Tag Archives: Teacher Bullying

What if They Were Teachers?

Bad teacher Cameron Diaz  wonders what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot.

Bad teacher Cameron Diaz wonders what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot.

South Bronx School asks a good question: what if this was a teacher?

The Crack Team has learned that Jessica Cruz, AP at PS 154 in the Bronx… has a special
talent. She is a professional belly dancer.

And Jessica Cruz has a website dedicated to her belly dancing. On her website, one can find the following Youtube video featuring still photos of her in action:

This reminds me of the story I wrote some time ago of pictures that surfaced of Sharron Smalls, the principal of Jane Addams High School, in which she can be seen hugging a male stripper who was pouring what appeared to be ketchup on the both of them,

I will say now about Jessica Cruz the belly dancer the same thing I said about Sharron Smalls: I do not see anything wrong with these photos. Not to be snide, but I do not even see what is wrong with the following photo of Cruz that greets the visitor of her belly dancing site.


Granted, these photos of Jessica Cruz are a different breed from the Sharron Smalls photo. In my mind, Jessica Cruz’s photos are more tasteful. I do not say this just because I am a guy and Jessica Cruz is an attractive woman. I say this because Jessica Cruz has a legitimate talent, of which she is obviously proud, and the revealing outfits are part of that talent. Sharron Smalls, on the other hand, was being doused in ketchup by a stripper.

Regardless, I do not see anything wrong with either of their photos. They are adults and are entitled to a life outside of the Department of Education. This is not about trying to smear Jessica Cruz as something she is not. This is about raising a legitimate question: What if she was a teacher?

South Bronx School cites instances in which teachers have lost their jobs for much less than this:

She has the same right to do this as did a teacher on Long Island that took his shirt off on a reality show. The same right as a teacher in Florida that was forced to resign and had posed in bikinis. Or thatguidance counselor in who posed in lingerie years before she was with the DOE and got terminated.  Or that teacher who was forced to resign because a parent found a photo of her holding a beer and a glass of wine on her Facebook page. We here at SBSB support BFF AP Jessica Cruz and her First Amendment rights.

What is particularly interesting in the above quote is the case of Tiffany Webb, the guidance counselor who was fired by the Department of Education for photos of her on the internet from her days as a lingerie model, before she was employed by the DOE.  She rendered 12 years of service to the system until these photos were discovered that magically made her unfit to counsel children all of the sudden.

Jessica Cruz is an administrator of the DOE now, as well as a belly dancer. Do you think Richard Condon’s office, the one that thrives off of destroying the lives of teachers for the pettiest of reasons, will take any action at all against Jessica Cruz?

I would not hold my breath.

Again, for the third time, this is not to say that I believe the DOE should take any action against her. They should not have taken any action at all against Tiffany Webb either.

But what does it say about the DOE that they would fire a veteran guidance counselor of teenagers for something she did in the past but do absolutely nothing about an assistant principal of little children for something that she is doing now?

What does it say about the DOE that they would hire a confirmed misogynist and bully to be the principal of Flushing High School?  This is from Chaz’s blog:

Now we find that the Chancellor has hired a man, James Brown that was sued for sexual harassment, bullying.  racist comments and retaliation against a female dean at a Baldwin middle school who won the lawsuit against him.  Notice, this was not just an accusation but a lawsuit where the preponderance of evidence presented showed that Mr. Brown was found guilty of such behavior.  The story can be found here.

While a case can be made for Sharron Smalls and Jessica Cruz, there is absolutely no defense of James Brown, nor is there a defense of the DOE’s hiring of him to lead an entire school building, let alone a classroom.

The DOE hired Brown because he is a known bully. In this day and age when every twenty-something with three years of teaching experience has an administrator’s license, it is not like there is a shortage of principals in the job market. That means the DOE likes what James Brown brings to the table. It can be the only explanation for such a move.

As a system, the Department of Education is a giant bully. They will send investigators to the house of Christine Rubino to rummage through her garbage for a post she made on Facebook that was read by no kids or parents, but they will hire a man who was found to have sexually harassed teachers in a court of law.

It is obvious that the schoolmarmish discipline code the DOE rigorously enforces applies to teachers and teachers only. If Jessica Cruz was a teacher or a guidance counselor, they would send goons to harass her at her house and tell the New York Post to write a scathing article about the derelicts who infest the classrooms to which we send our children. People would be horrified and the hypocrite lynch mob would be out in force screaming in the comments section about these people who are “unfit to teach” and “should not be allowed around kids”.

But Jessica Cruz is not a teacher, so she can gyrate and show as much cleavage as she wants on the internet. Sharron Smalls is not a teacher, so she can hug as many scantily clad strippers who pour on her whatever condiment her heart desires all she wants. James Brown is not a teacher, so he can sexually harass as many women as he damn well pleases.

Might I remind you that Francesco Portelos, a teacher, is currently fighting for his career at a termination hearing for the following reprehensible and unforgivable offenses that obviously make him a liability around children:

1. January 30, 2012– Principal Hill called and stated that Mr. Portelos hacked, www.dreyfus49.com, and took her administrative privileges away.

2. January 30, 2012– Principal Hill received an anonymous call that Mr. Portelos used an iTunes program called Fake a Message to email a student and make it appear that it was sent by the Principal.

4. February 22, 2012– Principal Hill alleges that Mr. Portelos requested that a paraprofessional work with him and other teachers on a Learning Technology Grant (LTG) after school to help his students. Principal Hill declined and Mr. Portelos apparently had him work anyway and submit time sheets.

This is just a fraction of the over 30 charges Portelos is facing for things he did not even do. They all are in the same ballpark of ridiculousness as the ones cited above.

Perhaps if he was gyrating suggestively, hugging strippers, harassing women or gyrating suggestively while hugging strippers and harassing women, they would have promoted him to principal.

Christine Rubino’s Spring Break


During this past school years’ Spring Break, I attended the latest act in the ever-unfolding drama of the NYC Department of Education versus Christine Rubino.

Christine was terminated in 2011 after some comments she posted on her personal Facebook page. The DOE’s arbitrator, Randi Lowitt, believed that this one incident made Christine unfit to teach forever, despite 15 years of spotless service. Facing financial and professional ruin, Christine hired the Teacher’s Lawyer, Bryan Glass, to appeal Lowitt’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court. Justice Barbara Jaffe found that Lowitt’s decision was “shocking to the conscience” of the court and mandated that Lowitt come up with a less harsh penalty.

Meanwhile, the DOE appealed Jaffe’s decision to the New York State Appellate Division. While the case was working its way up the calendar, Lowitt handed down her new decision: 2 years suspension without pay. This decision kept Christine in poverty just long enough so that she had to sell the house in which she was raising her two young children. I suppose it makes sense in some twisted universe somewhere for Lowitt to traumatize two young children for the sake of protecting countless other children from Facebook statuses they will never see.

Right after Lowitt’s new decision was handed down, the DOE’s appeal was ready to be heard by the Appellate Division. As opposed to the State Supreme Court, whose cases are heard by one presiding judge, the Appellate Division has a panel of 5 justices. I arrived relatively early and was able to listen in on some of the other cases being heard. The justices on the panel seemed fair. They were patient with people who did not have lawyers and asked pointed questions that showed they had not only listened to the arguments, but read the background of each case. How would they receive the Christine Rubino case? Christine’s future literally hung in the balance.

