Wednesday 27th May 2020

21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

Background…from Telling My Story: Chapter Fourteen published in February 2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. I also shared this as My Woman of Courage story here.

 

Where was I?

OK. I know. I was a K-6  school principal.

It was in September 2002 when I could not return to my school.

I was sad, ashamed and very tired as there were different outcomes for me personally and us financially.

But I also had some good things happening in my personal life. I will get to them too.

Life is LIKE that!

Cancer. Leaving My Role as a Principal.

Doctors, Psychologists, WorkCover, Staff Welfare, Dept of Education, Psychiatrists…..

When the school principal is told by her G.P. “you are not to return to that school, nor to be in that role again”, it felt both comforting and helpful.

I had been a patient of my G.P. for decades and she had been doctor to our growing family including my husband and me so knew what else had probably impacted my life as well as school and its responsibilities.

But even before that…the night before, I was left to try to tell my acting boss – who was known then as a District Superintendent, that I would not be going into school the next day…and for sometime after that but he did not understand.

Eventually I must have made inroads into his understanding, after seeing my G.P. who immediately saw this as a work overload matter making me both depressed and anxious. The employer had not taken steps to see me better supported in my school. I told that story in the last chapter.

 

Days into Weeks into Months.

What started as ‘sick leave’ did become workers compensation leave over the next month as I took myself to appointments and interviews.

I had to share my story (see the recent two chapters here & here) and my employer’s representative agreed that yes, there was a case for me to be compensated under Work Cover. In other words, I was paid via that scheme and did not lose sick leave.

But….

I could not and would not attend a school.

It was suggested at meetings that I could transition back to schools but did nothing to improve my mental wellbeing. In fact they made me even more anxious. Then I was offered, later in the year, the chance to ‘work in district office.’ Noooo. I felt such shame and was so anxious about seeing any of my colleagues that I could not envisage any kind of “return to work.”

And…it did not let up.

My mental illness, as it was defined later by a treating psychiatrist, was a reactionary one based on my personality and my role in the school.

It would, over time, resolve but there was medical agreement with my G.P., the employer’s rep and that of work cover, that I could return to “a school” for some days a week but never in the role of a school executive.

In 2003 all that felt like for me was:

F A I L U R E.

 

How I Was Affected By Schools.

Before I continue.

I lived about (then) 40 minutes from the school. I love schools! It had been my life…as a kid and then becoming a teacher and of course, having our children and grandchildren attend schools.

But, I was so scared, worried, ashamed and threatened by “schools” I could not even drive on the road (Windsor Road) that would have been my way to my school without feeling ill.

I was a proud (still am) Grandma but my first foray into the grounds of the school where our daughter was a teacher and our granddaughter in an Infants’ class made me highly alert.

I still felt I was the principal within that school, watching children running everywhere and wanting to tell them to stop. It was not fun. At all.

But, I was also not a victim….and I refuse to play that role any time.

I did know though that I was ill from the stress of my role in a school and so I took the chance to get the help of professionals and did a lot of work for myself. This involved seeing a friend each week for a coffee and over time, driving on the road that went to my school…and one holiday time, I went back and drove around the perimeter. I was sad and it felt wrong that I had to leave it as I did but I also know my health was paramount.

3 amazing grandkids who love me unconditionally and their presence in my lives helped me in this awful time.

 

Giving Up The Role For the Greater Good. 

Despite the urging of my bosses, the meetings with the work cover people and my professionals who agreed I would choose to do what I had to, I could not return to school. Or any school.

What then?

To ensure the school was able to progress into 2003 from my day of departure in September 2002 I relinquished my role.

It could then be advertised for a replacement principal. I was visited at home sometime after that by my then school office assistant who had brought me any personal items from my office and some cards and I recall getting flowers.

I was a sad but relieved person that not everyone ‘hated me’ there.

Photos remind me of my literal ups and downs re weight. Far right, 2003,I was ‘looking good’ but feeling awful inside.

 

But, How Will We Survive Financially?

At this stage of our lives as a couple, we had a mortgage on the house, my husband was in part-time work and I brought in a good salary as a school principal. Work cover continued to pay that but over time, as I stood my ground about not returning to the Department of Education  because of my health things got tricky for us financially.

