The #METOO Movement was just named Times Person of Year and I am very happy that all of a sudden people are starting to take sexual harassment seriously. For far too long women have been experienced sexual harassment and no one including other women took their experiences seriously. Women are often told that it is part of being a woman and the more successful you become at a given career the more it just becomes "part of the job." Finally, women are saying they have had enough and are no longer afraid to share their experiences. Yet it seems like women in the education field are still scared. When I did a google search for information about the #metoo movement in education I found some great articles on how to teach our students about sexual harassment, but almost no testimonials from educators who have been harassed. Why is that?
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2011-2012, 76% of public school teachers were female, but only 52% of Principals are women and only 14.4% Superintendents are female. Those statistics sadly prove that most of the time the positions of power in public education are held by men. That makes it scary to a lot of educators to stand up and say #METOO and tell their stories. Female educators are getting sexually harassed in the workplace by fellow colleagues, supervisors, principals and in some cases superintendents. Women, we must stand up and fight this. I know its scary but it is time. Here is my story and I am sharing it in hope that it will help others find their voice.
Throughout my over 17 year career as High School teacher, and then Middle and High School Librarian I have been harassed by both coworkers and men who were in positions of power. I even went so far as to work up the courage to tell not only the co-workers Supervisor but also the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources about one how one co-worker who made unwanted advances to me, texted me some inappropriate sexual things about how I was dressed, called me the C word and threatened to spread rumors about me. The problem I ran into is that I cursed the person out via text message when he said that to me and because of that my administration felt like it was going to be a he said she said thing and that if I pursued it further I did not have much of a chance at winning. I also did not want the alleged rumor to get out and because of that I did not pursue charges against the person and went back to avoiding him.
The second incident of sexual harassment came at the hands of my supervisor. Off and on during the first few years that he was my boss, he would send me weird and not very professional text messages. During meetings, he would sit next to me and at times place his hand on top of mine. To this day I can still remember the creeped out feeling I felt when he would place his hand on mine, but I was too afraid to say anything or move my hand. He would also make remarks to me that led me to believe he wanted more out of our relationship. It all seemed to come to head when he asked to friend me on Facebook. I did not feel comfortable having my boss as my friend and I nicely told him so. From that moment on our relationship changed. My rebuff of him, lead to him looking for ways to get back at me.
It started out with just little comments to other coworkers about how he could not understand how I would friend them on Facebook and not him, but quickly it became worse. Soon he found a way to move me to the Middle School and to bad mouth me to Middle School administration and others saying how uncooperative I was and how I could not get along with others. It got a little better when I left the building, but it never got much better.
When I won a state award for having the School Library Program of the Year he did not even congratulate me or do anything to recognize the award. He also found petty ways to remind me that he was in charge, be it trying to write me up for going and teaching the 5th grade at one of the elementary schools without getting his permission, or telling me in a meeting that I had to get permission from him before I could speak at a Boar of Education meeting, even though I was a resident of the town. There were many other subtle and nonsubtle things that he did that made it very clear to me and others who I told, including my husband, that I was being retaliated against. But I never said a word to any administrator about it because it was clear from my experience with the co-worker that administration did not seem to take these complaints very seriously. It was also a time when there was a pervasive culture of retaliation in the district, which went all the way up the Superintendent so I did not feel comfortable speaking out and because of that all of those factors I choose to remain silent. I have since left the district but I still worry some about what will happen since this man was given a position of power in my son's school, but I feel that I can no longer remain quiet.
My story is really no different than many other female educators out there. I know that from talking with other women in our profession. If you are too afraid to put your name to your story contact me and I will publish it anonymously, but I beg you to please tell your story so that hopefully this culture will change.
Elissa Malespina is the High School Librarian at Verona High School and a Presenter, Author and much more. The views are my own. Find my full resume above.