Do People Think Before They Act at Church Functions?

St. John Neumann Church Sanctuary, Lilburn, Georgia (Retrieved from Pinterest.com, July 2, 2016)

St. John Neumann Church Sanctuary, Lilburn, Georgia (Retrieved from Pinterest.com, July 2, 2016)

If one does not have continual time to volunteer in and/or be active in church functions, is he or she no longer needed at church?  And therefore, with regard to those within the church who make such decisions about others’ involvement, do they truly think before they act and/or put themselves in the others’ shoes?  These are the questions that I will seek to answer in the present post, based on certain experiences I have had at my church and within my faith, in general.

Throughout my life and within my faith, regardless of the church of which I have been a member, I have noticed that if one is not continually available to help, volunteer, assist, and/or otherwise minister within the church, he or she is not needed, or at least, does not appear to be as valued in the church as those who do.  Additionally, there appears to be a lack of consistency between people, philosophies, and perspectives in relation to value, importance, and need regarding members who volunteer and/or who are simply involved in various church activities.  All it takes is for one person to be unappreciative, disrespectful, and/or offensive, and it casts a poor reflection on the whole group.  This causes the church to potentially lose people and/or for some members to take their time and talents elsewhere.

Within the past five years, there have been four particular activities that I have been involved in at my church at St. John Neumann in Lilburn, Georgia, as well as two activities that my son has been involved in there, within which there has been this inconsistency of value, understanding, and/or appreciation toward us.  In describing several of those activities to follow, suffice it to say that this number of activities (6) is too many within which not to be valued or appreciated, to the point in two cases to be downright offended by others’ conduct.

While there are also many activities, volunteer efforts, and other church involvements in which we have been valued and appreciated, it was during those times that we also had much time and energy to invest in such activities.  They were also activities and efforts in which we were agreeable and accepting of the experience we had.  They were activities within which the leadership was good and the event was safe, proceeding well.  In instances, however, where leadership has been questionable and/or the event biased in some way, having identified those situations to church leadership and positive change was not observed, these have also been experiences in which feedback appears to have been used as a reason to alienate and/or exclude.

The mission of many Christian-based churches often includes being open to and accepting of all people.  This, however, appears to be true only if one continually has much time and/or money to invest in the church, and/or as long as there is no disagreement with anything that occurs within the church.  As an approved volunteer with a clean background check, I take offense when I am treated like a criminal in coming to pick up my child from youth group, find the church doors to be locked, and prevented from entering by the group’s volunteer leaders, as one example.  While this, in fact, may be a safety measure, it can also be viewed that the leadership has something to hide.  When I am unable to have access to my child, no less in a completely voluntary-type setting, and am treated as being guilty before being innocent, this is a major concern.  The church has itself to blame, in covering up countless abuses of children by religious, and must not treat concerned parents as criminals.

Some time ago, at a church potluck dinner, I was admonished by two senior citizens (a man and a woman) for filling an extra plate to take home to my family.  The woman stated that I should leave more food for others, and I explained to her my financial need.  The man stated to me that I basically was taking too much chicken.  In response to him, I was so offended that I said nothing.  Why is it that people are unable to put themselves in another’s shoes, even in one’s own church?!  Why is it that people see a Caucasian woman who reasonably takes care of herself and has a positive attitude, but they cannot perceive need?  Would they enjoy living at or below poverty level for many years due to various hardships?  Why is it that Caucasian single mothers are so often overlooked, blamed, disrespected, and offended by others?  This is something that has often been discouraging to experience.

Now that my schedule has changed and I have had good work opportunities, it appears that the time and efforts of both my son and I are no longer needed by the church.  This is another reason that I state that the church only appears to need those volunteers who continually have time available to minister and assist.  When the call went out for volunteers to assist with vacation Bible school, I offered a day when my son and I could help, and was turned down.  In the past, when we were both available to assist during an entire week, then it was fine.  Now that we have limited availability, we are not needed, to the point of our time and efforts being rejected.