 

Don’t Give Up Your Superannuation People!

I married my husband (teacher in NSW Dept of Education) in 1971 and in 1972, as I returned to work after maternity leave we made a short-term financial decision that would (still does!) affect us negatively. Back then as both of us was paying into the then BEST ever Super Fund “I” could opt out and save us some much needed dollars. We spoke to my accountant father about this who, it seems, saw this as a win….and over time, agrees “NOT right”.

The reason is this. None of us knew then that  by 1980 my husband’s health would deteriorate to the point that he was medically retired and was placed on a pension from the Super Fund. I was working then and continued to do so, but still had no super. At all.

It was in around 1985 again, my father who advised I try to get back into superannuation. Made sense but nope, I could not.

Once opted out, I was not allowed in….but wait “we have a new fund and you can join that”.

I did. The new fund was different but I did pay into it. I had a sizeable lump sum there in 2003 when I was making up my mind how to access it. Aged 52.

 

Getting Paid Out. Not Easy. At All.

By the beginning of 2003 and into the first few months, I was being harrassed strongly encouraged by my employer and work cover to ‘get back to work’.

Let me tell you now, it was worse in some ways than how I had to leave my job.

Phone calls, meetings…doctors’ appointments, psychological testing…so, with the agreement of my G.P. I decided to “medically retire”.

Um. No. There is no such thing now.

The new and subsequent super funds that took the money from  NSW Dept of Education teaching staff only ever paid out a lump sum IF you were declared NOT FIT TO WORK and you have to RESIGN first.

No pension…and YOU need to prove you are not fit for work.

  1. For someone like me, a dedicated and loyal employee from 27.1.1970 to HAVE to resign was C for crazy but we were P for poor when my salary was being slowly stopped
  2. I filled out the form. It was awful. I also added, though, that I wanted “approval to teach”. I did not want any issues in case I wanted to ever have a day as a casual teacher. I would be pleased I did.
  3. It was accepted. Leave paid out.
  4. I was now free of the dreaded work cover requirements
  5. Got all the forms from the State Super People and completed them…along with the documentation from my G.P. and others.
  6. Attended one of the most stressful appointments ever with a psychologist from State Super and was obliged to complete a 500 question survey to assess my mental health and ability to work.
  7. Found out my application to access my funds  was “Rejected” after that horrid experience.
  8. You are still fit to work according to our rules.
  9. “Dejected” and now time, finally, for me to get some legal help.
  10. My union, N.S.W. Teachers Federation, were wonderful once I got to outline to a welfare officer what had happened.
  11. She arranged a meeting (free) with their lawyers and they heard the rejection story and saw the documentation from the State Super Board.
  12. The lawyer took my information, along with the State Super letters and my reports and so on and sent off the missives that….eventually allowed me to:
  13. Access all of the funds as a lump sum
  14. And retain my right to return to part-time teaching work if I chose.

We paid off this house….

 

Relieved. Getting Better. Breaking My Ankle. Retirement Means This. 

From paying out the mortgage there was a big sigh of relief.

There was also a relatively good amount of money from leave entitlements and by June we decided to “splurge” on a Far North Queensland holiday for 2. We even got a car to drive us to the airport. That was cool. But I must say, for my poor husband whose spine is very damaged from surgeries and more, the flight in economy for over 3 hours was not a good one at all. I was OK but he was not. We picked up the hire car and I drove via the Captain Cook Highway on that most beautiful trip: from Cairns to Port Douglass. Disappointingly though the apartment was accessed by a series of flights of stairs and by the time we got inside, my husband admitted “I cannot fly back like that”. My pain is too much. I agreed. So, the luxury of a return trip by business class meant comfort but took a huge amount of money to obtain so the holiday’s effect was negated! His health was worsening from the load of high school teaching which he took on after the business was liquidated in 1996 so, retirement was his plan too.

We were OK financially without a mortgage but by the time I had a few months at home I sought an art class (it was great) and became a volunteer with the Smith Family. It was around November after I had been answering the phones for them for people requesting Christmas Hampers that I had an accident. At home.

It was a rainy afternoon, I parked on the sloping driveway and as I got out of the car, one foot slipped, and the rest of me came with it, twisting my right ankle badly. I tried to call to my husband – from the letterbox…on the driveway and he did not hear, so I crawled up and made it inside.

