Tenured 1st Grade Teacher Rants on Facebook That She’s a ‘Warden’ for ‘Future Criminals’
According to Jennifer O’Brien, a tenured first grade teacher in Paterson, N.J., her class of mostly black and Latino students is a frustrating and exasperating place to work — so exasperating she recently vented to 300-plus friends on her Facebook page that her job is like being a “warden for future criminals.”
O’Brien was put on administrative leave without pay for the comment. In her defense, she told an administrative law judge she wrote the post because some of her unruly first-graders were disrupting her lessons, and that one boy had recently hit her.
O’Brien’s comments have elicited a range of responses from angry parents, sympathetic teachers and concerned community leaders, Paterson’s NAACP president, Rev. Kenneth Clayton among them. He testified against O’Brien at a hearing to determine whether her tenure should be revoked. “I know that children can be testy and tedious and all those things, but to say in first grade there that you’re a warden for them, that’s reprehensible … if a teacher or any adult leader could look at children like that in the first grade and think that, then the children are doomed,” Clayton said.
As I consider all sides of this story, I am reminded of the brilliant neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, who in early childhood was a disruptive, uninspired student whose parents’ divorce left him angry and combative. Carson got terrible grades in his Detroit elementary school where he was ignored by teachers and teased by other students who decided he was “the dumbest kid in the whole world.”
Ben’s life was saved by his mother, Sonya Carson, who had an epiphany about what her sons needed. She limited her boys to watching only two television programs per week and required them to check out two books each week from the Detroit Public Library.
Though Sonya could barely read herself, she made her sons write book reports which she would mark up like she was a teacher correcting their work. Sonya had a third grade education, but she tricked her sons into believing that she understood all of what they’d written.
“She pulled a fast one on us,” Carson told David Gergen of PBS, “but after a while, something happened. I began to actually enjoy reading the books … I could go anywhere in the world, be anybody, do anything. You know my imagination began to run wild.” Carson quickly went from the bottom of his class to the top of his class.
Benjamin Carson graduated from Southwestern High School in 1969 with all A’s. His peers who once called him the dumbest kid, voted him the most likely to succeed. Carson received a full scholarship to attend Yale University and went on to become a medical doctor who is today one of the most recognized and respected neurosurgeons in the world.
Little Ben Carson was no different than the disruptive students Jennifer O’Brien finds so exasperating. Unfortunately, too many students like hers don’t have a Sonya Carson at home to inspire them, and for those kids who don’t, who should they turn to for inspiration? Certainly not a teacher who looks at them and sees little criminals.