In having lectored for a few years, I was scheduled to read once in a six month time period.  On that one day that I read, I took the day off to do so, reflecting the importance of the ministry to me…that I would sacrifice a day’s pay just to read at church!  Then, on the one other day that I was available to read, on a day off from work, in a period of three months, I was not scheduled to do so.  Others in the church, regardless of availability, often read two or three times in a three month period, yet being schedule once in six months truly shows me that I am not needed, my schedule cannot be accommodated, and people are unable to walk in my shoes.  Once I complained, efforts were made to attempt to accommodate me, however it did not appear to be something that would ultimately work out.  Thus, I do give the particular minister credit for his efforts as that is more than anyone else has done.

So, in answer to my questions originally posed, it seems that only a certain few people are able to think before they act in church and those certain few people are able to walk in others’ shoes, however it does appear that church members are no longer needed to assist, minister, and/or be involved in church activities and functions if they do not have continual time available to do so.  It is much easier for people to pass judgment on others rather than ask, “What can I do for you?,” or “What can I do to make this better for you?”

Perhaps there are some churches that have so many volunteers that they actually do not need everyone and can turn people away, however it is generally my experience that when people are not needed, valued, treated as important, and turned away, that they take their time and talents elsewhere.  That is why I left the previous church at which I was a member, and the one prior to that.  And, while I keep in mind the many positive aspects of my church, there are also a great many things that can be improved, these being a few examples.  Everyone needs to be treated with value, respect, and importance, and people must be able to walk in another’s shoes.  In absence of that, some sheep may seek a different place to graze.

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.

“Experiencing Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Shiloh Middle School Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Middle School Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

From 2007-2008, I taught at Shiloh Middle School in Snellville, Georgia, located in Gwinnett County.  Shiloh is a public school, and is a school that is part of the largest public school system in Georgia – which school system is also Georgia’s largest employer.  Due to unbearable discrimination and retaliation that I experienced as a teacher at Shiloh, from school administrators, and as a result of upper administrators doing nothing to stop it, I taught there for only one year, having already had several years of prior outstanding experience, positive recommendations, and excellent formal evaluations of my teaching at other schools.

During the painful experience that I had at Shiloh, I resigned mid-way through the academic year with such resignation taking effect at the close of the academic year, hoping that the discrimination, racism, harassment, bullying, and retaliation that I was experiencing would stop, but it only increased and escalated.  😦  For the past five years, my experience has been so painful that I have not shared about it, publicly.  However, I believe that it is important for my experience to be shared; perhaps sharing about my experience with help others who are coping with similar discrimination.

Discrimination – in particular, workplace or employment discrimination – is something that people typically do not want to talk about, recognize, or address.  In my experience, it was also something that virtually no one who had the authority and ability to stop it did so.  😦  The discrimination that I experienced included many different actions by school administrators, such as deliberately falsifying my students’ county benchmark test scores and thereby reducing my teacher performance rating, stating that I had more below grade performers than was accurate on the school system’s internal rating instrument, termed the Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES).  It also included creating a hostile work environment in many ways, including being administratively unsupportive of me – and instead, supportive of the student – when the student threatened me with physical harm in class.   

Other ways in which I experienced an unsupportive and hostile environment were when administrators placed me on a type of “improvement” plan, evaluated me approximately 25 times during a three month period, and had virtually nothing positive to say about my teaching in any of their evaluations.  Note that I came from all prior teaching employment positions with positive recommendations and satisfactory evaluations; my reputation was outstanding.  Yet, when I successfully completed all of the facets of the “improvement” plan at Shiloh, further “evidence” was fabricated by the principal to support that my teaching was “unsatisfactory,” thus causing him to fulfill his goal in “proving” that my teaching was not satisfactory.  Additionally, when administrators observed several lessons per week in my classes, many students found it amusing and entertaining.  Thus, my credibility and reputation were diminished, and it made it more difficult and challenging to teach effectively. 

Chemicals in Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Chemicals in Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Further discrimination I experienced were denials from administrators for me to participate in off-site professional development opportunities, as well as the school system purposely failing to supply the Professional Standards Commission with any of my professional development hours and credits earned during that year to go toward my recertification.  Other discrimination I experienced included not being provided with the necessary educational materials for required curricular lessons (though I repeatedly requested them and they were not ordered by administrators), and using such lack against me in evaluations and performance reviews.