Christine’s case was called. Bryan Glass headed to the podium as did the DOE’s lawyer, Deborah A. Brenner. The litigants at the Appellate Division have only a few minutes to make their cases before the justices start asking their questions. Brenner started the case by painting Christine Rubino in the worst possible light. Not only had Christine said something bad on Facebook, she lied about it, tried to have her friend lie about it and did not show any remorse for her actions. Brenner basically summarized Lowitt’s original decision and justification for terminating her.

Bryan Glass pointed out that Christine did show remorse. After all, she had taken down the comments three days after she posted them, well before she knew of any investigation against her. He also called into question the idea that Christine tried to cover up the matter. As I have written here before, the DOE investigators pretty much browbeat Christine’s friend in the back of a DOE car (yes, they have those) until she said what they wanted her to say. The browbeating included threats of going to jail on Riker’s Island for lying to investigators, a bluff on their part since one cannot be prosecuted for such an act. Despite the fact that Christine’s friend had this horrifying experience on tape, Lowitt did not at all consider it when making her decision.

Once Glass had ended his presentation, it was time for the jutices to ask questions. The first few questions sought to clarify the timeline of events, like when the comments were made, when she was terminated, etc. It is difficult for me to remember all of the details now almost 6 months after the case. However, one justice in particular deserves to be singled out for a job well done.

Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels saw through Deborah Brenner’s disingenuous arguments. Throughout the previous cases I watched, Justice Manzanet-Daniels seemed to always sympathize with the underdog. She asked Brenner questions along the lines of, “why is termination the only penalty you’re willing to hand down?” Brenner stammered and reiterated the line of logic laid out by Randi Lowitt. Then Justice Manzanet-Daniels picked up on the matter of the supposed cover-up by Christine. She questioned why Randi Lowitt had not mentioned the audio tape of DOE investigators shaking down Christine’s friend in her decision and said that she would like to hear the tape. Brenner responded that the facts of the case are not before the court, just the arbitrator’s decision. Essentially, Brenner was instructing the justice on a point of law and procedure.

At that point, Justice Manzanet-Daniels became visibly ticked off. I am no litigator but I do know that it is not a good idea to try to instruct a judge on what should go on in their own courtroom, no matter how wrong one thinks the judge might be. Justice Manzanet-Daniels promptly closed the giant binder in front of her that contained all of the paperwork of the case and said something along the lines of “you’re right, it doesn’t matter”. She had probably made her decision right then and there. All of the justices had obviously seen the DOE’s case for the sham that it was, but Justice Manzanet-Daniels saw right to the marrow of things. What was revealed on the tape, as well as how the tape was not even part of Lowitt’s decision, was the Rosetta Stone of the entire DOE v. Christine Rubino fiasco, and Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels knew it.

Deborah Brenner was beaten from pillar to post by the Appellate Division. All of the justices, in one way or another, questioned the DOE’s rabid opposition to allowing Christine Rubino back in the classroom. All of them seemed to know that this case was about more than just a Facebook post. Yet, Christine Rubino herself was not so sure. After years of being vilified by the DOE and the media, she was not going to bank on anyone helping her get justice. It would be a long few weeks before the court’s decision was known.

When the decision finally did come down, it was not reported on by any of the outlets that had vilified Christine Rubino. Why would they report it? The New York State Appellate Division ruling 5-0 in favor of a teacher who had been wrongly terminated is not in step with the teacher-hating narrative they are trying to spin. That means that 6 judges in total heard the case of the DOE v. Christine Rubino, including Barbara Jaffe, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels and the rest of the Justices in the Appellate Division, and every single one of them sided with Christine. The only people who wanted to see Christine terminated were Randi Lowitt (who receives a DOE paycheck) and the New York print media (who will print any story that maintains their coveted access to Tweed and City Hall). People who have delved into the facts of this case objectively all come out on Christine’s side.

Despite the decisions by the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, it is hard to say that justice was served. Most people in Christine’s situation would not have fought as hard as she did. They would have licked their wounds and moved on to try to make their way in another profession. Nobody would blame them for doing such a thing either. It becomes almost impossible to believe in yourself when the DOE, the media and the general public are all saying how horrible you are. Because of the efforts of these forces, Christine and her children had to live in poverty for two years. They had their lives uprooted. Christine now has to rebuild her public image. If not for an inextinguishable fighting spirit, Christine Rubino would have gone the way of countless other unfairly persecuted teachers.

This school year marks her return to the DOE not as a teacher but as an ATR. While she has won the first major battle in this war by getting back on the payroll, there is still a long fight ahead. Not only does she, like every other ATR, have to fight to get back into the classroom but she is probably due some major monetary justice due to everything through which she has been put. Whether or not Christine wants to fight these battles is totally up to her. Nobody would blame her if she stopped now.

In a particularly comical turn of events, the DOE is currently appealing the decision of the Appellate Division. However, they have to appeal it to the branch of the court system that handles appeals, which is the Appellate Division. The DOE is appealing the ruling of the Appellate Division to the Appellate Division. They would be wise to send a lawyer who is not going to lecture the justices about procedure. Then again, the DOE has never been known for their wisdom.

The DOE is afraid of defeat. They fear that they would not have the luxury to fire teachers for similar infractions in the future if Christine Rubino is able to ultimately win. If they could fire teachers for Facebook posts, what is to stop them for firing a teacher for a comment they make on a blog or something they say at the supermarket? Christine’s victory has limited their latitude as employers who like to fire people. Apparently, they have no problem with throwing more money into their obsessive quest to crush this one lone teacher who dared to fight them. At what point will they call off their legal dogs?

Whichever way she chooses to go, Christine Rubino has fought the good fight for herself and all other persecuted educators.

The New CTU Contract vs. The Old UFT Non-Contract


Norm at Ed Notes has a thorough treatment of what might be in the new Chicago Teachers’ Union contract. Michael Fiorillo expresses gratitude to the CTU:

Can’t we at least take satisfaction and feel some gratitude in the CTU wiping some of the smugness and arrogance off the faces of these bastards, and showing that the destruction of the public schools will not be passively allowed to happen?

This was an epochal strike, one that will be seen as the opening round in the battle to reclaim public education. After decades of being slandered and knocked back on our heels, the CTU has shown that we can fight back and begin to reclaim the territory that is rightfully ours. They deserve our thanks and support.

Those of us in NYC especially need to thank the CTU. As Michael suggested, they have shown us that fighting back against the education reform juggernaut is possible. We have had the reformer boot on our necks for a decade here in the nation’s largest public school system. The Chicago strike was a gunshot in the darkness, a potential awakening to the fact that the boot is on our necks only because we have allowed it.

And “we” means our union. As was pointed out in Norm’s post, there will surely be spin by UFT leadership as to why the strike was unnecessary, about how we have all of the things the CTU has without striking and how our salvation lies in backroom negotiations with reformer types.

