’LL REACH OUT TO THE MEDIA IF MY DAUGHTER REPORT CARD IS NOT CORRECTED TOMORROW!

I did not respond to him after that. Instead, I notified the administrators and gathered the necessary documentation. Well, he sent one more email after that, all in caps, basically saying that I had done the same thing to his daughter the previous marking period. The next day, he showed up at the school. The administrators spoke to him. They pretty much left me out of it. The head of guidance only asked me if I had all my records. When I assured her that I did, she said “Okay”, and that was all I heard about it until I was called to my supervisor’s office and asked to give an account of what had transpired. I told my supervisor what happened, and she said that she was going to set up a meeting. On the morning of the meeting, the parent emailed us to cancel the meeting because he was ill.

Anyway, back to the story of the “mean girls”. The day after I got the threatening emails, it was Open School night. (I always have about twice the number of parents waiting to see me than time will allow). At the end of the night, one of the mean girls came and reported to me that the scene outside my room was priceless. To this day, I don’t know what she meant by that. She said,” . . . but you were appreciated, I can tell you that”. I didn’t know what that meant either. Then the following day, open school day, a parent showed up demanding that I see him right away, even though other parents had been waiting the whole time to see me. He had come and gone a few times, each time forfeiting his place in the line (that’s the rule, and a sign was right over the sign-in sheet as a reminder). He threatened to go to my supervisor. I told him he could, and asked him to set up a private appointment with me and guidance. He yelled, “No, I’m going to see you today!” Well, he waited until the last parent had left, and he came back. Technically, the conference time was over, but I saw him anyway. He made all kinds of accusations at the meeting, ranging from me giving a quiz on a day of the week when it was not best for his son because of domestic issues, to me only calling him when his son misbehaves, to his latest suspicion that I must be losing his son’s homework (this excuse seems to be the preferred one, these days, over the dog ate it). So, I calmly reminded him that we had spoken on several prior occasions about his child’s academic performance, and that I had informed him that his child was not turning in his assignments regularly, and that he was scoring low on tests no matter what day of the week it was. He continued to badger me, and I stayed firm, confident, and resolute in my intention to settle the issue. The phone rang while we were at it, and I did not answer. Well, it turns out that one of the mean girls realized that something was going on when she saw another father pacing back and forth in front of my door. She had the office call upstairs and when I didn’t answer, and one of my coworkers reported  that the same parent who was in my room had tried to intimidate him earlier, they called the head of security who had gone home for the day, to come back and handle the matter.  I think they got concerned because the parent is a really large fellow (over 6’3″), and last year he was arrested during an altercation with his ex-wife in a pharmacy. I didn’t feel physically threatened by him, but he must have gotten to me emotionally, because the meeting had lasted almost an hour when the security agent came and put him out. I was completely drained.

After that day, it was not only a pleasant “good morning”, from my former tormentors, but it was conversations about not letting the parents get away with intimidation tactics, speaking up about it more, answering the phone in my room to let people know I’m okay, pressing charges on parents who threaten me, etc. It kind of makes me wonder if I’m being made a pawn in another battle that’s been waging between the parents and the administration. I sure hope that’s not it. I just find it difficult to believe that their  concern for me is genuine. (Kind of reminds me of the mean girls in the movie Carrie, acting all nice before they dump the pig’s blood on her head.)

It’s just really odd the way the behaviors have changed towards me so dramatically. Whatever I’ve asked of the “big shark”  lately, she’s granted, which is a complete 180 from her response to me last year. In a future post, I plan to tell all about the miracle that turned the tides for me. I can’t say for sure that this one event changed everything, but it certainly set the ball in motion, and I am grateful for each and every moment of peace that it has brought. No matter what, though, I will continue to pray for peace, prepare for battle, and persevere through whatever comes. That’s how I’m livin’.

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From Victim to Advocate

Published August 14, 2013 by Vida Caramela
Advocate Against Discrimination

Advocate Against Discrimination (Photo credit: FreePride Foundation Project)

Jamie Isaacs, was a victim of intense bullying for many years. For her, the bullying began when she was in the second grade and continued until the end of the seventh grade, when she transferred to a different school. Jamie considers herself to be a survivor.  She, has not allowed tragic circumstances to spell her defeat. She has emerged from being a victim to being an activist, and has written her story in a book entitled, “In Jamie’s Words”. Jamie shares her experience with bullying every chance she gets. She speaks out, so that others who are suffering will know that they are not alone.