Other types of discrimination that I experienced included when the principal gave false information about me to a human resources employee, also causing such employee to be completely unsupportive of me as a competent and valued employee of the school system.   I was also subjected to dozens of “disciplinary” and performance-related meetings; and was required to observe the instruction of several colleagues as part of my “training,” including that of an inexperienced, first-year teacher.  Because I stood up for and defended myself to my immediate superiors, many upper administrators within the school system – up to and including the superintendent – as well as by providing documentation about my experiences to leaders at the Georgia Department of Education and Professional Standards Commission, I experienced even more discrimination and retaliation from the school principal.  While an official from the state education commissioner’s office contacted me and was supportive of me, he stated that the department did not have oversight pertaining to the issues that I was experiencing.  And, the state standards commission for educators did not recognize any policy or ethics violations of my administrative supervisors, expunging the cases.

Eventually, the school principal had so much documentation against me that he was able to falsely substantiate changing my teaching position from that of a science teacher to being a careers teacher.  Removing me from my team of core teaching colleagues, he informed parents by letter sent home from school through their children of his “personnel change.”  Eventually, my replacement in my subject area of science was made through cronyism, the fact that the school administrators placed one of their close faculty friends in my position.  Interestingly, for some time during and after the “personnel change,” this replacement faculty colleague of mine was not identified on the school’s website as even being employed at the school; her name was removed from the website.

Upon the change in subject area that the principal forced upon me for the last quarter of the academic year, he directed that my work space be the school’s science storage room that housed flammable chemicals.  So, not only did my workspace change from a formal classroom to a storage room – it was a storage room in which there were many flammable chemicals and materials, most of which were not properly stored.  In this storage room, I was provided with a desk and chair only.  I was not provided with a computer or any access to an intercom or other communication device, as were present in each teacher’s classroom.  Throughout this article are found several photographs that reflect this workspace that the school principal directed me to use. 

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Upon my being required to use the science storage room with the flammable chemicals as my workspace by the school principal, I wrote to and informed the regional director of OSHA about the situation, and received a response from him that because my workplace was a public rather than private employer, nothing could be done to stop or change it.  I wrote to the state’s governor.  I wrote to the school system’s superintendent and internal resolution director.  Prior to that, I wrote to and met with the human resources division director.  I contacted the superintendent on three occasions, and never received a reply.  When nothing was changed or improved, I contacted each member of the school system’s board of education.  It was only through those communications did the superintendent act to have the human resources chief officer meet with me, at which time I explained to her what was occurring, including being required to work out of a science storage room, filled with flammable chemicals.  As a result of meeting with her, the discrimination and additional racism that I experienced continued, though my work space was changed to an outdoor trailer.

One particular racist situation that I encountered was when a school administrator who was African-American, directed me not to eat my lunch during a staff development meeting, however she did not inform or direct my African-American colleagues not to eat their lunch during the same staff meeting.  When I approached the school principal and informed him about the unfairness of this situation, he became angry with and yelled at me, stating that he was “disgusted” that I brought race into the situation.  I brought race into the situation?  Race was made a factor in the situation by the school administrator; I only approached and informed him of it so that he would be aware of it and so that such types of situations would cease.  This situation, however, worked in my favor because this particular administrator happened to be my second main evaluator, and because of the situation and the racism that I expressed that I experienced, my evaluator was changed to a different administrator who was somewhat more supportive. 

There were also several other racist experiences that I encountered, including being overlooked for off-site professional development opportunities that were instead issued to African-Americans, being nearly prevented from participating in certain school-related activities such as judging in the science fair, and being repimanded for my class being talkative though certain classes of my African-American colleagues were out-of-control, without that being addressed at all.  Several of my colleagues also experienced racist encounters with school adminstrators, the same and/or similar to those that I did. 

All of those 15 of my colleagues who experienced those similar encounters left the school, as I did.  When the “leaders” of large corporations such as that which this school is a part treat their subordinates in the manner in which we were, many employees discover the harsh reality that they and their well-being do not matter, and that money and image are indeed more important than they are – the hard-working and dedicated talent who comprise the very foundation of the company.  It was proven that people don’t matter to these corporate “leaders” – only money and image matter.