So, let us put that to the test by comparing what the CTU might have gotten to what we have. Bullet points about the CTU contract all come from Norm’s link included at the start of this post.

1. They have a contract.

The first response to any Unity supporter who tries to downplay the Chicago strike is that they have a contract and we do not. They were willing to strike for their right to a contract, while the UFT has done…. what exactly?

2. *Provide A Better School Day:* The Board will hire 512 additional ‘special’ teachers in art, music, physical education, world languages and other classes to ensure students receive a better school day, a demand thousands of parents have called for since last year.

While in NYC, each school has either one art or one music teacher, but not both. Foreign languages are dying and hundreds of Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and Latin teachers around the city have been excessed over the past 3-5 years. The state is working on  getting rid of the Global History regents, which will surely mean teachers of that subject will face layoffs and excessing in the near future.

3. *Ensures Job Security:*Creates a “CPS Hiring Pool,” which demands that one-half of all of CPS hires must be displaced (laid-off) members.

A good provision that not only protects jobs, but ensures children will have more experienced teachers rather than TFA mercenaries. Meanwhile, in NYC, we have an untold number of ATRs, perfectly good teachers who are demeaned every day by making copies, locking bathrooms and doing cafeteria duty. That is not to say these jobs are demeaning, that is to say that our ATRs should be teaching. Of course, the Unity response to this is “at least they still have jobs”. Protecting jobs is the least a union can do for its members. It makes no sense to give the UFT credit for doing the least with our union dues. They should be fighting for our conditions, quality and professionalism. The CTU restored some of that with this provision.

4. *Adds An Anti-Bullying Provision: *No more bullying by principals and managerial personnel. The new language will curtail some of the abusive practices that have run rampant in many neighborhood schools.

This is one of the biggest problems in NYC, a problem that has been allowed to persist because of a lack of a new contract. The contract by which we are forced to abide has so much grey area, grey area that has allowed principals to get away with murder, that the bullying of teachers is epidemic throughout the system. The fact that we cannot grieve letters to the file anymore, the fact that it is nearly impossible to win the grievances we do bring forward, the fact that teachers pretty much have to sue in court to overturn “U” ratings because of the biased appeals process, the fact that Walcott has supported principals who sexually harass their staff, the fact that SCI and OSI essentially now try to substantiate every frivolous charge and the fact that the new generation of arbitrators hired for 3020a hearings were brought in to fire teachers has led to a system that bullies teachers as a matter of policy. We do not know exactly what kind of anti-bullying provisions were won by the CTU, but we do know that we have no anti-bullying provisions in NYC. When we finally do negotiate a new contract, something substantial has to be done about bullying or nothing else we get in the contract will matter.

5. *Racial Diversity:*The CTU continues to fight the District on its lay-off policies that has led to a record number of African American educators being laid off and eventually terminated by the District. The new contract will ensure that CPS recruits a racially diverse teaching force.

A high percentage of laid-off Chicago teachers have been black. This is an Arne Duncan legacy and has continued in Chicago until this day. To replace them, we get the Ivy League suburban TFA alum with no ability to communicate with inner-city students and no intention to continue to teach. That means they are not motivated to learn how to communicate with inner-city students, making them mostly crappy teachers. The same thing is happening in NYC. The black educator has been disappearing. This is not so much a race issue as it is an issue of community-building. Too many new teachers are from the suburbs and have no idea what the students in their classes face. There is an alienation between student and teacher. The CTU is trying to overcome this. The UFT, historically, has driven wedges between teachers and the communities they serve. The 1968 strike comes to mind. It is unlikely the UFT will change their tune in this regard or call for hiring practices that will bring in people from the community. It is a shortcoming woven into the fabric of the Unity caucus.

6. *Fairer Evaluation Procedures:* The new contract will limit CPS to 70% “teacher practice,” 30% “student growth” (or test scores)—which is the minimum by state law. It also secures in the first year of implementation of the new evaluation procedures there will be “no harmful consequences” for tenured teachers. It also secures a new right—the right to appeal a Neutral rating.

Teacher evaluations based 30% on student test scores is the most the CTU could have gotten thanks to Illinois law. In New York, we have at least 20% and most likely it will go up to 40%. It is the only 40% that matters since we are rated “inefficient” overall if we fail that 40%. This is what our union negotiated for us and told us it was such a great thing. Not only did they not resist any parts of these provisions, but defended them to us. The fact that two inefficient ratings in a row leads to 3020s hearings effectively ends tenure for NY teachers. In Chicago, they have at least secured some sort of guarantee for tenured teachers., as well as a right to appeal that seems more fair than in NY. Remember, in NYC, only 13% of teachers will have the right to appeal a bad rating. The UFT tells us this is preferable to what goes on now where no teachers ever gets a “U’ overturned. Unfortunately, it was the UFT who allowed it to get that way in the first place.

7. *Reimbursement for School Supplies:*The contract will require the District to reimburse educators for the purchase of school supplies up to $250.

Hmmmm, I am no mathematician, but $250 seems more than the NOTHING NYC teachers get now.

8. *Reduced Paperwork:*The new contract ensures the new paperwork requirements are balanced against reduction of previous requirements.

Paperwork sorely cuts into teacher time. We know that the vast majority of paperwork we get is useless. While this is a problem in all schools, the fact that the CTU tackled this issue at all is a small victory for our professionalism and respect for our important duties. By the way NYC teachers, have you filled out your Circular 6 assignments yet?

Notice that most of the things in the new CTU contract have to do with learning and teaching conditions. This should put to rest all of the dumb talk about going on strike for “more money” and “limousine benefits”. Much of what is listed above goes to the heart of what it means to be a teacher in the age of education reform,

As for our union in NYC, they cannot pretend that the contract we currently do not have is better than what the CTU received after a strike. While this is not a perfect contact (none of them are), its provisions certainly beat most of the contract we are forced to work under. Is the corporate unionism of the UFT better for students and teachers than the social justice unionism of the CTU? Look at the contracts and decide for yourself.



A Turn of Fortune

In the last post, I explained how Save Our Schools put the kibosh on showing the film about Mary Thorson because of the accusations made against the filmmaker, Myra Richardson, some 10 years ago. By allowing an unsubstantiated accusation to determine how they treat a fellow teacher, I explained that that SOS was feeding into the culture of teacher bullying for which Mary died.

God sometimes works small miracles because SOS did allow the film to be shown at the opening day of their conference yesterday. The catch was that I would present the film. It was also shown at the very end of the day, after the keynote address and after many people had spent the day traveling long distances to get to the conference here in Washington, D.C. Needless to say that the turnout was not great and there were many sleepy eyes in the audience of those that remained.

Hopefully, the movie had an impact on those that saw it and they will go out and screen the film for their colleagues back home. This is the only way any important idea or film is promulgated among he national teaching force.

Here is the text of the speech. Hopefully, it had an impact on those who were there that night:

Presentation Speech – The Killing of Mary Thorson (8/3/12)

Thank you for having me here tonight. My name is xxxxxxx from New York City. I am 33 years old and have been teaching history in the city’s public high schools for the past 12 years. Public schools have been a major part of my life from the age of 5. Every single year since then, I have had a first day of school and always feel the trepidation that comes with i

Whether as a kindergartener, a high-schooler or a teacher, my trepidation stems from the same anxious question, which is: will I be accepted? We want to be accepted because we know the ramifications if we are not, which could be isolation, harassment or bullying. We do not want to be judged unfairly by others and have that erroneous judgment follow us for the rest of the school year.