Not wanting to over-dramatise it..but I should have actually…I waited for my husband to have a cuppa and we drove to the local medical centre.

Rooky error. I literally had to hop from the car with my good foot as the very sore foot could not weight bear. Oh. The G.P. agreed that X-rays were needed and they had that facility there. After the X-ray showed broken bones, it was “off to local private hospital” because this needs specialist attention.

Long story short: back slab applied, in-hospital stay, saw preferred orthopaedic specialist, “we will operate tomorrow and pin the fibula and tibia”. He did. I came home needing a wheelchair around the house as I couldn’t use crutches (hands needed surgeries for carpal tunnel etc) and I was stuck. The best part was shortly before Christmas at a check up I got a fibreglass cast and then could shower and even get in our pool but getting out was too hard.

Oh, and about that fibula of mine…I did get the screws out sometime in 2004 and in 2017…guess where that fibula went….HERE: The upside down U shape. My fibula cut into 3 with abutments added.

New Jaw is seen here

This sure was a year, 2003.

We did have a lot on our plate between us. But we also had a great family supporting us with care and love and three grandchildren to bring joy. The next year 2004 would prove to be significant too but with some great stories that helped re-build me in many ways.

Grandkids helping me, newly without plaster, to stand up!

Just after my cast came off, a celebration for my Dad’s 80th birthday.

Let’s see what Chapter Sixteen will bring!

Thank you for reading my story started over 3 years ago.

I do print the blog pages out and have them in a folder for future readers.

What were you doing in 2003?

It seems not that long ago, but of course it is 17 years ago!

Denyse.

 

Link Up #190.

Life This Week. Link Up #190.

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8/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fourteen. 2001-2002. 16/2020.

Dear Bloggers: I have made some changes to the link-up rules based on some recent experiences. For most of my regular linkers, this is not an issue but as I am getting some newer people come on board, I have added some rules. Thank you. Denyse Whelan.

8/51 #LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fourteen. 2001-2002.  16/2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. This too, like the post 2 weeks ago has been a mix of what I wrote back in 2018 over 4 weeks about the challenges and more of being a principal from 1998 – 2003. Today’s post has much of the second two years in it, and the next one, in a few weeks, will outline how challenging (read: hard and stressful) it was to leave the role I had loved. I also shared this as My Woman of Courage story here.

Onward: New Decade and Century. 2001.

This year started in a wonderful way. After one of the hottest, awful January days in Sydney in 2001 this young man became our 3rd grandchild and our first grandson. I wrote something about his birth here and this is a recent photo of US.

My year as a grandmother was very full-on and combined with my role as a principal somewhat precariously – only because I wanted to do both well. Sometime into 2001 I took leave every Wednesday to do a “grandma-daycare” at our place for this young man and his older sister because “I” felt like I needed to help with this kind of care as I had with granddaughter number one. I was trying “not to let school” into my life on those days but it was inevitable with phone calls and catching up the next day with the assistant principal that I acknowledged I could not do both well. Lucky for me my family understood and as already explained they had a great family day care setting to go to.

We were living at Glenwood. My husband was reasonably well but still faced health challenges after his second neck surgery to fuse his spine. He was now working in a high school full-time. Our adult son was living at home. Life was BUSY and my life was full-on. I do recall some minor socialisation happened for me when I might meet a friend for coffee. My educational leadership role was, for a conscientious and practical person like me, all consuming. Very hard to switch off.

We did try, when we could to attend events at school or pre-school for our grandchildren. I recall, taking a day’s half long service leave to attend this young one’s first Athletics Carnival.

My Day as a Principal Started and Ended Like This. Mostly.

I attempted to have a relaxed morning at home, eating my breakfast along with reading the front page of the paper before setting off for school. It was about 30-40 minutes drive and I had a ‘cut off’ point where I could ‘leave home’ behind and the reverse happened on my way home! I was usually the 2nd to arrive at school and generally the last to leave. I did try to leave before the cleaners locked up at 5.30 as much as I could.