Throughout my employment at Shiloh and as a result of the constant and unending discrimination that I experienced from school administrators, I experienced a variety of health problems, and sought and obtained regular medical treatment for them.  In all of my employment positions, I have been a dedicated worker, and have been absent during very few days during each year.  During my year at Shiloh, I missed 20 days due to the stress and medical problems that I experienced as a result of the discrimination I endured there.  Both my physician and legal representative repeatedly encouraged me to leave Shiloh as soon as possible, however I was unable to do so because 1) I love teaching; 2) I needed an income; 3) I was unable to obtain a teaching position with a different school system; 4) I was not released from my contract; 5) the state stipulates that a teacher must not abandon their contract; if that occurs, then licensure could potentially be revoked; and 6) human resources did not honor my request for a transfer.  Additionally, this particular time in my life was the worst due to experiencing severely stressful issues outside of employment, including divorce, grief, and a family situation that involved trauma.

During my year at Shiloh Middle School and throughout the discriminatory experiences that I had, I survived my experience through the assistance of my legal representative with the Georgia Educators Association, a professional teachers’ group.  My legal representative, a man of about 30 years of experience in providing professional support and legal suggestions about how to proceed and how to best protect myself, is a graduate of a prestigious Ivy League university.  In addition to his advice, my legal representative also informed me that the school system, in fact, trains their administrators on how they can discriminate and retaliate against employees.  I will always be thankful and grateful for this man’s assistance as he helped me through this extremely painful employment experience.

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Following my departure from Shiloh, I contacted a few attorneys about the situation that I experienced, and none wanted to take my case.  My educators’ association legal representative had also informed me that unless there were others who were willing to come forward about their experiences (there were 15, however no others pursued the matter, and instead transferred, retired, or left the school), a legal case would likely not be successful.  He also informed me that individuals who had similar legal cases against the school system, at that time, were already in their fourth to sixth years in adjudication, with no end in sight and no guarantee of success. 

In order to make myself “heard” and to receive possible support from government agencies, therefore, I applied for unemployment compensation through the Georgia Department of Labor, and was denied.  I appealed the decision, and was again denied.  The reason that I was given was that, basically, the employment situation that I experienced was not of a quality that I should have resigned.  It wasn’t?  Following those denials of support, I called up my bravery and courage, and submitted a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in Atlanta.  Again, I was unsupported; and the case was closed, with the EEOC investigator informing me in March 2010 (more than 1.5 years after placing my charge) that the agency was unable to conclude that a violation of statutes was established, though it did not mean that the employer was in compliance with the statutes.  So, it would appear that all of what I experienced was entirely legal – or, my case was not strong enough.

Since working at and leaving my employment at Shiloh, I have been unable to secure employment in teaching – the career that is my passion.  I have volunteered as a teacher and/or adult leader on numerous occasions and throughout many years with particular schools, churches, and organizations, so my life continues to be enriched and fulfilled by being able to teach.  However, the eduation for which I built my teaching career has not continued in the manner that I had anticipated.  Though there are other interests that I have pursued, and that I am able to be more fully available as a mom to my son, I miss the opportunity to teach and more fully utilize my education and background to support others and assist them in reaching and exceeding their potentials.

I believe that the discrimination that I experienced by the school administrators at Shiloh was a result of being outspoken and perhaps being intellectually threatening to my superior(s).  Because I am a person who likes to learn and understand, I have a natural capacity to question.  Sadly, people may misjudge an individual’s questions as being threatening when they are only trying to learn and/or support themselves in understanding others.  I always put in extra time on the job, always went the extra mile, always bent over backwards in my work.  When I saw something that could be improved or done better, I identified it and supported it to administrators.  When I observed student gang activity at the school, I became outspoken about ways to stop it.  The principal was angry and hostile with me about it, and therefore, did anything possible to be professionally and personally unsupportive of me. 

Additionally, during the prior academic year, the school did not achieve a passing rating on Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), so it had been officially identified as a failing school.  And, the much-loved and experienced veteran principal had retired at the close of the previous academic year.  Because of these two issues, as well as the student gang activity, faculty morale at the school was extremely low; I took the initiative and met with the principal on three occasions early on in the academic year, sharing my suggestions with him on how to raise and improve faculty morale.  As a result, I believe that the principal and his administrative colleagues did whatever they could to attempt to silence me and/or force me out so that their own actions or inactions regarding particular issues would not be called into question.    Simply because I desired to learn, understand, and contribute to creating a better and safer school for everyone, I experienced discrimination by the school administrators that was the most severe of anyone at the school.