We know if that happens, that judgment becomes a label. There are going to be people that know of us exclusively through that label. When they see us they will not say “Hey, there is Dave” or “Hiya Susan!” They will merely say there is that weird person or stupid person or ugly person. Labels objectify us, turn us into memes and dehumanize.

Dehumanizing leads to harm like teasing and violence. This is the anatomy of “bullying” that has become such a popular watchword in recent months. While the anti-bullying campaign certainly has an admirable goal, and those who have participated in it certainly are genuine in their efforts to combat bullying, I wonder if all of this new-found vigilance against schoolyard bullying is being used as a subterfuge by certain interests to downplay another type of bullying no less epidemic in our country today: the bullying of teachers. To contrast it with the schoolyard bullying that our children face, I’d like to refer to the bullying of teachers as schoolhouse bullying for two reasons: one, the worst of it takes place within the confines of the schoolhouse and, two, the word house connotes opacity, since the bullying of teachers is a secret from the public.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2011, a 32-year-old middle school physical education teacher from Illinois named Mary Eve Thorson put herself in the path of an oncoming semi on an Indiana interstate. In her suicide note, she referred to her students as her “babies”. Her babies were suffering from a school climate that repressed teachers through abuse and harassment. Towards the end of her note she asked a question that more and more teachers are asking: why isn’t anyone stopping this?

The origins of Mary’s nightmare can be traced back to the familiar culprits: No Child Left Behind, the high-stakes testing regime, the rise of convoluted education data, Race to the Top…. the bludgeons of the ed reform movement. Teachers like Mary Thorson, teachers like us, are required to comply with the conversion of their children into numbers no more valid than the numbers Wall Street dealt in before and after the financial meltdown of 2008.

Teachers have a front row seat to this corporate education show. There is a chance that a good many of us are horrified by the dehumanizing of our students as numbers. It is imperative that teachers keep that horror to themselves. To ensure this, the teachers who have civil service job protections, mistakenly dubbed “tenure”, have been the targets of a nasty media campaign to garner public support for tenure’s erosion. The media dutifully does the bidding of local leaders like Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York. They run stories daily about teachers accused of horrible things, or how teachers are to blame for sub-par test scores, and how tough it is to fire “bad” teachers.

They have used the very word “teacher” as an insult. It connotes an old, burned out mossback who reads the paper all day while eager young minds cry out for an education. The United States is losing ground to other countries, countries producing the next generation of nuclear scientists. Furthermore, bloated teacher pensions are bankrupting state governments during this time of economic recession. Condoleeza Rice and Joel Klein inferred that teachers were threatening national security, so teachers joined the ranks of Alger Hiss and Osama Bin Laden.

These labels and judgments create the environment that supports the bullying of teachers. The public does not know us as Dr. Ravitch or Mr. Kozol anymore. They know as those lazy hacks, union bums and public enemies. This gives local politicians, beholden to the billionaire boys’ club, the popular mandate to railroad unions in contract negotiations, which has led to the denuding of workplace conditions and job protections for teachers.

This means that those above the teachers in the education bureaucracy: principals, superintendents, chancellors and mayors, are given ever widening latitude over our careers. The bureaucracy now rewards those administrators who are the most effective at entrenching the worship of data in public school buildings. A good administrator is one whose data looks good. The easiest and most surefire way to get the data to look good is to pressure teachers to make it look good through dishonest means like scrubbing. Those teachers who refuse to do so have no protection from any harassment the administration might unleash. This is where the next step of the bullying process, direct harm, comes into play. Any teacher with a conscience and a sense of ownership of their profession is a target.

The system rewards good data. Children are the numbers they attain on high-stakes exams. Teachers are the numbers their students attain on high-stakes exams. A new generation of educators, both teachers and administrators, are being trained in this philosophy. The idea of humanistic education is becoming foreign, in favor of a worship of numbers that dehumanizes the entire learning process. Inhuman systems breed inhuman behaviors. Teachers who don’t play ball in the new regime risk facing fake and embellished charges from their administrators. Pushing a teacher out of their career, depriving them of their livelihood through harassment and intimidation, is easy in a system where humans are numbers. It is classic bullying: first dehumanize, then harm.

And so, in 2010, Rigoberto Ruelas jumped off a bridge when the Los Angeles Times published data portraying him as a bad teacher. In 2011, Mary Thorson stepped into the path of an oncoming semi. As a union leader, I have worked with many harassed teachers whose only crime was questioning the worship of data and speaking up in defense of their students. They faced termination because of it, faced living on the streets and being stripped of their identities as teachers, unable to provide for themselves or their families. I have sat with too many teachers who have cried and talked of suicide. Every time I do, I have to stop myself from crying.

Why isn’t anyone stopping this? That’s Mary Thorson’s question. Her suicide note is a primal scream of frustration over what it means to be a teacher today. The things that worried her about the profession are the same ones that worry us. Not once in her note did she mention her own horror story of bullying. Instead, she was gravely concerned for her babies and her colleagues. She was concerned that tremendous harm was being done to them and nobody cared. She was locked in an educational fiefdom where harassment and extortion from above were the norms. Why isn’t anyone stopping this? Does anybody care?

As you will see in this film, Mary did what she did for us. She wanted to draw attention to the anonymous suffering that goes on in our schools by sacrificing her very existence, which was the only thing she had left after being methodically and systematically bullied for so long.By making this film, Myra Richardson has taken the first step towards redeeming Mary’s sacrifice. With nothing but a simple camera and a laptop, she interviewed those closest to Mary Thorson and the bullying she faced. The film is a series of in-depth interviews, each of which peel back the onion of Mary Thorson’s story.

By showing this film, Save Our Schools is taking the next step towards redeeming Mary’s sacrifice. This is the first time SOS is showing a film. By being here right now, all of us share in a very important moment for the teaching profession in the United States. I thank Myra Richardson, Save Our Schools and all of you for being here for this moment. It is my honor to introduce to you Dying to Teach: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson, Educators Who Bully


The Human Stain: The Myra Richardson Story

We have already read about the tragedy of Mary Thorson and the movie that sheds light on it. When I first heard about the movie, I figured that whoever did it must have had a reason. Then I learned that the filmmaker, Myra Richardson, had a deeply personal reason.

In many ways, Mary is an anagram for Myra. Her story, although thankfully not ending in suicide, is deeply disturbing in its own right. Like Mary Thorson, it is an instructive case of teacher bullying in the age of education reform.

The winter of 2002 was before the nationwide charter school wave had taken effect. There were a few urban locales at the time that served as laboratories for chartering, especially Arne Duncan’s home base of Chicago. Myra Richardson was working at a Chicago charter called Sullivan House at the time.

