New Yorkers are discussing, often heatedly, the reports about a controversy involving a teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn. An early grades teacher at a Success Academy school was secretly videotaped while strongly berating a student. There are reports of other Success Academy teachers using lacerating sarcasm, roughly handling students' property, and performing something referred to as a "rip and re-do," meaning, making a public show of ripping up a student's work, criticizing it for being sub-par or incomplete, and demanding that it be redone.

There are many other issues at play here. The head of the Success Academy schools is a woman named Eva Moskowitz, a former member of the New York City Council local governing body. She has been praised by some, criticized by others who find her educational and publicity tactics to be obnoxious. Another issue is the friction between charter schools in general, versus the rest of the NYC public school system. This city has the nation's largest public school system, and while some families welcome the alternative of charter schools (many of which are funded by corporations or non-profit institutions) other people view them as competitors and even malevolent forces in education.

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Many articles and essays and letters to the editor have been written for, against and mixed on this topic, but I want to focus on something else, yet related. I want to look at the issue of teachers who act in a less than professional manner toward their charges.

As soon as I read this unfortunate news story I thought of the woman who was my 3rd grade teacher until she went away on maternity leave. Mrs. W was the worst teacher I even endured. She said truly obnoxious, abusive and caustic things to me and several other students. She mocked me in front of the whole class on more than one occasion, and some of my former classmates recalled her doing the same thing to them as well. After the presidential election of 1972 (Richard Nixon defeating George McGovern) she asked all of us to raise our hands if our parents voted for McGovern. She then harangued us and our parents for our choice, and I yelled out "But Nixon was a crook!" She then got into a shouting match with me over this.

Mrs. W's behavior was abysmal, and I have never, ever forgotten it. I taught high school and middle school in NYC, and I swore that I would never act as she did. And while there were times that I scolded students, I made sure never to do what she did.
Nor did I act like Mr L, the 1st grade teacher some of my friends had, who took misbehaving students and made them stand in the garbage cans. Nor did I act like Mrs. M, the 3rd grade teacher who constantly screamed at kids and  refused to let them get drinks of water on hot days, so that they nearly passed out often.

Please do not think that I am one of those "anti-teacher" people. I know how difficult the profession can be at times. I know how it is to be disrespected-- by students, by administrators, by so-called experts who come into your classroom and offer dubious advice, by politicians who say and write insipid things about you and your profession. But this Success Academy teacher, as well as a few teachers I encountered when I was young, are the dregs of our profession.

We Jews prize learning, and teachers in general have been accorded respect in our world. Many times when I was a student, my teachers were Jewish. Some of them were truly wonderful. Many were satisfactory. Some were boring, and a few were truly abusive. Consider the Success Academy tale to be a jumping point for a thorough discussion on proper pedagogy, from a secular point of view as well as a Jewish point of view.

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