Shiloh Middle School, Snellville, Georgia, 2013

Shiloh Middle School, Snellville, Georgia, 2013

Some people have advised me not to publicy-share about my experience, while others have.  Those who have advised me to remain silent believe they are protecting my best interests so that no further retaliation toward me will occur in other avenues.  I have been particularly inspired by two people to share my experiences, publicly.  Those who have encouraged me to share about my experiences have stated that by being silent, I am protecting the offenders.  As I have gotten older and have reflected upon many experiences in my life, I do believe it is important to inform others of our experiences – as a way of it being individually therapeutic, but also so that others will know and understand my experiences, and perhaps be able to change and improve such situations for others. 

By sharing my honest and true experiences, publicly, I would like to request positive change, and for people to support – rather than harm – each other in the workplace, and in our society.  My article provides an opportunity for agencies, organizations, and employers to recognize and support individuals, such as myself, who have had experiences similar to mine.  It is much easier and more cost-effective for employers to support employees rather than focus unnecessary and inappropriate energies on harming them.  Recognize and support good employees for who they are; no longer harm them through harmful and negative control, bullying, intimidation, and domination.  Please pray for, reflect upon, and support this occurrence.

As a further result of my workplace experience while teaching at Shiloh, I created the LinkedIn group, “Educators Against Retaliation,” in September 2011, later renaming it “People Against Retaliation and Bullying.”  This is an open group in which any member of LinkedIn can view and/or join.  The main purposes of the group are to identify and address bullying, retaliation, intimidation, and bullicide (suicide due to bullying), as well as the prevention of all of these.  Participating members have helped and supported each other by sharing their experiences and/or the experiences of others, related to workplace bullying, school bullying, bullicide, and retaliation.  One group member actually shared her personal success story in winning her legal case against her employer for wrongful termination.

With bullying and retaliation having come to the forefront of social issues within our society, people must realize the seriousness and severity of such actions.  😦  When adults are bullied at work by other adults, when children are bullied by peers and/or adults at school, and even when citizens in the community experience bullying throughout our society, it is clear and obvious that the issues must be identified and addressed, and for improvement and positive change to occur.  When large corporations can get away with the type of illegal actions at work that I experienced, one realizes that such actions are engrained in our workplaces, culture, and society.  Countries throughout Europe have strict laws against the types of discrimination and retaliation that I experienced.  It is long past time for such laws to be enacted and enforced in the United States, in order to protect the rights of individuals who have experienced such wrongs, rather than shielding employers from being accountable and responsible for the actions of toxic employees who are free to utilize such harmful practices.

“Rejection: Just One Step Closer to Getting What you Want…or Recognizing What you Already Have” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Rejection.  Yes, that bad word.  It is part of our vocabulary, and is not a very nice word.  For some of us, it has been part of our vocabulary for much too long.  Nobody likes rejection.  It is, indeed, very painful.  Especially if one’s heart is set on something – or someone – rejection can be particularly painful, even crippling.  I can personally share, however, that the more rejection one experiences, the easier it is to take.

After having experienced much rejection (more than I like to think about) throughout the course of a number of years regarding employment, I stopped actively seeking work and returned to school.  When the school goals didn’t materialize as I had hoped, I took some time to reorganize my thoughts and set about continuing to do what I enjoy the most – being a mom, and writing. 

Having stepped out of my career, it has been all that much more difficult to gain re-entry.  And, everyone always has lots of advice, though I believe that I have tried everything that everyone has suggested.  If they say it, I’ve done it.  The thing is, one can’t just change the way in which people think.  They must be open and willing to consider flexibility and creativity in employment scheduling and responsibilities.  If employers are unable to do that, they have already rejected potential employees, by default. 

Thankfully, I have family support and am able to get by.  It is very difficult, however, for outspoken women, especially those who are a little older, to get ahead in a society that doesn’t seem to want to hear us, and would often rather put us in our place.  Certainly, there are many women who get ahead by just saying “yes,” however I need to be able to sleep at night, and if something is not correct – morally or ethically – then it is not suitable for me.  It always amazes me regarding the number of people who can say or do things that I would not consider, and they are totally okay with it.