Sullivan House served high school students from Chicago’s South Side, one of the most impoverished areas in the country. As a lifelong resident of Chicago and Chicago’s vibrant black community, Myra took a personal interest in her students. She was a popular teacher due to her dedication both inside and outside of the classroom. If a student needed extra help, she tutored them. If they needed breakfast, she fed them. If they needed shoes, she bought them. Like Mary Thorson, Myra considered the children in her class her babies.

Little did she know that she was not the type of teacher valued by the overlords of the education reform movement. Arne Duncan was in his second year as CEO of Chicago Public Schools at the time. His “Chicago Miracle” entailed firing veteran teachers. Female teachers of color like Myra were disproportionately terminated under his watch. The movement Duncan represented, and continues to represent, values low-paid suburbanite transplants as inner-city teachers over knowledgeable fixtures of the community.  It was the perfect workforce for hedge fund managers and bankers with an eye on chartering Chicago’s school system.

Hence, Myra was caught in a perfect storm. She was the wrong type of teacher at the wrong time in the wrong type of school. Many of her coworkers and administrators, the ones who were the “right” type of educators in the burgeoning age of school reform, did not understand Myra’s methods. On top of that, she was wrapping up her second year at Sullivan House. She threatened to become a permanent presence in a school that thrives on transient workers.

The principal, Lynn Nuzzo, knew exactly the type of school she was running. Charter school teachers, in 2002 as now, have no union, no due process, no rights. She decided to take advantage of this by doing something that was going to derail not only Myra’s career, but her entire life. It is the perfect argument in favor of granting teachers workplace protections.

Nuzzo pulled a 16-year-old girl in Myra’s class aside, a student who had benefited from Myra’s dedication and largesse, and tried to get her to lie. The principal then spread this lie to the other students in Myra’s class. It was the worst type of lie one could spread about a teacher, or anyone else for that matter. The principal was saying that Myra had molested the 16-year-old girl. Students in Myra’s class started mistrusting her and asking her why. After two weeks of the principal’s machinations, she presented Myra with the non-choice of resigning voluntarily or being terminated on the spot.

Without a union, Myra had no rights and nobody to advise her on how to fight back against these lies. She only had two choices. Seeing as how she was innocent and had no reason to resign, Myra was terminated. She received a final paycheck, a glowing letter of recommendation from Sullivan House and an escort out of the building under the darkest pall that could ever be cast upon a teacher.

As any teacher who has been bullied knows, the accusation is the start of a long fight to retain one’s livelihood and reputation. Myra filed a defamation lawsuit against Sullivan House in August of 2002.

Sullivan House’s defense in this lawsuit was, ironically, Myra’s defense from their accusation: nothing ever happened. Sullivan House claimed they never accused her of anything. The absence of any criminal charges or parental complaint was their proof that no child molestation accusations had taken place. This is exactly what Myra had provided to everyone, her lawyers and family included, as proof that she had never laid a hand on a child. A tragic instance of teacher bullying had descended into the realm of the surreal.

Throughout the lawsuit, Sullivan House claimed that Myra was mentally disturbed and was making up the story for attention. She was spending her every waking moment to clear her name from an accusation that never happened. It was an untenable position. This is why they ultimately ended up offering her a settlement in the defamation case.

But Myra was not out for money. She wanted her day in court and for it to be on the public record that she was not guilty of the sins of which she had indeed been accused. This is when the story took its next surreal turn.

Chicago has always had the reputation of being a big city of corruption. It was the city of Al Capone and those political gangsters, the Daley family. They control one of the most effective and enduring political machines in American history. It just so happened that Myra’s case was being heard in the Richard J. Daley center under Judge Bill Taylor. Myra’s lawyers, Kevin Besetzny and Daniel J. Stohr, knew that Myra wanted her day in court. They were determined to not let that happen.

What happened or what was discussed in that room in 2006 with Judge Taylor and Myra’s lawyers could never be known for sure, although these court documents go a long way towards an explanation. Up until that point, Besetzny and Stohr had spent nearly half a million dollars on fighting this case, which they took on contingency. Yet, for some reason, on a day that Myra was not there, her signature magically appeared on a settlement agreement with Sullivan House for $17,000. Judge Taylor issued a court order for Myra’s lawyers to sign the checks. The case was over.

And why would two lawyers who had spent nearly half a million dollars settle for $17,000? It is a question that answers itself. We can never know for sure what was discussed in that room between the judge and the lawyers, but chances are it involved many more zeroes than 17,000.

Myra’s is not an encouraging story for those teachers who go to the courts in search of justice. Her long fight to clear her name ended in disillusionment. Seeing as how she could not find satisfaction via the system, she wrote a book and then did a documentary about her horror story. These were the only avenues of justice she had left.

The final bit of irony is how Myra continues to be affected by what happened in Sullivan House in 2002. Her lawsuit, book, movie and websites have all made the accusation of child molestation a matter of public record. Any Google search or background check will turn up her name in conjunction with the sordid accusation. It is as if she is really part of the sex offender registry. It has prevented her from getting teaching jobs or making any kind of living at all. Like Christine Rubino, she is the mother of two children. If Myra would have left Sullivan House quietly with her letter of recommendation, she could have probably been in a teaching position right now. However, as with most teachers, her good name was the most important thing of all. Her quest to clear it ended up unjustly mucking it up in the public eye.

It has also prevented her from fully exploring the possibilities of the movie she made for Mary Thorson. Teachers who follow the blogosphere know about Mary Thorson and they also know that a movie has been released documenting her tragedy. Along with The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, it is probably the most important documentary a teacher can see. That is why it was scheduled to be shown at the start of the upcoming Save Our Schools convention in Washington, D.C.

Yet, when the SOS committee found out about Myra’s tragedy, they pulled the plug on the movie. Myra herself was originally invited to introduce the film, an invitation that has since been rescinded. While I respect SOS’s need to protect themselves and their fledgling movement, I am saddened by what seems to be a blind spot in the overall campaign to fight against education reform.

If my experience as a chapter leader and now blogger has taught me anything, it is that the bullying of educators is an integral part of the education reform movement. I do not mean teacher bashing, which is generalized and hurts all of us directly. I am talking about the targeting of individual teachers by either school administrators or school districts. I am talking about false or embellished accusations designed to deprive individual teachers of their livelihoods. Every time a teacher is wrongly accused or unfairly terminated, the entire profession is weakened and dishonored. What happens to one of us happens to us all.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many teachers willing to throw their colleagues under the bus by refusing to support those teachers who are in trouble. It ranges from the indifference most teachers within a school building show when one of their colleagues is reassigned for a frivolous accusation all the way up to what SOS did with Myra and Mary Thorson’s film. By refusing to help or be associated with a teacher in crisis, we help the bullies to accomplish their goal of destroying lives, careers and reputations.

And if you ever wanted to bust a union, engendering callousness and distrust among its members is a great way to do it. With that type of attitude, a union can never be a bastion of solidarity.

The system is not designed to weed out the truly incompetent or, more rarely, the truly dangerous teachers in our schools. As with Sullivan House, it is designed to weed out the teachers in it for the long haul, those who take an active and compassionate interest in the lives of their students. The longer we allow the bullies to get their way by treating the victims as persona non grata, the longer we allow the truly incompetent and dangerous teachers to survive in the system.

