According to bullying.org bullying is defined as “a conscious, willful, deliberate, hostile and repeated behaviour by one or more people, which is intended to harm others.” My experience also involves misuse of power. The workplace has never been a place I have made my closest friends since I can’t confide or trust co-workers. However, I always strive to be polite, mind my own business, and do my job to the best of my ability. I avoid people who drown in gossip, cliques, and opportunities for others to disrespect and cause me or others trouble. I work best with long-term supply and highly dedicated teachers not heavily involved in school politics.
I am fortunate to be employed full-time, as an Educational Assistant (EA), one of the most desired jobs upon graduating from Humber’s Developmental Service Worker Diploma program. When interviewed at the school board office and meeting the principal of my school, I did not draw attention to or mention my physical disabilities. Upon getting hired, I carried the full workload of an Educational Assistant for as long as possible, even though I found certain tasks challenging. I carried on with a positive and grateful attitude. My career in a school setting has presented a lot of difficulties combined with incredible opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Having been born with multiple congenital anomalies, I require extra supports when seeking employment. Initially, my job would not have become permanent if it were not for my father’s connections as a retired principal. My position is secured for the long-term mainly because I have a strong union enforcing the human rights code. My visible disabilities are blindness in my left eye, scoliosis, and gait abnormalities due to polyradiculopathies requiring the use of a cane and leg brace. I have epilepsy which is well-controlled. I am hard of hearing in my left ear. I had open-heart surgery after experiencing adult-onset symptoms of congenital heart disease. Annually I manage the symptoms of congenital heart disease, and my three congenital lung conditions.
From the beginning, I was spoken to by some other educational assistants in a bossy, disrespectful, belittling tone-of-voice simply because I was the new kid on the block. I expected this would have subsided with time. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and I was assigned to work in a kindergarten class. I started the year off with enthusiasm, but the teacher reported me to school authorities fabricating situations that I could not reasonably be held accountable given my disabilities. In February 2010, a meeting was held with teachers, administrators, human resource personnel and union representatives. After much discussion and overcoming dishonesty with truth, it all worked out to my advantage. We concluded that the workplace was not safe, and was reassigned to a different school, or, at least, another class. I was sent home, with full pay and benefits, until further notice.
Even though I followed-up, it was not until October 2011 that I returned to work. During those two years, I had opportunities to travel to visit friends. It did feel like I won the lottery! I was reassigned back to the same school, with formal workplace accommodations after obtaining doctor’s notes, and having a meeting to discuss those and my new schedule.
My work life has considerably improved since then. I no longer have to be held responsible for impossible tasks, but still encounter administrators who try and contravene my accommodations. It takes away their power as I now give them rules to follow. I don’t let anyone get comfortable disrespecting me anymore. I am much more proactive to prevent opportunities by promptly suggesting a meeting to discuss my accommodations, provide updated doctor’s notes, and contact union officials so they are informed from the onset should representation be needed.
My inner strength and self-advocacy skills have fine-tuned with lots of practice of regularly being called into the principal’s office to get bullied. I developed gumption to walk out of the principal’s office when I realized the conversation had a dishonest and unfair undertone. I continue to encounter co-workers who display jealous emotions, and ableist attitudes. Being a futuristic thinker by nature, I realized from being bullied how much stress that produces. While planning for the future certainly has its place, it is more important to focus on the present. As Lao Tzu says, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” By adopting this philosophy, it prevents anticipatory anxiety of future bullying based on past events.
My career is divided into two parts; before and after the accommodation. Even though the challenges are ongoing, I am now always prepared to gently remind authorities of my accommodations. Needless this can be taxing, especially twice in some school years, I have not allowed it to take over my peace of mind causing discord or disquiet. I have learned the dynamics of self-esteem and confidence, and bullying has everything to do with them and nothing to do with me. Due to my increased self-esteem, I have developed the ability to stay calm through it all.
Before the 2015 Christmas break, the special education teacher, who helps administration oversee EAs, let me know how much patience and positivity I portray. So the next time you find yourself in desperate situations, instead of saying “Why Me” say “Try Me.”