Recently, not looking for employment, I was offered a part-time job in the area of writing education.  Admittedly, I was very excited, but didn’t get my hopes up too highly.  The per hour wage was certainly very good, however that it would have required several days out of my week to drive quite far from my home put a damper on things very quickly.  I probably would have paid just as much to gas up my vehicle as I would have earned in income.  While it would have been nice, it would have been nicer if it was closer to home.

Further, a contact of mine recently asked for some advice about job-seeking and career transitions.  While I provided advice about several different topics, I also know that everyone can always give advice and is full of advice.  It is truly what is in one’s heart and within their inner spirit that must guide them and to which they must turn to uplift them.  In seeking employment or even voluntary positions, we must be real regarding ourselves, our capabilities, and our financial means.  In times such as these, I have found that it is better to expect rejection.  One is definitely not nearly as injured in his or her self-confidence if one’s best foot is placed forward, and a rejection is given.

But even more than that, in rejection, one is getting a step closer to gaining or acquiring the position that he or she may desire.  And, if one experiences many more rejections than he or she would like to contemplate, one must always reflect on what he or she already has.  What talents and skills does one already possess?  What is one doing in their time to be creative, to network, to be open to opportunities?  Sometimes, just being at the right place at the right time is essential.  One must recognize that, as well, and be thankful for it.

One must also keep in mind that, if one is able, going back to college is a wonderful opportunity to update skills, network, meet new people, expand horizons, and just be in a different environment.  Where people are open, flexible, and creative, many opportunities abound at colleges for potential employment, internships, and activities.  Perhaps participating in or leading one activity may lead to an opportunity one was not expecting.  Or, at other times, one’s talents and skills may not be valued at all, and one must seek other opportunities for development and/or advancement.

Luckily, I am not a person who lives for money.  My priorities generally reflect more of a “quality of life” perspective, both for myself and my family.  I have learned, through the years, that it is not the amount of money one has that makes him or her happy.  One’s attitude, perspective, and quality of life that one provides to oneself and one’s family are truly the best.  Of course, money is important for survival and we all need a certain amount of it, but it need not be the ultimate end in one’s life.

Therefore, rejection – whether in career, employment, relationships, or otherwise – is definitely painful, but one must keep in mind that rejection can be a good thing.  Rejection, depending upon one’s view, can be one step closer to achieving one’s goal, to getting what one desires.  Or, in situations of much rejection, it is an opportunity for one to recognize and appreciate what he or she already has, and to capitalize on that. 

Rejection certainly can hurt one’s self-confidence – and coming from the Rejection Queen, herself – I understand it’s stunting qualities.  However, one must keep their faith and inner strength alive in believing that rejection is not always the worst thing, and that it may, in fact, open doors to other paths untaken that may be more fruitful or beneficial in the long run.

“Success, Sacrifice, Blessings, and Thanksgiving” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Thanksgiving Roses and Pumpkin

There are so many things for which to be thankful in our lives.  In getting older, my views of what to be thankful for have expanded, and surprisingly, have gotten somewhat modified.  I believe that some of the things for which to be thankful go hand-in-hand, such as success, sacrifice, and gratitude.  While each of these areas mean something different, they ultimately embody similar qualities for me.  Perhaps with age has come greater wisdom and insight about what it is in life for which we should truly be thankful.  It being Thanksgiving Day, it is the perfect opportunity to express and share the meanings and associations between success, sacrifice, blessings, and thanksgiving in my life.

Success, sacrifice, and thanksgiving are all connected in my life.  They each have a very special meaning in my life, and have grown stronger and more intense throughout the passing years.  Firstly, my personal meaning of success has changed throughout the years.  When I was younger – say, a college student or recent college graduate – success meant getting and maintaining a great career position, along with earning a comfortable salary and benefits.  It made me feel secure, stable, and accomplished to achieve that. 

