Teachers union leader urges Chris Christie to apologize to teacher he yelled at

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten sent a letter to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), asking him to apologize to a teacher whom he yelled at during a campaign event a few days before he won re-election this week and saying that he had no right to “bully her in such a hostile and intimidating way for simply asking a question.”

The teacher, Melissa Tomlinson, had asked him this: “Why do you continue to spread the myth that our schools and teachers are failing?” He responded by saying, “Because they are!” and he told her, “I am tired of you people. What do you want?” (You can read about that here.)

This wasn’t the first time Christie has gone after teachers; you can read about that here.

Following is the text of the letter that Weingarten wrote to Christie,  and after that is a partial transcript of a conversation that Christie had with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday about the incident.

Here’s the text of the letter:

Office of the Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625
609-292-6000

Dear Governor Christie:

To stand in front of the voters, ask for their support and win decisively, as you did yesterday in your re-election, deserves to be acknowledged and congratulated. But to stand in front of a public school teacher, as you did a few days before the election, and bully her in such a hostile and intimidating way for simply asking a question, was wrong and unbecoming of the governor of New Jersey.

Governor, you’re better than that. I saw that in your actions after Superstorm Sandy. And, while we have many differences, I have seen you pragmatically work through these differences to reach a contract that preserved public education in Newark.

Last night in your re-election speech, you declared that leadership is much less about talking than it is about listening. And that it’s about bringing people together around a table, listening and showing respect. I couldn’t agree more.

But a picture tells a thousand words. And many wonder why you chose to publicly demean and vilify Melissa Tomlinson, a public school teacher and director of an after-school program, instead of answering her question with the same seriousness of purpose with which it was asked.

No doubt we have profound disagreements on the strategies and resources needed to help our children succeed. But there should be no disagreement about treating those who have our children’s futures in their hands with deep respect and dignity. Pointing a finger at a teacher is sending a far different message.

The campaign trail is challenging; so is the classroom. Now that the election is over, I would urge you to call Melissa and apologize, and to open up a dialogue with teachers around New Jersey. One way would be to convene a series of town halls to have a meaningful exchange. We should be partners, not enemies.

Those of us in positions of power and authority have an immense responsibility to use this power and authority to bring people together to solve the challenges we face. There is no greater challenge than providing educational and economic opportunity to all our citizens. And that challenge starts with treating teachers with respect and offering all our children—not just some—a high-quality education.

Sincerely,

Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers

 

 

Here’s part of the Christie conversation with Tapper that aired on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, according to a transcript provided by CNN:

TAPPER: One part of your style, and I thought this was interesting, is that there was a poll of New Jersey residents that suggested that I think like 75 percent thought of you as a fighter vs. 25 percent who thought you were a bully….That seems to suggest that people agree with your take on your style, but there are incidents where there was a teacher that you had some words with the other day, where I wonder if you ever have second thoughts about how you handle something, because even at the end of the day, even if you believe, hey, I’m standing up against the teachers unions and I’m fighting for the students and I’m fighting for the teachers themselves, the photograph of this big strong governor berating a poor little teacher, as some might see it, I know you don’t see it that way, could be counterproductive to what you want to achieve.

CHRISTIE: Well, two things. First is that whole incident as an incident was mischaracterized and overdramatized by the teacher, who belongs to a portion of the teachers union…

TAPPER: … badass teachers or something?

CHRISTIE: Yes, you said it. If I said it, then it would be part of my style, you know?

TAPPER: Right.

CHRISTIE: But the other thing is, listen, are there times when I wished that I wouldn’t have said something? I said sure.

And I don’t think there’s anybody in life, especially someone who is in public life and on camera most of the time, who ever says, oh, I have said everything perfectly and just the way I wanted to say it.  But what I think people see in me is that I’m genuine. I am who I am. And that sometimes is going to include things that I wish I could take back. And I have apologized at times to folks for things that I have said that I thought went over the line.

 


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · November 6, 2013