Monday, July 06, 2015

Young teacher is risky, stupid, gets fired. Hire him back.

I remember back when I was a young and impulsive teacher.  Mid-twenties, full of vim and vigor, willing to try almost anything to get the attention of students.

“(Jordan) Parmenter said the subject of his apology occurred while he was teaching a lesson on freedom of speech during a junior-level English class. Wanting to direct attention to a chart, Parmenter said he made what he now calls the poor decision of using a small U.S. flag in the room as a pointer.

One of the students in this class stated that using the U.S. flag as a pointer is disrespectful, Parmenter said. The teacher said he then made what he says was the rash decision of dropping the flag to the floor and stepping on it to illustrate an example of free speech as part of the lesson that day.”

Oops.

Since I started teaching a month before the attacks on September 11, 2001, playing around with patriotic symbolism was pretty much the farthest thing from my mind during my impulsive years.  Like everyone else in the U.S. I pretty much wrapped myself in the flag in 2001-2002, and then watched the curious steps leading to the Iraq War later on.  I did things for shock value and attention but the national symbols were off the list as being unnecessarily controversial.   

After his flag-stepping Mr. Parmenter did all the right things; he immediately realized his error (in class he apologized), and went full mea culpa in front of his small town school board. 

“The Martinsville School District board voted 6-0 to fire English teacher Jordan Parmenter.”

That a bummer.  This is a clear case of “hey I might be able to make a strong point but, you know, flags and things.”  The thought passes through your head that you can make a shocking, and pretty much harmless, impression on your students while making a very valid point about something important like the First Amendment of the Constitution.  But at this point you realize that in public schools you don’t always deal with rational people (including school boards) and some of the more shocking lessons can pose risks to your ability to retain a job.  As an adult and a credentialed teacher Parmenter should have known that. 

Still, 6-0 in favor if firing?  There might be something else in play here because a unanimous canning of a new teacher because he goes overboard on a perfectly legal (although unwise) flag stomp doesn’t really warrant automatic dismissal.  Risk and passion are good things when harnessed correctly and cutting this guy loose won’t help him learn how to do that.  Plus the guy instantly realized he had gone too far.  Parmenter wasn’t trying to justify anything after the act; a good sign if you are looking for a teacher that might be able to “get it.”

In the end the whole thing is rather tragic.  It was a poor choice that resulted in an overwhelming use of force by the school board and a rough beginning of a career for a teacher.  Learn, young Padawan.  Learn and move forward. 

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