I admit I did not self-care well. Sometimes because of the day itself I would not have eaten anything until on my way home. That is the way to ill-health so I took myself in hand, and with the office staff, we had lunch before the school lunch times and that ensured I “ate” better.

I cannot recall specifics of this year at the school as I guess one change lead to another. I do know I dealt with some major difficulties in terms of one parent who berated and threatened me because (I found out later) he hated women and teachers. He was going through a difficult separation from his teacher wife. Sadly my office and the school became the butt of his anger and I had to get an order for him not to enter school grounds. These things are not great for anyone.

As the only non-teaching executive staff member I often had to do much alone in terms of policy making and decisions based on the current school’s needs and demands. This does not mean I was not a team player! However, I was conscious of the fact that teaching executive had dual roles. Therefore I made fewer meeting times and hoped that would suffice for my care of their needs. It did not always play out that way and by the time I got to 2002 the challenges I faced to lead the school well increased.

What Was Different in 2002 School Year?

It was my fourth year as principal. There were many changes within the education system, via the NSW government policies of the day, and in schools themselves. Families may move on due to work changes, sometimes those families are not replaced by new ones so a school population can begin heading downwards.

School staff (teacher and executive staff) may need to take leave for reasons of: family needs, maternity and long service leave as well as sick leave.

The other change heralding 2002 was the need to upgrades of maintenance (big cost jobs) to the school as it was one that was first occupied in the 1940s. Back in 2002 it was up to the principal to make the contacts with contracted companies to get in suppliers who could quote for major works. Then the principal, with enough funds in the school account, could give a project a green light.

I was trained to teach but there I was, like all principals still, being a site manager and a financial manager as well as HR manager. Sigh.

Systemic Changes.

More and more, I noted, as did my principal colleagues that schools were being expected (rightly too) to ensure that Codes of Conduct for staff were not only understood and agreed upon by them but if behavioural issues arose, then the principal would be the first person to begin making an action plan when the code was violated.

There always had been the mandatory notification to the Department back then called Family and Community Services where if a child was deemed by a mandatory reporter (all school staff are) to be ‘at risk’ then a first notification was to be made by telephone. This saw me, often waiting for a person to answer, locked into a phone call because of issues which may look trivial on the outside but may be clues to more.

One such event could be repeatedly coming to school with no food. Other times it could be the child letting her/his teacher know that a parent may be unwell or even violent and it was never our role to investigate but we did need to reassure the child, then make the reports. Over the years I have sat in with a child in my role as a support person (if the child requested that from me) and it is heart-aching to be witness.

Our system, the N.S.W. Department of Education, was updating its role in terms of staff compliance and behaviour. This was nothing new and in fact teachers have had annual reviews in a conversation form for decades. Since I left teaching, this has become a joint venture between the schools and the overseeing body of school governance.

Returning to my principal days.

IF there was a reported incident told to me by a student, parent or staff member where a staff member’s behaviour (spoken, actions or in written form) was not within the Code of Conduct (signed off annually as part of mandatory training) then the principal had to act upon it.

I dealt with the Officers from the Conduct Unit first who listened to what had been reported to me and then I was given advice that it could be managed at school level (guess by whom?) or it could be escalated, with the staff member’s knowledge to a higher authority.

I had to do this on one occasion and the fallout for me came later. The temporary staff member who brought along a permanent staff member as a support person as the complaint was told to her from my account given to me was aghast at the inference.

In fact, there was nothing I had done wrong at all….but remember way back “your role will be to bring this school into the next century” comment by MY boss…this matter was a prime example of how staff thought they could still behave but it was not compliant with the Code of Conduct.

Executive Members of Staff  Were All On Leave.

Not at all related to the above in were two instances where my school staff allocation of experienced executive became diminished’. Apart from me, there were 3 other executive staff at the school by 2002: 2 Assistant Principals and 1 Executive Teacher. They all taught classes too.

The executive teacher was to have a baby and so went on maternity leave, the other, an assistant principal took extended long service leave both for the remainder of 2002 from early in the year.

But wait, there was one more. Yes, this one person who was an assistant principal ‘broke me’ in so many subtle then obvious ways.

And whilst I cannot say much, the continued leave based on medical certificates over and over did cause alarm for the parents of that class as it did me because the year had started well. As it was expected of him by me, this Assistant Principal would perform other executive duties (as do all teaching executive) this person refused and did not return after many months.

