Teacher may lose job over students with mouths taped shut

Some of you may remember when school reformer and former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee addressed a group of new teachers back in 2010 and disclosed that when she was a young second-grade teacher at Baltimore’s Harlem Park Elementary, her class-management skills were so bad that she taped the mouths of her students. (This was either before or after she smacked a bee that had landed on her desk and then swallowed it, also in an effort to get her students to pay attention.) That didn’t have any effect on Rhee’s career as celebrity school reformer, but a teacher in Ohio isn’t so lucky.

A middle school math teacher named Melissa Cairns, who works at Buchtel Community Learning Center in Akron, is on paid leave because she is alleged to have posted a picture of some of her students — with duct tape over their mouths — on her Facebook page, according to the Akron Beacon Journal Online. The story said the photo had a caption that read: “Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!”

But Cairns told Akron’s NewsChannel 5 that the incident, which happened last October, was actually a joke done by the students who then encouraged her to take a picture of them. She gave a student some tape to fix a binder, Cairns said, and that student then took a strip of the tape and put it over her mouth. About half of the 16 students in the class followed suit.

The students urged her to take a picture, which she posted on her private Facebook page, believing that only her friends could see it because of privacy settings. Actually, a school employee saw it and alerted authorities. The picture has since been removed.

The Board of Education of the school district voted last week to pursue her firing and will take up the case at their next meeting, on Jan. 28. She was quoted as saying: “Do I feel that this one, stupid mistake should cost me the last 10 years of all the good I’ve done? Absolutely not,” Cairns said.

Now, back to Rhee. Here’s what she did, from an earlier blogpost:

Rhee said she had poor class-management skills, recalling that her class “was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control.”

 

On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.

 

“OK kids, we’re going to do something special today!” she said she told them.

 

Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. “I was like, ‘OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand. …The skin is coming off their lips and they’re bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying.”

 

Later, Rhee tried to clarify in an e-mail, saying that the students’ mouths weren’t covered. “I was trying to express how difficult the first year of teaching can be with some humor. My hope is that our new teachers will bring great creativity and passion to their craft while also learning from my own challenges.”

 

Should Cairns lose her job over this?

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · January 23, 2013