Myra’s case is a prime example of this. Since 2002, she has faced a long train of suffering due to a false and vicious accusation. As teachers, we can defend ourselves from the bashing we get in the media. However, it is much tougher to defend ourselves from a false or frivolous accusation. Save Our Schools, I fear, is out of touch in this regard. It is a shame, because what happened to Mary and Myra has and is probably happening to many teachers who will be in attendance at the conference. It will continue to happen until we take an active and fearless stand against it.

Growing up, those kids who bullied others in the schoolyard stamped their victims with the label of being a coward. It then made it easier for others to bully that same victim. “Oh, that kid is a punk, he deserves to be picked on.” In schoolyard politics, labeling people was the first step towards doing them harm. If your schoolmate is a punk, they are not a human and, therefore, fair game. The sad thing is that, in teacher bullying, the same dynamic is at work.

Like the victim in the schoolyard, Myra is a label. She is fair game to be accorded less respect than the average human being. To SOS, she is a liability, much like being seen hanging out with the victim in the schoolyard makes one a victim by association. Like kids at the cool table in the cafeteria, SOS will not allow Myra to sit with them. The principal that bullied Myra 10 years ago is affirmed every time someone rejects Myra due to the accusation. The whole epidemic of teacher bullying is affirmed when c0lleagues shun those who have been victimized.

Myra is innocent, much like Mary Thorson was innocent. Like Mary, the only thing of which she was guilty was dedicating herself to a career she loved, and of refusing to play the corrupt game of education reform. Mary gave her life because she understood that the bullying of teachers was ingrained in the system. She gave her life for teachers like Myra. Myra and Mary are anagrams.

Despite SOS’ complicity in the regime of teacher bullying, the film will catch on. It will catch on because the message resonates with teachers everywhere. Sadly, most bullied teachers I have spoken with have mentioned suicide. I will venture a guess that many teachers who will attend this year’s SOS conference have been in a similar place.

It is a shame that SOS is on the wrong side of this issue. Part of saving our schools means putting an end to bullying in our schools no matter who the victims are. Putting an end to bullying means acting in a way that makes the bullying regime unsustainable. It means treating people with compassion, love, humanity and understanding, which are values anathema to bullying and the entire regime of education reform it serves.

The Killing of Mary Thorson

There is a new documentary out that every teacher, parent, student and concerned citizen needs to watch. It is called Dying to Teach: The Killing of Mary Eve Thorson. Mary Thorson has been mentioned here before. She was the Illinois middle school teacher who committed suicide by standing in the path of an oncoming semi on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. She was only 32 years old.

The filmmaker, Myra Richardson, is herself a former Illinois school teacher whose career fell victim to the machinations of education reform. The film for Ms. Richardson has been a labor of love; love for Mary Thorson, a teacher she did not know personally but with whom she has a kinship nonetheless. Upon hearing the story of Mary Thorson, I too felt a kinship with her. I sense that most of us who teach for a living cannot help but identify with her tragic story.

Mary Thorson was blessed with many gifts, including natural athleticism. This was one of the reasons why she decided to become a teacher of physical education. Before that she enlisted in the United States Army Reserves, knowing full well our country was gearing up for the War on Terror at the time. She found herself in El Salvador and was awarded medals for opening up schools there. These facts demonstrate that Mary was motivated by an abiding civic spirit. Whether it was serving her country, the children of her country or the children of other countries, Mary Thorson found ways to exist for the benefit of humankind.

Yet, we know that teachers of Mary’s stripe are not welcomed by the current overlords of the education system.

While serving in the Army Reserves, Mary attained her certification to become a physical education teacher. She eventually landed a job at Cottage Grove Middle School in Ford Heights, Illinois within school district 169. For part of the school year she coached the girls’ basketball team. Like most teachers, Mary spent a good portion of her salary on materials for her students. Children, especially children of middle school age, instinctively know when an adult is working from a noble plane. So it was with Mary, and her students recognized and respected her for it.

It was Mary’s misfortunate to be working in a school district run by Superintendent Dr. Gregory T. Jackson. Unlike superintendents here in the big city, Dr. Jackson was a frequent presence in Cottage Grove Middle School. In New York City, superintendents tend to be more evanescent than real. Teachers might run into them by chance once every few years. Rarely do they ever deign to speak to us peasant classroom teachers.

Not so for Dr. Jackson. He is intimately involved with the day-to-day operations of Cottage Grove. It is clear that he loves the teachers that work in his district. By love, we mean he loves to intimidate and harass them. Teachers here in NYC have to settle for harassment from their principal or, worse, an assistant principal. But the teachers out in Ford Heights, Illinois have the privilege of being harassed by the superintendent himself. Yelling is one of his preferred methods of communication. Any school administrator worth their salt knows that yelling at a teacher not does count unless you yell at them in front of their students. This Dr. Jackson does with relish. He knows that, in our current era of education reform, students must be made to understand that their teachers are low-level schlubs, not role models. Nothing accomplishes this better than public humiliation.

However, Mary Thorson was a special type of teacher, which prompted Dr. Jackson to bring out the heavy artillery. It started when Dr. Jackson demanded of Mary that she change the grades of many of her students. Under our current education regime, administrators only demand changes in one direction: up. He wanted Mary to give passing grades to students that had clearly not earned it. To Dr. Jackson, whether or not students earned a passing grade was immaterial. The only thing that matters is that students pass. Passing students means the school is doing well, meaning that they will continue to receive funding, meaning that Dr. Jackson gets to keep his very high-salaried job.

This is why Dr. Jackson is an administrator, not an educator. An educator, someone like Mary Thorson, would look at failing grades and ask “how can I help teach my students the things that will help them pass next time?” An administrator like Dr. Jackson asks, “how hard will I have to squeeze in order to get teachers to pass everyone?” To educators, students are people. To administrators like Dr. Jackson, students are data. Like most data, it is meant to be fudged, nudged, and budged in ways that make him look good. Data must paint a rosy picture not only so that he might keep his job, but that the politicians and educrats for whom he lickspittles can make speeches about how their reforms are working.

This is the Wall Street philosophy of education. Create fake numbers out of thin air. Make everyone think they have value. Then sell that bill of goods to suckers in the general public. Nobody will ever be the wiser unless, of course, it comes time to pay. For Wall Street, that was when AIG woke up one day with a billion dollar hole. For schools, it is when the students they certify as graduates go on to be functional illiterates. In either case, the perpetrators will be long gone: Wall Streeters with their giant bailouts, administrators with their advancement up the bureaucratic ladder.

Mary knew all of this. She refused to help create the next crop of functional illiterates, or whatever the physical education equivalent of a functional illiterate might be. It was going to take more than the familiar Dr. Jackson method of yelling to get Mary to play ball.

It was at this point when Dr. Jackson got the opening he needed. One day, a parent called into Cottage Grove to complain that Mary Thorson had hit her child. Mary, knowing she had done no such thing, explained that the “assault” she had perpetrated took place in the context of PE horseplay. It did not matter. Dr. Jackson’s District 169’s brand of due process called for Mary to be suspended without pay.

