On April 10, 2019 I was assaulted at work.
I was seated when my attacker became agitated at my colleague, stood up, put both hands on me and pushed me. As I stood up, I was then slapped in the face.
When my colleague called for help it took 17 minutes for someone to arrive. She had to call twice and was asked if “it truly was an emergency” the first time she called.
I immediately called for two male colleagues to sit with me. It took another 10+ minutes for my boss to arrive and tell me to “call 911 and deal with it myself.”
It took more than 40 minutes for the police to arrive at which point the police officer told me “it was a bad idea to press charges because I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s life.”
I left work, more than an hour later, without my supervisors asking me if I was ok.
At 8:30pm I was called by Human Resources and told that I was to stay home pending an investigation, as well as threats made against myself and my colleague, by family members of the individual who assaulted me.
We were “to be out for our own safety.”
Two days later the Director of Human Resources requested a meeting.
He served me with an incident report alleging “unprofessional conduct.” I was not told specifically what conduct was unprofessional.
He was rude and angry that I had nothing more to offer than the statements I and my colleague made in writing at the time of the assault. I was told to stay home until further notice.
The individual who assaulted me was not asked to stay home. They were not disciplined in any way and continued on like nothing happened.
Let me reiterate that I was the victim of a physical assault and am now being investigated for having somehow caused my own attack.
It is inconceivable to me that in an era where women are finally finding power in collectively telling their stories and accusing their abusers, my workplace would treat an assault victim like this.
Ah, but you see, I’m a teacher.
Does that change the way you read the story?
“There must be more, some explanation!” you say.
And there is.
You see not only am I a teacher, but I am an urban, high school, ESOL teacher. It is my job to be the voice for the most underserved part of an already severely underserved population.
As such, I must be an advocate for those who cannot navigate English and the bureaucracy of the American school system. I make sure that my students get every allocation afforded to them by state and federal mandates, even if that means going above my Principal’s head to do it.
I’m also a Union Representative. I make sure that administration follows our contract, which makes for some tense encounters.
I am also a married, white woman who believes that it is my obligation to use my privilege to speak about racism, sexism, and classism in spaces not easily accessed by people of color.
I am the co-chair of the Social Justice Union Committee for the Rochester Teachers Association.
One of my students and I brought World Hijab Day to Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse. I wrote the resources that are available on the Rochester City School District’s website and that have been distributed through the Mid-West Regional Bilingual Resource Network. I have also served with the Black Lives Matter at School Planning Committee and helped bring the adopted resolution Supporting Community Actions for Safe Schools after the Parkland massacre.
I am unabashedly an advocate for my students and my profession.
Can you see what that means?
It means that for those in power, I’m a political nightmare.
Our society and therefore school districts count on the “teacher archetype”. We are underpaid, underrepresented, and easy to bully with phrases like “it’s for the kids”.
We’re told we are failing our youth because they are failing tests designed for students of color to fail.
Still we try harder, reflect more, do the work to help our children succeed.
We are so downtrodden by a broken system that many of us don’t have any fight left in us.
The systemic racism, sexism and classism that pervade our school systems count on this. It counts on the fact that teaching is an underpaid, female dominated profession to keep us in line. As long as teachers are too poor, too scared, and too tired, they remain quiet.
But I represent a change in that mindset. In the era of #MeToo, #WhyIDidn’tReport and teacher strikes, women are collectively finding our voices.
Just this week our Union filed a lawsuit against the district for teachers being involuntarily transferred (removed from their positions). Many of the teachers involved were vocal, political, and union advocates.
Do you see a pattern here?
As for me, It’s now been 6 weeks that I’ve been home on paid leave with no end in sight.
I’ve been told that the best guess for the “unprofessional conduct toward a student” is that she accused myself and the other teacher of being anti-Muslim. H.R. only says that on the phone though, not in writing. It would mean we’d actually know what I’m accused of, which would mean we could defend me.
They did however, figure out that the teacher who witnessed the incident was Muslim herself, so she’s back to work.
When the Director of Labor Relations at the Rochester Teachers Association reached out for an update on my case, Human Resources said, “They’d been busy.”
The district has now paid me more than $7,500 to stay home. They’ve had to pay a substitute $123 per day to cover my classes. (Currently a little more than $3,000). In a District that is severely in debt and had to offer a retirement incentive for the first time in almost 20 years, you would think they’d have 5 minutes to google my name and see all of the very public work that I’ve done surrounding positive Muslim relationships and learning environments. I think it’s easier to hope I’ll just hide with my proverbial tail between my legs.
I fully expect that after this blog post, they will find something else to say was “unprofessional”. I’m willing to take that chance.
So what now?
I don’t blame the child who hit me. More than likely she was frustrated with the same unfair testing system that I hate, and got overwhelmed. (Yes, the infamous NYS testing makes an appearance in this story.)
I also don’t blame her for accusing my colleague and I of being anti-Muslim.
I believe she said the first thing that came to her mind to get her out of a bad situation. Kids, and adults, do it all of the time. She was not my student and didn’t know her ESOL teacher was Muslim, as she doesn’t cover her hair.
It is a difficult and scary time to be a woman of color, an immigrant, and a Muslim in the United States. I can’t imagine the societal pressure she feels.
No, I don’t blame her, she is “just a kid” after all.
I blame the adults.
I blame the Principal for advancing this ludicrous investigation to keep the school’s image clean. The paperwork that I filled out on April 10th, was not sent or processed by Human Resources until 4 weeks after my assault. Our building has a habit of hiding assaults on teachers because they like to “maintain their image”.
I blame administration at the building level for making all of the teachers in my building unsafe by participating in these practices.
For worrying more about politics than about people.
I blame the Director of Human Resources for treating me like a criminal instead of a victim. For asserting that I may have lied about the assault.
I blame him for not doing his job and wasting taxpayer money because he’s “too busy” for a 5 minute google search.
Most of all I blame a system that allows women to be assaulted with alarming frequency in their workplace. That teaches us that we aren’t worthy of being safe, that we must have done something wrong. The system that teaches women “it won’t happen again”, that shows our female students that their teacher’s bodily safety doesn’t matter.
The system that grooms both students and teachers for future abuse.
I refuse to be a part of that system.
I refuse to be re-victimized by my workplace. I was assaulted and I deserve to be heard.
Education will continue to suffer as long as politics and image matter more than people.
Until then, I will continue to be an advocate for my students, fellow women, and fellow teachers.
And if the District wants to pay me to sit at home while I do it, so be it.
In 2011 The American Psychological Association conducted one of the few national studies concerning violence against teachers. 80% of the teachers surveyed claimed to have had one more more victimization experience in the previous 12 months.
As of last week I have filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the District, asking them to provide the specific number of assaults reported by teachers in the 2017-2018 school year.
I have also asked for the statistics and related procedural information as to how assaults are supposed to be quantified and assigned consequences.
They have not provided the information at this time.
For more information in an easily digestible format, consult the following articles-
Also of note:
When I received word that threats were made against me, I called the Rochester Police Department to press charges in the event that I needed a restraining order. Because the student was a minor, I was told I could not change it on the phone with someone else, the arresting officer would have to.
I gave my phone number and email and repeated that there were threats against my person and I was nervous as I have a small child.
I have never been contacted by the Rochester Police Department to follow up.