Roses in Georgia, October 2011

Roses in Georgia, October 2011

As the years have passed – such as the past 20 years or so – success for me, personally, now means doing all I can for the benefit of my family, particularly for my son.  For me, success involves “being there” for my son as much as possible, providing him with the most and best possible quality time, and being a compassionate, sensitive, nurturing, caring, and loving mom for him.  To me, that is my greatest success – “the” greatest success – raising, caring for, loving, and being there for my son.  I invest all possible social and emotional understanding, compassion, and nurturing into my son, and I am also thankful and grateful to be able to do so on a regular and consistent basis.

So, for me, success no longer necessarily means having the best job or career position or earning the most money possible.  Although it is important to have a stable and enjoyable career, as well as to earn money in order to live and provide for my family, my highest priority and greatest success is in mothering my son.  So many jobs and career positions demand that people give their lives to their employment; I have given my life to being a mom, and being a sensitive, caring, loving, and nurturing one at that.  It is my hope that in the future, my son will remember all of the time, compassion, care, love, and nurturing that was invested into him, and invest that back into his own future family, as well as to others with whom he comes into contact.

Success also involves doing what I can for my son, my family, myself, and others.  Sometimes that also involves sacrifice – sacrificing my own selfish needs or desires for the benefit of others.  As the years have passed, I have realized that I truly do not need everything that I think I do.  And, when I look around, I see that I, indeed, have more than I need, materially.  It has helped me to refrain from satisfying a compulsive impulse to buy something that I don’t really need by telling myself that I have everything already and that I don’t need it. 

It also helps to remember that my main priority is in providing an outstanding education to my son, and that is where the money must go.  Thus, a wonderful education for my son is the top priority of sacrifice for me to him.  I strongly believe that such an excellent education is the best course of action for him, considering all other circumstances.  Of course, there are also expenses for maintaining good health, well-being, and extracurricular activities, as well as for having a vehicle and driving it, however my son’s schooling helps me maintain my focus of investment in him and in his education.  This is my gift of sacrifice to and investment into him.

Sacrificing and giving to others is also important to me.  When I can, I drive my parents to where they need and/or desire to go.  For one thing, this helps save on gasoline, though it also provides company, comraderie, companionship, and fellowship, not only for me, but also for my son.  I do what I can to give back to my family for all the good that they have done for and provided to me, even in the little things that others may think are insignificant, such as buying some groceries, taking packages to be mailed at the post office, or taking items to the trash pick-up or recycling center.  That stated, I know I could never in my entire life return to my parents all that they have provided in support and assistance to me, and for that, I am also extremely thankful and blessed.

Sacrificing also means giving back to the community, serving others, and helping those who are in need.  I regularly do that as a volunteer in many capacities, including at two churches as a lector and lay minister, as a writer for a church newsletter, donating food and clothing for those in need, volunteering as a spiritual leader at my son’s school in activities that assist local families in need, assisting as a parent helper for school activities, organizing food for and delivering it to local families in need during the holiday season, volunteering my time, talents, and efforts in Cub Scouts whenever possible, and giving of my time by volunteering at the local religious-affiliated thrift store.  Though my desired, intended, and enjoyed career path in teaching has not proceeded as planned, I am rewarded by being able to give of my time and talents to help and assist others – and, in turn, it is also spiritually, socially, mentally, and emotionally fulfilling for me.

So, what I am most thankful for are God, my son, my family, my friends, and the good, competent, caring professionals who are in my life.  Without God, I would be nowhere.  With God, I have, maintain, and develop my strong faith, even when things are not going well.  I believe that there is a reason for everything, even though I may not know or understand what those reasons are.  I also believe that God has our lives mapped out for us, and knows everything that will happen in our lives long before it happens and prior to us even making a choice on what to do. 

Thanksgiving Pumpkins

Thanksgiving Pumpkins

I try my best to be thankful to God everyday and for everthing, both good and bad, because I believe there are learning experiences in everything.  Of course, it is extremely difficult and challenging to be faced with bad, trying, or traumatic situations, though with God as my strength, I know that goodness, love, and mercy will prevail in some way.  With God, for whom I am thankful, I am blessed with the hope and faith that He will guide and show me the best way in which for me to travel.