Mary Thorson, the teacher of almost a decade, found herself traveling the road that so many strong-willed veteran teachers across the country travel in the age of education reform. One day she is waking up in the morning to make a living doing the job she loves. The next morning, she is waking up without the ability to make a living or pursue her love. The ringing of a phone, the signing of a paper, the snap of a finger is all that it takes. Maybe if Mary had played ball, maybe if she cared just a little less or compromised a little more, Dr. Jackson would make the problem go away.

For someone like Mary, a woman whose entire life was a pursuit of the humane and good, to be unable to render the service you carry out so well is nothing short of torture. Worse than the fact that she could not make the rent was that pall, that accusation, that hung over her head. Talk to any dedicated teacher that has had to face an investigation and chances are they will say the same. A teacher’s reputation is everything. They are accustomed to landlords, store owners and neighbors according them a level of trust that says that they are a member of good standing within the community. The public entrusts their children with them. To go from that to the drawn-out, bureaucratic nightmare that follows an accusation is to go from due north to due south on a dime. For many teachers who have reached that point, it does not matter if they wind up exonerated or not. They have already lost it all.

And so it was for Mary Thorson.

The one bright spot was that the school community knew the type of teacher Mary was. There was no way she would assault any child. The fear among her students that a special teacher was going to go out on her ear caused an outpouring of support. It made its way all the way back to the parents that leveled the accusation. They wrote a letter to Dr. Jackson explaining they knew that Mary was right when she contended that the alleged assault was nothing more than PE horseplay. Mary Eve Thorson did not deserve to lose her career. Please Dr. Jackson, put an end to her nightmare and let her teach again.

In response, Dr. Jackson, ever the magnanimous soul, restored Mary’s pay while keeping her on suspension. This was no victory for Mary. It was the teaching, the coaching, the children from which she was being separated which was causing her existential crisis. She would have rather returned to work without pay than be returned to pay without work.

But Dr. Jackson’s final sadistic flourish took place on the eve of Thanksgiving break. School administrators know that one of the cruelest things they can do is send a teacher a memo right before a long holiday break saying they wish to have an important discussion regarding their career after the break is over. It ensures that the teacher will be consumed with fear in the days school is out of session. While loved ones are supposed to gather and celebrate during these times, the families of these teachers will notice the long face, the bags under the eyes, the one-word responses to questions, the faraway countenance of the teacher in the family. Loved ones might be able to sympathize with such misery, but they cannot empathize. Only another teacher can empathize.

This is exactly the place in which Mary Eve Thorson found herself in the days leading up to that fateful Thanksgiving Day. She was given the memo and told to enjoy her holiday.

The plan was for Mary to be with her parents on Thanksgiving Eve. But she called them and said she was going to wait until Thanksgiving Day instead.

Thanksgiving rolled around. Mary stockpiled on her bed all of the paperwork associated with the fatal accusation. She penned a note, then headed out to her car. She was to drive just over Illinois’ eastern border into Indiana, a state known as the literal crossroads of the United States. It is where many of the country’s superhighways intersect. You can choose a road and go anywhere in the country. Cars zoom through Indiana on their way to their destinations, as do the trucks that carry out much of the nation’s commerce.


Mary Thorson pulled her car over to the shoulder. She opened the door of the steel pod that had been acting as a barrier between her body and the speeding traffic of Indiana’s highways. Her two feet stepped onto the road designed strictly for rolling rubber. An oncoming truck. Mary stepped into its path. The truck driver swerved to avoid her. Mary swerved in the same direction. It was over.

Mary’s final note could have been written by any teacher in the United States. The children that she had taught for almost 10 years were so clearly flesh and blood human beings. Yet, the lords of the education system insisted that they were data. She had tried to explain this many times to no avail. The powers that be, the people that could determine whether or not Mary taught, made it clear that children were numbers on a paper. They were to be fudged, nudged and budged on a whim. What those numbers represented, whether they were accurate or useful, did not matter.

Why was it like this? In her final note, Mary said it comes down to money. Good numbers meant good money. Even bad numbers meant good money. So many people have their hands in the education till: administrators, data companies, test publishers and politicians. If children could no longer be reduced to data, the money train stops and all of these interests would be slightly less wealthy. The educrats would never tolerate this. Education, Mary Thorson says, is a business in America. Children are the widgets. Mary Thorson lets it be known that, counter to the self-righteous wisdom of our esteemed educrats, children are not widgets. They are her babies.

And why are the Dr. Jacksons, the Pearsons, the Bloombergs, the Rhees, the Rahm Emmanuels of the world able to perpetrate such a heinous crime? Because the people who could stop it, the people who have a front row seat to the huckster’s ruse, are being silenced. Those people are the teachers. Through union breaking, through the empowerment of administrators, through media bashing, through rigged legislation, through harassment and intimidation, teachers are being told in so many words to shut up and go along with the whole thing. They are being forced to play ball against the better angels of their nature. There is no room for teachers to be humane, to provide a truly humanistic education whose value is unquantifiable in numbers. Those that try are spit out of the machine either by out-and-out firing or creative methods of subtle psychological torture.

As the title of the movie suggests, Mary Eve Thorson was killed. Like so many of us who teach, she was being killed slowly everyday by a rotten, autocratic regime that cloaks itself in the benign garb of providing an education to children. Mary Thorson’s story, her tragedy, is the tragedy of millions of caring teachers from Anchorage to Atlanta, from Bakersfield to Bangor. What is extraordinary is not that Mary Thorson died for the sake of teaching, but that more such teachers have not taken the same route given the times in which we are living.

Mary Thorson said she did not want her murder to go in vain. Mary’s father, John Thorson, is determined as well. He has an online petition against teacher bullying that everyone should sign.

Furthermore, if you would like a copy of Dying to Teach: The Killing of Mary Thorson you can contact Myra Richardson at teachersformary@hotmail.com. Donations can be made via that address as well. All funds will go to Mary’s family, as well as to the foundation that will be founded in Mary’s memory at the start of August.

Rest in Peace Mary. We are determined that you shall not die in vain.

Judging the Judgers

By now, most of us have probably seen the video of dean Stephan Hudson in a physical altercation with high school freshmen Kristoff John at George Westinghouse Technical Education High School in Brooklyn. If not, here is the clip that has been shown on the television airwaves here in New York City.

The very first thing that you see, and something that is easily missed, is the student taking a swing at Mr. Hudson.  Mr. Hudson then basically grabs the student by the arm and manhandles him. The mother of Kristoff John is suing the city for $5.5 million. With that kind of lopsided number, I regret not swinging on any of my teachers when I was in high school.

The video looks bad. As a dean of many years, not to mention a man of height and girth, I know that Mr. Hudson was in a nightmare position. A kid swinging on a dean is not the same as a kid swinging on a teacher. Deans are the disciplinarians of the school. They are the ones teachers call on if they are ever assaulted by a student. Once that swing was launched by Kristoff John, Stephan Hudson was in a lose-lose situation. If he lets it slide, he is a wimp. His authority in the eyes of the students, and even the staff, gets taken down a few pegs. That would make his job as dean much more difficult for years to come. There would always be whispers in the hallways of the day Mr. Hudson got “snuffed” by a student and he did not do anything about it. In a school like Westinghouse, it might not be long until another student tries to snuff him again.

