‘Horrible industry’: Teachers and early childhood advocates warn of toxic culture of bullying

Teachers at childcare centers speak out against a toxic culture of bullying, saying they have been called names, abused in front of children and some have felt suicidal.

Jobs advocates interviewed by RNZ said the sector was grossly overrepresented in bullying complaints.

They warned that directors and owners of centers often used the Teaching Council’s complaints as a way to intimidate teachers or get revenge when they complained.

Members of an online support group, the Teachers Advocacy Group, told RNZ they had experienced or witnessed several instances of bullying.


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One teacher described relentless criticism of her work, including formal warnings for minor mistakes such as using the wrong nappies.

“It got to the point where I was almost killing myself. It was non-stop,” she said.

Another teacher said his bullying involved “being called names, yelled at, said I’m incompetent, I’m a failure” in front of children.

A teacher has described the relentless criticism of her work, which she says almost made her suicidal (file photo)


A teacher has described the relentless criticism of her work, which she says almost made her suicidal (file photo)

A Maori teacher said she was the subject of racist comments and witnessed similar comments and homophobia directed at other teachers.

Another teacher said he left the area because he was constantly criticized for minor issues and had heard of many other instances of bullying.

“It’s just a disaster for an industry and things have to change,” he said.

Several teachers blamed the high incidence of bullying on center owners with no teaching experience or qualifications, and managers who had no training in people management and who worked with little or no supervision from anyone. whatever else.

“I can go to an owner and say ‘we need resources to operate at a grassroots level’ and the owner says no because it’s coming from their profit, and that’s where the culture of bullying starts. “said a teacher with 20 years of experience. .

Another teacher described a situation in which the director of a non-profit center was able to intimidate teachers due to a lack of oversight by the centre’s governing board.

Another teacher says his bullying involved 'being called names' in front of children (file photo)


Another teacher says his bullying involved ‘being called names’ in front of children (file photo)

Employment advocates told RNZ they work with far more early childhood teachers than teachers.

One said she had only worked with a few teachers in her career, but had lost count of how many early childhood teachers she had helped.

Another said she could see about six cases a year that went all the way to the Teaching Council, compared to just one or two teachers.

They also said that some childcare centers appeared to have clique cultures that facilitated the ostracism of teachers who did not fit in.

Maryline Suchley of Employment Resolution Consultants said she had worked with about nine early years teachers over the past year, but had also given extensive advice to other teachers who said they had been victimized. intimidation.

“Education is definitely the worst sector, followed by health,” she said.

Maryline Suchley of Employment Resolution Consultants.


Maryline Suchley of Employment Resolution Consultants.

Suchley said bullying was often accompanied by exploitation, such as not paying staff properly.

“It’s sort of psychological, it’s manipulation, undermining, belittling, this kind of passive-aggressive bullying, and it’s been going on for a long time and the person who’s being targeted doesn’t really realize until it’s too late and there’s too much,” she said.

Suchley said managers sometimes threaten to report teachers to the Teaching Council to stop them complaining about problems at their center.

“This is just retaliation for making a complaint and leaving or making a complaint and been there, but unfortunately the power is in the hands of the center manager.

“Another great thing is to refuse registration. You must ask your center director or principal to sign your teacher registration. If you do not get your teacher registration signed, you will not can’t teach,” she said.

Suchley said the Teaching Council needed to ensure that managers and principals could not use mandatory reporting and registration systems to target teachers.

Employment lawyer Rachel Rolston said that if teachers complain about problems at their centers, the center owner or manager will sue them.

“They’re going to start encouraging, soliciting bogus complaints from other teachers, from other ECE teachers, who themselves are so scared for their jobs that they’re going to do it. They will subject them to a disciplinary process that will result in complaints to the Board of Education.

“They will put them in a position where they will effectively end up losing their careers. One way or another they will lose their careers so they leave and they tend to leave quietly,” she said.

Rolston said more than 10% of her work involved early childhood teachers, and she noticed early in her 10-year career as an advocate that they were overrepresented.

She said jealousy was at the root of about half the cases she saw, and she told some clients to quit the profession altogether.

“There is a real reluctance to accept the fact that this is happening. It’s a horrible industry. I will tell clients quite regularly that you are in the wrong career, you have to go get another job, because teaching jobs, especially in ECE, carry a danger that you will become a victim,” she says.

Employment lawyer Ashleigh Fechney said she had lost count of the number of early childhood teachers she had worked with.

Ashleigh Fechney, employment lawyer.


Ashleigh Fechney, employment lawyer.

She said early childhood was “a huge mess” and teachers often ended up being disciplined for trivial matters.

“I once pictured a woman wiping tears from a child’s face and they said it was too much, and they went to court for it. So it’s little things that add up “, she said.

Fechney said center directors often threaten to take teachers to the Teaching Council.

“I see this very often in ECE. It’s really difficult because then it leads to this person who is so anxious. They’re not just fighting for their jobs, they kind of get to a point where they feel like they’re fighting for their careers at that point.

“And I’ve seen cases fly away, I’ve seen people resign through these processes for fear that it will reach the teachers’ council,” she said.

The two main organizations representing center owners and managers, Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand and the Early Childhood Council, said bullying was unacceptable but did not agree the sector had a particular problem.

Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe said her members were not reporting bullying as a widespread problem.

Kathy Wolfe, CEO of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand.


Kathy Wolfe, CEO of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand.

“Concerns about the bullying of staff have not been raised to any significant extent by our members – neither by kaiako nor by managers.

“Only a few times over the past few years have we needed to help members with bullying, so we couldn’t agree that early childhood education has a particular or prevalent issue or culture of bullying. bullying,” she said.

Wolfe said Department for Education complaints data showed there were two confirmed complaints of staff being bullied in 2020 out of 409 complaints received that year.

Early Years Council chief executive Simon Laube said services were under severe pressure due to Covid-19 and a shortage of qualified teachers.

He said it created stress and also made it difficult for managers and teachers to find time to resolve issues and disputes before they escalated.

“It’s hard to find the time and space to properly address these issues. That takes time. The centers don’t have a lot of time. They don’t have many teachers,” he said.

Laube said early learning centers have fewer people in management roles than schools and this puts more pressure on staff.

He said the Teaching Council was working to ensure that teachers who were the subject of a complaint did not feel guilty until their case had been dealt with. investigation.

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