Facebook is public

A New Jersey teacher who called her first-grade students “future criminals” on Facebook has been suspended with pay.  The Paterson teacher also wrote she feels like a “warden.” Several parents complained.

Chicago Public Schools officials are investigating a teacher who posted a photo on her Facebook page of a seven-year-old girl who wore Jolly Rancher candies in her hair for picture day. The girl’s mother is threatening to sue, saying the teacher — who was not the girl’s classroom teacher — and commenters made fun of the girl.

In the face-to-face insult category, a Connecticut math teacher is headed to a termination hearing for asking an overweight student if he’d eaten his homework.

School district officials say the comment was the latest in a string of demeaning remarks over (Robert) Wollkind’s 32-year career, including telling a student he hated him.

Wollkind said he’s socially awkward and has trouble reading other people’s emotions because of his Asperger’s Syndrome. I suppose he could have thought it was a funny joke rather than a hurtful put-down.  “More than 1,000 Brookfield parents and students have signed a petition supporting him,” reports the Boston Globe.

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  1. palisadesk says:

    It’s hard to be sympathetic to teachers who find themselves in this position — Facebook is only public if you have your privacy settings set so that others can read your updates and see your photographs. You can even conceal your presence on Facebook by blocking your name from coming up in the Search function.

    I’m on Facebook primarily to keep in touch with extended family and friends that I rarely see in person; it’s a great way to keep in touch about new babies, vacations, kids’ exploits and more. I doubt I would post something about my students being “little criminals” even if it were true, but if I did, parents, colleagues, the students and the world at large would be unable to read it. The only thing that comes up is my name, a photograph, and my location. No one can read material on my Facebook pages unless they are on my “friend” list.

    My students often ask me to “friend” them on Facebook (they see my name come up and know I am on it, because I did not block it from the search function), but I invariably say no. I am happy to communicate with them by email – my school email account – or telephone, but students are not my friends however much I may like them. Former students, now adults, have become friends, but that is different. I think today’s informality sometimes encourages us to blur the boundaries we should keep between our personal and professional lives.

    There are ways to create social networking sites for one’s classes or school or students (and to communicate with parents as well) and use the online environment for learning.. The majority of my students don’t have internet access at home so that is not something I have personally explored yet.

    Bottom line: teachers on Facebook should set their privacy options appropriately, or watch what they say and upload. Or both.

  2. nwmom23 says:

    I have a great deal of sympathy for the child in this case but not just because her teacher is a brainless jerk. She also, apparently, has a mother who is more interested in milking the victim cow than in teaching her daughter how to handle brainless jerk run-ins appropriately. Such a lot of parental hyperventilating going on over this, and of course there will be a law suit, what else? Of course it would not make the news or secure widespread sympathy and , more importantly, cash if the mother dispensed with the chest thumping drama and instead simply dealt with this by insisting the teacher be reprimanded and apologize publicly, on Facebook and in person to her daughter. Getting treated poorly by a teacher, while sad and disagreeable is certainly not the end of the world. The sad thing is that the little girl is quite happily learning to play the victim for goodies.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    I have no trouble believing Wolkind’s comments were not motivated by malice but merely a symptom of his Aspergers. I know other Aspies who make exactly that sort of “joke,” genuinely because of social incompetence rather than ill will. But is that enough of an excuse? His comments are just as hurtful, even if he didn’t mean them to hurt.

  4. So what, though? Why should a teacher have to worry about hurting a student’s feelings? It’s silly. Barring active harassment or abuse, kids should just learn to cope. Teachers say a lot of things during the day.

    And, by the way, they field a ton of insults directed their way, too.

  5. palisadesk: putting your information private doesn’t help either. There was a story about a month ago or so, where a teacher saw a comment from another teacher and reported it to the principal…despite it being a private comment.



  6. Cal…do you really believe teachers shouldn’t have to worry about hurting a student’s feelings?

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    I think Aspergers is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Does anyone know if firing (or disciplining) the teacher would be a violation of the ADA?

  8. Interesting — Asperger’s is a disability, but employers can claim exemption from anti-discrimination charges by making certain characteristics (in this case, social competence) a BFOQ (bona fide occupational qualification) for particular jobs, and you’d think that teaching high school would require a certain level of social competence. Now, college teachers — that starts to look different. I’m certain that a couple of my profs had Asperger’s, and students were just expected to adjust to their lack of social competence and empathy..

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    But Cal, having your high school teacher tell you he hates you *is* abuse. And making fat jokes at a student’s expense *is* harassment. Wolkind is not accused of hurting his students poor little feelings; he is accused of insulting and belittling them, as well as making them believe he won’t grade them fairly. (Would you trust someone who hated you to give you a fair grade?)

  10. do you really believe teachers shouldn’t have to worry about hurting a student’s feelings?

    Try to avoid it? Yes. Worry about it? No. Get fired over it? No. As it is, students are well aware of how people like you feel, and go running to the vp or principal gleefully whenever they think they’ve “caught” the teacher being “hurtful”. If teachers had a nickel for every time a student gasps and said “You hurt my feelings!” they wouldn’t fuss nearly so much about pensions.

