More Teachers in Trouble

Adapted from “The Friendly Atheist.”

It’s hard enough being a teacher when your private life can come back to haunt you. It’s happened to me before and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again in the future.

Take a look at these recent stories:

Jarretta Hamilton was a teacher at Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Florida. She requested a future maternity leave from her administrators. This was shortly after getting married.

They did the math, realized she must have had premarital sex, and fired her.

“That’s when the question was posed to her, ‘Did you conceive prior to marriage?'” said Edward Gay, Hamilton’s lawyer.

He said Hamilton told administrators the truth, the baby was conceived about three weeks before the wedding, and she was fired one week later without being allowed to finish the school year.

Gay said he received a letter from Southland Christian School administrator Julie Ennis explaining the reasons for the termination.

“Jarretta was asked not to return because of a moral issue that was disregarded, namely fornication–sex outside of marriage,” Ennis wrote. “We request that Jarretta withdraw her complaint and consider the testimony of the Lord.”

The school then sent a letter to students and parents explaining why she was fired.

Hamilton is filing a lawsuit against the school.

Elizabeth Collins taught at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, an all-girls Catholic school in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

She blogged about her teaching experiences in a purposely vague way. A lot of teachers do this. They write about students using code names or they write about experiences that happened in class (good and bad) without referencing any student in particular.

But it’s a Catholic school and so some parents keep tabs on her private life.

Collins writes:

I certainly don’t mind having readers and followers of my blog–in fact, that’s the point–but when it seems that certain people are using my blog or Tweets in an effort to try to “get me” for having opinions; when they are watching and waiting and racking up lists of petty grievances against me, and then making me out to be some sort of liberated-witch-of-a-woman who might feed a child a poisoned piece of candy (THIS IS ALL METAPHORICAL!)…no one needs that sort of stress. Especially when it’s utterly undeserved.

If I were ever guilty of anything, it is being guilty of trying to teach my students to think for themselves (and to write strong essays and speeches).

Wow. A teacher who wants students to think critically. We can’t have that now, can we…?

Here’s what happened:

One Saturday in February, she posted her thoughts about a student’s presentation… She criticized its tone and political outlook.

The student’s parents took quick exception to that post, telling the school that even though the blog did not identify their daughter by name, it was aimed at her and was an “attack on a child.”

The exchange triggered a chain of events that ended with the academy’s dismissing Collins in late April. “You have demonstrated a willingness to engage in inflammatory actions and have made a problematic situation worse,” her termination letter said.

Collins said she merely used the incident to make a point about teaching methods, but ended up being singled out for her political views.

“One thing I told my students is not to gloat, not to strike a hostile tone in their speeches… Then, of course, I heard a speech that did both of those things.”

Collins added that she felt “annoyance” because she disagreed with the politics of the speech and “dismay” that her message about the right tone was not getting through.

In Collins’ post, she responded to the speech by writing one of her own, saying she was “modeling” the correct approach to the assignment. Her piece encouraged students to move “beyond knee-jerk joining of their parents’ political party, and not become one-issue voters, to open their minds and consider the ramifications of their votes.”

Again… she’s trying to teach critical thinking and, dammit, those Catholic parents don’t want it.

Collins was fired by the school in April.

Collins continues to blog. In a May 5 post, she reflected back on her years as a teacher.

“I realized the magical moments that come with teaching–when you connect with students, when they get it, when you see the admiration and inspiration in their eyes,” she wrote.

But she added: “Teachers in private schools? They’re often sitting ducks and no one has their backs.”

In an interview, Collins said she was not sure she wants to return to the profession. “I feel so vulnerable,” she said. “If something this weird can happen, I’m not sure that I want to do it again.”

This is a pattern that we’ve seen before.

These teachers are never criticized for what they do in the classroom or for their ability to teach their subject. They are criticized for something completely unrelated that really should be irrelevant.

I don’t know why any qualified teacher would want to work at a private religious school–unless they can’t find a job at a public school. They’re underpaid, underappreciated, and told to stop thinking for themselves if it doesn’t mesh with the teachings of the school.

It doesn’t matter if the teachers’ private thoughts are kept outside the classroom. The school wants none of it. And since they desperately need the tuition money from parents, if any of them complain, they bend over backwards to appease them.

It’s a horrible lesson to teach students: We want you to learn and grow and think for yourself… but if you ever want to work here in the future, we’ll ask you to throw away any opinions you have that we don’t like.

I’ve said this before, but parents better be desperate themselves if they’re sending their kids to a private religious school. Unless the public schools around you are horrible, you’re hurting your kids by sending them to these places.

It’s not like public schools are perfect, but at least the teachers have some protection and are (ideally) judged by what they do in the classroom.

In my case, I have supportive administrators who only care about that. They don’t pry into my personal life. The parents in my community won’t get anywhere if they don’t like something I write on this site. Good. They shouldn’t be able to. When it comes to teaching math and knowing my subject area, I know what I’m doing, and that should be their only concern.

I would add: I completely agree with PZ Myers when he writes:

… I also know that a lot of you… are thinking that [Collins] deserves anything that happens to her, that she should know better than to talk about her teaching. You in the last group…you’re a bunch of assholes, and you’re part of the problem. Go away. I want teachers to write openly and frankly and honestly about teaching, and you don’t.