Jamie’s struggle started with one tormentor, her best friend, who turned against her. Other participants, were recruited until their numbers had reached a total of 22. The relentless persecution she endured was painful for her and her entire family. When she and her parents reached out to school leaders for help, they did not receive it. Eventually, she changed schools, but soon realized that the same bullies that tortured her, were targeting her younger brother. She then reached out to her County Legislator, Jon Cooper, who at the time was making efforts to stop cyberbullying, and she shared her struggle with him. He in turn asked her for her input in the drafting of new legislation on cyberbulling. Jamie felt a sense of empowerment and a strong desire to do more, so she founded the Jamie Isaacs Foundation For Anti-Bullying, a not-for-profit organization that helps young people know that they are not alone, and provides assistance to those being bullied. In February 2012, she was honored as a role model by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who introduced resolutions commending her for fighting against harassment and cyberbullying

By helping other victims of bullying, Jamie has found her strong inner voice. and is presently working with both local and state legislators to pass strong anti-bullying laws. The Jamie Isaacs Foundation has been named one of the TOP 10 Charities by Lifestyle + Charity Magazine!

On the Foundation Website, its mission is stated as follows: Our mission is simple… To save the lives of victims of bullying. We do this through intervention, and educational presentations, nationwide, to both students, and teachers and administrators. We present programs that help to raise awareness of situations where bullying is occurring.  After attending our presentations, students will have a special understanding of the effects of bullying. Teachers and administrators will have a better understanding  of the signs of bullying, and how it can be stopped. Our goal is to help children and their families overcome the devastating effects that bullying can have on kids, and their entire family. Some of these services can include representation by an advocate or even attorney where needed.  It may also include counseling and psychological services, all provided by a third party. We will assist in finding a therapist to fit each families financial needs. In addition, if the victims family is left with no other option but to formally withdraw their child from the school where the bullying is occurring, we will assist in negotiating a lower tuition, or tuition assistance to make it easier for the family to move their child to a safer place quickly.

As far as champions go, Jamie Isaacs is the real deal.

No Greater Wrong

Published May 5, 2013 by Vida Caramela
English: Col. Theodore Roosevelt. Crop of Imag...

English: Col. Theodore Roosevelt. Crop of Image:Theodore Roosevelt, 1898.png with minor Photoshop cleanup עברית: תאודור רוזוולט (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“No greater wrong can ever be done than to put a good man at the mercy of a bad, while telling him not to defend himself or his fellows; in no way can the success of evil be made surer or quicker.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Sometimes, people with good intentions cause more damage than they do help.  I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of this at times, so I’m not standing in judgement. I’m simply pointing out that when it comes to coping with a bully, each person has to chose for themselves the thing that  works best, and do it. Everyone is different, and each individual brings to the table a unique set of strengths and shortcomings. Therefore, always exercise prudence when deciding which approach to take. For me, it’s persistent resistance, because unflinching determination has always been one of my attributes. I just stand my ground, even when I don’t feel particularly strong. Rolling over isn’t an option. I have found through research, watching others, and through personal experience that when it comes to dealing with a bully, you may not win right away, but for most people, it’s worthwhile to fight back anyhow. With your dignity and self respect intact, you are more likely to rise up to win, another day.

I have a dear friend, who wants nothing more than to see my persecution end. Once, she  advised me to accept some unreasonable conditions imposed upon me by my employer, in order to win over my employer, even though contractual guidelines had been ignored. I did not take her advise, I chose to fight, first because it went against my principles, and second because I happen to recognize that my employer is a bully, and to her, any effort of mine to kowtow would simply be seen a sign of weakness. I filed a grievance, at the risk of ticking her off, making her hate me even more, incurring her eternal wrath. Yes sir, I stood my ground, and you might be wondering what the outcome was. She ended up rectifying the situation without a fuss. How’s that!

Even still, I have not gained favor with my employer, she still takes potshots at me whenever possible, but I like to think that what I may have gained is a little more respect. One thing’s for sure, she’s more likely to think twice before trying that stunt with me again. Now she knows I’m not the perfect victim, I’m prepared to defend myself, and to  attack me, might prove more trouble than it’s worth.