His size would make things worse. He would be seen as a big wimp. Why is such a big man so afraid of such a small kid?

On the other hand, if he does retaliate, you get the situation he is in now. The media cries foul. The public only sees a large man roughing up a small kid. What kind of monsters work in  schools these days? Fire him. Did you see the size of him? This teacher is a bully. The current vogue of that word ensures Mr. Hudson will continue to be vilified as such until this situation is resolved.

As usual, things are not as simple as people are making them, including Ben Chapman of the Daily News, who has never been known to be very thorough or fair in his reporting. This is what he wrote for his June 28th article:

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was “disturbed” by video of a hulking teacher pummeling a scrawny student at a Brooklyn school and will seek the teacher’s firing, a spokeswoman said.

Chapman uses words like “pummeling”, “beating” and “thumping” throughout his piece. One wonders if he knows what these words mean, especially when used in concert. If Mr. Hudson had balled up his fists and repeatedly punched Kristoff John, then those words would certainly be warranted. But Mr. Hudson was not beating or pummeling the scrawny kid. He certainly was manhandling and grabbing him.

My question is what would Chapman, Walcott and the rest of the outraged public want Mr. Hudson to do instead? Should he have taken the punch, given the kid a pat on the back, and sent him off to class? Should he have not defended himself at all and called school safety to put the kid in cuffs? How many more times would he have been punched by the time school safety got there?

The fact is, owing to the size difference between the two of them, Mr. Hudson doing anything physical in retaliation could only end in him being vilified. I know this not only from my days as a dean, but from my days as a city kid in the schoolyard. If a kid half my size punched me in the face and I did not do anything, I am a wimp (or “herb” as they used to call it). If I had pummeled him with my fists and feet, I would be a bully. All the girls in the schoolyard would have ran over to hold the poor kid’s head as he laid looking up at the sky.

It is a lose-lose situation. With chancellors like Walcott and reporters like Chapman, the “lose” for Mr. Hudson would surely be his career.

The job of a dean is 99.9 percent mental and .1 percent physical. Most of the time, looking scary, being assertive and having a loud mouth is enough to get respect as an authority figure. I added humor to the mix when I was a dean, so thankfully I never had a kid who wanted to punch me in the face. Yet, if you are a dean long enough in a school like Westinghouse, it will just be a matter of time before that .1% of the job calls. Maybe a student pushes you or swings at you. In my case, it was students swinging on school safety, teachers or other deans that necessitated me getting physical to subdue a student. It is not a good position to be in. If the kid gets bruised or hurt, you can have a lawsuit and investigation on your hands.

Unfortunately, that is the hell in which Mr. Hudson currently finds himself. I cannot judge his actions because I do not know what I would have done if I were in his shoes. I wish him the best in navigating the mine field to come.

On the other hand, I find it quite easy to judge those who choose to judge Mr. Hudson. For Ben Chapman, it is business as usual. It is misleading language meant to embellish, all in the service of bashing teachers. The article he put his name on months ago about “perv” teachers bordered on pure smut, making the National Enquirer look like the New Yorker. Careful and accurate language in reporting mean nothing when the goal is to bash teachers and sell copy. It is not like the job of reporters is to investigate and report the truth or anything.

For Dennis Walcott, it is the same Puritanical schoolmarm act that has defined his entire tenure as chancellor. Just as always, he tightens his lips, furrows his brow and speaks in severe and unforgiving language about firing teachers for transgressions against the bounds of decency, real or imagined. In this, of course, he is merely doing the bidding of Pharaoh Bloomberg, the man he unquestioningly serves.

For the mother of Kristoff John, it is the “oh, my poor baby” act. On the one hand, I start to sympathize with what goes through her mind when she sees her son being manhandled by a burly man. Then, I remember that her son had taken a healthy swing right at that burly man’s head. The sympathy quickly fades. As a man, I would have told my son not to start fights he could not finish. As a human being, I would have taught my son to respect all human beings, whether they are in authority or not, whether he likes them or not. Maybe Kristoff John’s mother has tried to teach her son these lessons, but they are obviously not getting through. The lesson she is teaching him now is that it is ok to swing on people as long as there is a big pot of gold on the other side of that swing.

And for the general public, easily lobotomized by the misleading and fluffy writing of Ben Chapman or the knee-jerk television reports about a large man manhandling a scrawny teenager, one healthy reminder might be in order: this took place in a New York City public high school. While most of them are not hellholes, a very slim minority are actually non-violent and easy-going. The fact is, there is a lot of violence and tempers and jealousy and emotions from the classrooms all the way up to the principal’s office. And, yes, teachers get hit, pushed, spit on, harassed and more on a daily basis. Most schools do not have police officers. The only disciplinarians on site are the school safety agents and deans, who are normally overwhelmed. In a school like Westinghouse, there are only a handful of these disciplinarians for nearly 1,000 students. These factors should be considered before people judge the actions of Stephan Hudson.

Unfortunately, this is where we are in 2012. A student assaults a teacher and stands to make a payday out of it. The teacher stands to get fired. These pieces should not fit together, yet they make perfect sense given the state of teaching in the United States today.

The Other Bullying

This story has weighed on my mind since I read about it earlier this year:

On Thanksgiving, a grade-school gym teacher parked on the shoulder of Interstate 80/94 in northwest Indiana, got out of her Mercury SUV and walked in front of a moving semi truck.

The 32-year-old’s suicide shocked the tiny Ford Heights school district where she worked. In the days afterward, tension grew amid conversations by co-workers about what had happened and questions from the Army veteran’s parents. The turmoil peaked during a crowded meeting in December, when some teachers and school board members clashed.

The suicide note that Mary Thorson left centered on frustrations at the school, and her death spurred some of her co-workers to speak out at the public meeting.

Teachers described an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the two-school district, where little things snowballed over time.

“We don’t feel like we can speak out because we have been intimidated,” teacher Rose Jimerson said at the meeting. “We have signs all over the building about anti-bullying. … Our staff gets bullied.”

Mary Thorson was, tragically, driven over the edge. It is an edge too many of us find ourselves in the age of teacher bashing.

The same thing happened to Rigoberto Ruelas.

Between these two tragedies we see the two biggest culprits in the war on teachers: administrators and the media.

It is no coincidence that the media has made an issue of student bullying, a problem that has been around for ages, at the exact same time that they have taken to bullying teachers.

Can anyone say subterfuge?

Teachers, those who are actually in it for the long haul like Mary Thorson and Rigoberto Ruelas, were dedicated to the profession to the point where being a teacher was part of their identity. It is a tough thing for people in other lines of work, who usually frequently change careers, to understand. Being a teacher is who you are. It defines you. When people attack and insult teachers with words or actions, it is an attack on who we are as people. It is an attack on our very identity as human beings.

Sadly, it is tough to see how there will not be more tragedies like this in the future.

There is an online petition in Mary Thorson’s memory started by her father to stop the bullying of teachers. It is worth your signature, if for no other reason than a show of solidarity.

My heart goes out to Mary Thorson’s and Rigoberto Ruelas’ families. There are people who understand what is happening to teachers and fighting against it.