I stared at the anti-bullying poster on the wall, tattered and ripped at the corners. “ANYONE CAN BE A BULLY!” it read.
“And that can come down too, it looks awful.” Ms Anderson looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to write her instruction down. I wrote a single sentence at the bottom of the page.
I still have that notebook, and that page. The sentence reads simply: "Get out of my classroom."
Ms Anderson was the deputy headteacher. I was an experienced middle manager, she my line manager. We met weekly, but I would see her at least once a day.
As the year progressed and the weather turned bitter, her cool treatment of me became icy. My decisions – from set changes to what was displayed on my classroom wall – were overturned. She would call meetings during my A-level lessons to discuss data, and brand my reluctance to attend "laziness".
If you’d ever come across me professionally, you would have met a cool-headed, confident intellectual with a deep love for their subject and a polite manner. I simply did not feel equipped to deal with a smiling assassin who questioned my every move. I felt hounded and isolated. I had to justify, explain and argue every decision I made, which more than doubled my already backbreaking workload.
I quickly fell ill and discovered that this lowered me even further in Ms Anderson's estimation – she had a theory that leaders taking time off only encouraged a chain reaction of absence.
I’m sure she had no idea that she was making me so utterly miserable. She smiled at me indulgently, patiently, explaining that she was "challenging" me because the school was in "tough times". I had no choice but to conclude that I had being doing a poor job, because this level of micromanagement utterly ruled out trust and professionalism. Worse, she encouraged members of my department to come straight to her with complaints about me – morale nosedived.
When I found out about this, my depression turned to anger. I called a departmental meeting and asked everyone to be honest about my leadership. It was one of the hardest moments of my life, but in those two hours I took my department back from this bully. As I heard the good as well as the bad, I realised I wasn’t the terrible leader she was making me out to be.
I walked straight into the headteacher’s office and asked for a new line manager.