Oh, yes, one day there was a return, after hours to access my office and computer telling the only person on site, the cleaner, that “I” had given him permission. Following that, he was disciplined and placed in a different school.

How Did That Affect Me?

In some ways it was a relief but in many more, as we geared up for the mid-year reports, parent-teacher interviews and then Education  Week along with concerts and fund raisers, it was the beginning of my end.

Sadly I did not see it for some time.

I kept on working even harder.

Yes. I was doing the roles of the appointed executive who were on leave.

I know that I did have three teachers put their hands up to do the relieving roles but without the experience and knowledge beyond their classroom teaching, I was giving more and more of myself to duties that were not mine.

I was even writing reports for a class teacher with little experience. I will say now that I know I was over-doing things but I could see no way out. I was under pressure to perform well for the school’s sake and also to answer to my ‘bosses.’

My lovely boss actually retired at the end of Term One (sadly) and he was replaced by someone I knew well but was nothing like the people-person my old boss was.

 

Schools have a culture of their own.

I can now walk into a school and get a feeling of how things are. In my school, as Winter took hold I know that my mood was also one of worry and concern. That was for the school and its staffing into the next year.

When school populations decrease in the NSW public system, the principal will be asked to nominate a teacher to leave. In the majority of cases, teachers are very comfortable in their current school and rarely does anyone volunteer. So then it becomes a matter of ‘asking’ and ‘hoping’.

The staff were getting the idea that with the school’s drop in population, which occurred when the Special Needs unit was disbanded and there was a reduction of families moving to the area, that “I” had something to do with the reduction.

I was told this by telephone on the night (4th September 2002) I heard staff were arranging a delegation to my office the next day. They were going to tell me it was my manner with parents that was the cause.

This may have had one essence of truth after I was threatened by a violent father who I had to get removed from the grounds, but generally I had a supportive P&C and was a principal who was active and even did playground duty. But people like someone to blame. Of course, and that was me.

The Night Which Wounded My Career.

Before I go on, I was feeling emotions of overwhelm from the role. I remember with clarity coming back from yet another principals’ meeting where they was MORE that we needed to take responsibility for. I wondered how I could possibly manage more.

In the meantime, I became probably hyper vigilant after another meeting about my responsibilities for Work Health and Safety.

The school was OLD in many parts and I knew that there was much that did not comply, so I contacted my properties’ manager (the centralised one, not a personal one!) and for a fee, he came out and condemned or ok-ed parts I was concerned about. One such area was deemed so risky I had to tape it off before demolition and in doing so, incurred the wrath of the teachers who had been there forever. I could not take a trick.

I stood for what was right because that is who I am. I knew I needed to have a timeout but it happened to be an official one to attend a meeting for a day and then a personal one to accompany my husband to a vital medical appointment.

Schools: I love them. But I Could Not Return To Mine.

Two days away from school…..then I was rung the night before I was to return. Wednesday 4th September. One of my relieving Executive who I always thought was both compassionate and brave to rang to tell me that some staff were getting a delegation ready along with a Teachers Federation Organiser to meet with me to discuss their issues.

Initially I listened with interest and then with surprise/shock at what was apparently my fault: declining numbers, meaning one of them would be asked to transfer. Once I had talked (and been upset a bit) with her, I had successive phone calls from the remaining two relieving executive and it was then I said “I will be speaking to…(my boss) in the morning and will not be returning to school until I have”. They implored me not to but I had the sense not to act upon a threat like this.

I broke.

I broke down. I was ill. I couldn’t contact my boss: left a message that I would be going to my GP in the morning.

That would be the start of pretty horrible days but also some days of relief and release. Yet, nothing ever has helped me get over the fact that I loved being a principal but one day I never went back.

There was so much shame in me for that and it has almost all faded now some 17 years later. Lifeline: 13 11 14

It’s been hard to learn THIS….

Thank you for reading. At least I hope you did.

Denyse.

 

Next Chapter Will Be About The Outcome for Me Personally and Us Financially.

Life This Week #177

Link Up #177. Life This Week.

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* Please add just ONE post each week! NOT a link-up series of posts, thank you.

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