Thanksgiving is also important in association with my son.  I am thankful for my son because he provides me with the greatest meaning in my life, he gives me the strength and fortitude that I need to live and enjoy each day, he fulfills that place within my soul that has the innate need to mother, nurture, care for, and love him.  I am thankful for my son because I often believe that he is my reason for being, for living, and for sharing and enjoying the most in life that is possible.  I am so moved and thankful to God for my son; he is my heart.

My family are also those for whom I am thankful.  Without my family – my parents in particular – I would not be where I am today.  When I was in need, it was my parents who were there for me and my son.  My parents have been that strong, stable, unyielding rock of strength and persistence throughout my life, showing me that nothing is too great to overcome, that nothing is too great to bear, that nothing is too severe to integrate positively into my life in some way.  Having been married now for nearly 50 years, my parents are wonderful role models for me, and for them, I am extremely thankful and indebted.

I have a few wonderful, close friends, and for them, I am also very thankful.  One is lucky and blessed in their lifetime to find, acquire, and maintain friendships with those who are kindred spirits, sharing similar values, beliefs, and backgrounds, and I am blessed and thankful to have found such friends as these.  Typically, I gravitate toward friends who are slightly older than me because I believe that they are more mature, experienced in the world and in their lives, and can also be wonderful mentors for me.  In fact, there have been a couple of colleagues in my life who have also become wonderful friends, particularly for those reasons.  It is such a blessing to be able to share an understanding, flexibility, and sensitivity with friends who hold similar outlooks, philosophies, and perspectives, and I am thankful for those people in my life.

Also of great importance in my life are those professionals who have been helpful and supportive of me and my family, and who have made our lives easier and more enjoyable.  For these folks, I am extremely thankful and grateful, and for some, I will also never be able to fully express or show my gratitude if it takes me the rest of my life.  Currently, a few of these people in particular include my attorney, a school superintendent, and physicians and healthcare professionals who doctor and/or otherwise assist me and my son.  In the past, such professionals have also included college professors, instructors, mentors, and coaches; and professional peers and colleagues.

Of course, I am also thankful for nature, the environment, animals, flowers, plants, food to eat, shelter, safety, freedom and democracy, diversity, and different peoples, cultures, religions, languages, and customs.  I am also thankful for opportunities, growth, development, life experiences, and being able to live my life.  I am thankful to travel freely and to where I choose.  I am thankful for having sight, hearing, touch, taste, intelligence, honesty, persistence, and a whole host of other qualities and characteristics.  I am also thankful for being female – being a woman, for with that has come pregnancy and giving birth to my son, and enjoying experiences and intimacies that are understood only by women.  Even so with all of these things for which I am thankful, I am most thankful for people and God.

My son and children, in general, are those people in my life for whom I am most thankful because they bring so much joy, happiness, innocence, and fulfillment into my life.  Had I an enjoyable, stable, and loving relationship with a partner, I would also find great fulfillment in sharing such thankfulness and love with him, as well.  I know, however, that a relationship of that nature is in God’s hands, and if such a relationship never presents itself, then I will know and accept that it was not meant to be, however discouraging and disappointing, perhaps it would be for the best.  My love and compassion for children, children’s rights, and children’s welfare would also be high priorities for me to share with an intimate partner, as I am sure he would find similar enjoyment and fulfillment in this, as well.

Westward View of North Carolina Toward Tennessee from Cherokee, North Carolina, October 2010

Westward View of North Carolina Toward Tennessee from Cherokee, North Carolina, October 2010

While this post will end up being published and dated in the day following Thanksgiving this year, it was on my agenda to accomplish on Thanksgiving Day, though other things came up that needed attention.  I hope that you who are reading my article will be able to reflect upon what it is that you are thankful for, and perhaps, also find some correlations between success, sacrifice, gratitude, and blessings in your life. 

Sometimes, we just need to stop and smell the roses, or – before you know it – those roses are gone and we are left wondering what happened.  I took a few moments this evening to cut some roses from the backyard garden and to smell and enjoy them.  Please also take time to be thankful and share all wonderful things on this Thanksgiving.  Take time to “smell the roses;” enjoy all that is good; share with family, friends, and loved ones; and be thankful for all that our wonderful Creator has bestowed upon us.  Give extra hugs and more quality time to your children and family.  Take a moment to appreciate everything, and not take it for granted.  Enjoy it now – it doesn’t last forever!