    The idea that a student’s feelings are some sort of sacrosanct altar that must not ever be pierced really needs to die out like the dodo.

    having your high school teacher tell you he hates you *is* abuse.

    First, where has that been mentioned? Second, if “I hate you” is abusive, then students abuse teachers every day.

    And making fat jokes at a student’s expense *is* harassment.

    Asking a fat kid if he ate the homework is not “a fat joke at a student’s expense”. But even if it were, it’s not harassment. It’s a remark that hurt the student’s feelings. Oh, well.

    Look, I believe that teachers should do their best to avoid saying hurtful things. But I don’t think they should be fired for saying something that would not be actionable in any other setting. And I think the student’s overall behavior should be very much a factor in deciding whether or not the teacher’s behavior was reasonable.

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    Cal, read the quote in the box. The school district says Wolkind once told a student he hated him.

    I’m not saying that Wolkind should be fired, but I am saying his reported remarks are inappropriate for a teacher.

  12. Cal,

    asking a fat kid if he ate the homework could very well be a very obvious fat joke (depends on the circumstances and if the comment was made in front of the class or not). It is important to remember that our students are children and that we are the adults in charge. As such, we do need to be wary of what we are saying as we are the ones in charge and the other students often follow our explicit or implicit examples (i.e. if we make a fat joke at a fat kid’s expense then the toher kids will feel that it must be Ok to make fat jokes since the authority figure did it). It is after all our jobs to make sure that they feel welcome in the classroom. If you don’t see that then all I can say is that I hope you are not a classroom teacher.

  13. we have enough teachers who hate kids (that includes teenagers) as it is.

  14. the toher kids will feel that it must be Ok to make fat jokes since the authority figure did it).

    Ha, ha. Yeah, because otherwise the kids will think it’s wrong to make fat jokes!

    As someone said earlier:

    Getting treated poorly by a teacher, while sad and disagreeable is certainly not the end of the world.

    As for this:

    If you don’t see that then all I can say is that I hope you are not a classroom teacher.

    I have an opinion. My opinion has nothing to do with my profession or how I behave in it–whether or not I’m a teacher. If you can’t see that, then get a life and stop interacting in online forums, because you aren’t capable of distinguishing between opinions and reality.

    I am really, really fed up with idiots who instantly make threats because they disagree with someone’s opinion. You aren’t anyone at all, dude, and it’s not your job to decide whether or not someone’s fit to be a teacher. It’s certainly not your job to do so simply because you disagree with someone on the Internet.

  15. I’m not saying that Wolkind should be fired, but I am saying his reported remarks are inappropriate for a teacher.

    I missed that one. But without context,you have no idea whether or not they were appropriate. I mean, seriously: a “string” of “demeaning” remarks over THIRTY TWO YEARS? Like they couldn’t find a pattern before that point? If there’s not a clearer pattern than that, then it implies context beyond “I hate you”.

    And there’s lots of things teachers say to students. If the teacher seriously said “I hate you” and meant it, then the parent could certainly remove the student from his class if he or she didn’t feel an apology cut it. But what if the student was a holy terror and had just destroyed something the teacher really liked? What if the student had just hollered “I HATE YOU!” and the teacher said “Yeah, well I hate you back”. You really think that’s anything other than the give and take that occurs in classes with wildly misbehaving students? I dunno; “inappropriate” seems a tad strong.

    Not all teachers are models of decorum, and lots of teachers create environments of casual give and take that is considered normal by everyone until one student decides it’s not okay–and suddenly the teacher is fired or fighting not to get fired? Just seems a tad extreme.

    Note: I’m not talking about Facebook here, as that’s a different issue than normal give and take in the classroom.

  16. so Cal, how did you manage to infer a “threat” from me saying “I hope you are not a classroom teacher?” And you try to call me an idiot? Wow.
    I’ll type the following slowly so that you can follow along: My opinion is that you would not be fit to be a classroom teacher. That is not a threat. That is just my opinion. Not my job- just my two cents worth. You can write whatever you want and say whatever you want. It is a free country. I can write whatever I want. Same principle. If you need me to explain it to you again, just let me know. i promise I won’t make fun of you.

  17. BadaBing says:

    The important thing here is what’s lost in translation. What was the tone of Wollkind’s voice when he made his criminal remarks? I’ll bet the class roared when he asked the fat kid if he’d eaten his homework. The laughter from his peers may have been the real hurtful thing here. Going back to one of my favorite plays, Twelve Angry Men, there is a part when the defendant says, “I’m gonna kill you,” but Juror 8 counters that people say all sorts of things like that without really meaning it. I think we need more context before casting judgment.

  18. SuperSub says:

    Plain and simple, these teachers should definitely be reprimanded for their stupid statements in class. With enough of these statements, such as it seems in Wollkind’s case, the teacher should be fired. I’m sorry, but no one who is stupid enough to make remarks like those in the workplace should be allowed to teach.

    Regarding Facebook comments, as long as no identifiable information is revealed (FERPA) and the teacher makes reasonable efforts to block access, they should be in the clear.

    The Chicago teacher should also be fired for using the photo of the girl.

  19. I just had to insert, I had a student eat his homework (a worksheet not done, of course) in front of me.