Teachers' Antics and Educational Ethics

For nearly a decade now, I’ve been keeping track of what I call “K-12 Whoppers” -- examples of egregious and embarrassing educator antics -- in order to understand and document the problem of growing teacher bias and general lack of professionalism in our schools. I do this because, like many Americans, I’m a captive observer of our declining cultural standards and also because I’ve personally experienced unacceptably substandard teaching, both as a student and parent.

I’m not talking about momentary, understandable lapses of judgement coupled with a sincere apology when warranted; we all understand that teaching is a difficult, ongoing, live, semi-impromptu performance with correspondingly high stress levels, and we can be very forgiving of teachers who earnestly do their best and strive to improve on their practice.

No, I’m talking about brazen, unrepentant operators who deliberately and intentionally misuse their access to other citizens’ children to enact their partisan, personal aims, viewing the impressionable young students assigned to their classrooms (and compelled by law to attend) merely as means to their cherished political ends.

Collecting these K-12 disaster anecdotes is a horrible hobby that I don’t recommend, except that it comes with this occasional silver lining: watching the worst operators get their comeuppances. I have to confess that the last week has been pretty satisfying on a schadenfreudian level, watching well-earned consequences accrue to three very deserving parties -- all caught on camera boasting of their exploits in indoctrination and demonstrating less maturity and poorer judgment than the adolescents in their classrooms. So much for the idea of teachers as exemplary role models for American youth!

First, we have the Tik Tok Teacher who giggled about removing the American flag from her classroom because it made her “uncomfortable.” When students then asked where they should face when saying the pledge, she suggested towards the gay pride flag that she had hung on the wall instead. No word on how she felt about the students who felt “uncomfortable” with her suggestion, but they don’t seem to be on her list of concerns. She has, thankfully, been removed from the classroom.

Next we have the chemistry teacher who defiantly dared her students to report her, after she went on a tangential rant about the former president, the unvaccinated, and climate change while informing her class that they don’t have to do what their parents say because “most of ya’ll parents are dumber than you.” She also took care to warn students who disagree with her opinions to “keep it quiet” or risk open ridicule. Students accepted her challenge to “tattle” on her, and she was duly relieved of her teaching duties.

And then there’s the high school history teacher caught on tape calmly explaining how he uses his access to children to radicalize them: “I have 180 days to turn them into revolutionaries,” he said, directing attention to the Antifa flag on his classroom wall. (What is it with these activist teachers and their flags?) He also used a portrait of Mao to decorate his room -- until he was fired, that is. 

As unsurprised as I am by these shenanigans, given my familiarity with such incidents, what does continually surprise me is how these operators ever found their way into classrooms in the first place. How many layers of supervisory oversight had to fail for these partisan operators to have been standing in front of a group of students at all?

What on earth made these educators think they could get away with this? How deficient were their teacher certification programs? Why wasn’t this problem uncovered or addressed during their student teaching? Were these teachers never taught the ethics that govern their chosen profession?

Where was the department head? The principal? The district curriculum personnel? What sort of failure of supervision and neglect of duty allowed all this to happen? How many district personnel had to casually look the other way for them to display such hubristic overconfidence that they would never be held to account? What sort of deficient “professional development” enabled this problem to fester and persist this long and failed to rein in the bad actors?

There is a reason why educators in a public school are licensed by the state -- the same as doctors, dentists, and even cosmetologists. It’s precisely because they’re in a position to do real harm to vulnerable citizens, and in this case, those vulnerable parties are minors. The same agencies that issue professional licenses can, and must, revoke them when malfeasance like this is uncovered.

Thankfully, these situations are being routinely exposed now, and formerly hesitant, reticent parents are finally standing up at school board meetings across the country and collectively saying: enough. This is exactly how our democratically-run public schools are designed to operate: the citizens hold the taxpayer-funded public servants to account. The days of shoddy, unprofessional, unacceptably substandard teaching and covert manipulation of American youth are over. This situation has gone on far too long already, and it must come to an end now.

Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder, D.Ed. is the Director of High School Outreach at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the author of Undoctrinate: How Politicized Classrooms Harm Kids and Ruin Our Schools -- And What We Can Do About. The opinions expressed here are her own. You can follow her at @bonniekerrigan.

Image: National Archives

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