Teachers on the Brink–Part Deux

http://www.myfoxwghp.com/myfox/photo_servlet?contentId=4945860&version=1&locale=EN-US&subtype=MIMG&siteId=1009&isP16=true More analysis on the Dr. Evelyn Fair saga from today’s News & Record.

(Refresh your memories both here and here)

First…today’s lead editorial partly paints Dr. Fair as “the bad guy” and yet asks Guilford County Schools to giver her a second chance:

Wrong words, right sentiment

Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007 

The Smith High School teacher who exploded into a profanity-laced tirade toward her class let frustration and poor judgment get the better of her. She clearly deserves some form of discipline.

She also deserves a second chance.

Evelyn Fair came unhinged on Nov. 8 when students challenged bad conduct grades they had received from her. (No small irony there.) Obviously having had it up to here with the students’ rudeness and lack of respect, Fair let loose some words and emotions she shouldn’t have. That was wrong.

Not even the fact that Fair was handling combined classes because she was covering for a sick colleague excuses that. Fair, rightly, was suspended without pay.

Whatever the provocation, a teacher shouldn’t respond with unruly students by being unruly herself. Her use of profanity and her threat to “get ghetto” on the class were beyond inappropriate. Yet Fair appeared more frustrated than enraged. Among the words she spoke to the students, even as some of them chuckled: “I do all this (expletive) because I love you and I care about you and you’re going to treat me like this?”

Fair may have erred in her choice of words but not the spirit of them.

It would be encouraging to hear from some parents of Fair’s students involved, not only about Fair’s outburst but the unacceptable student behavior that helped precipitate it. That said, not everyone is cut out for teaching, which pays relatively little but requires an uncommon blend of knowledge and discipline, toughness and sensitivity.

Fair reported herself to her principal following her outburst. By most accounts, she is an outstanding teacher. It would be a shame to deny her a return to the classroom.


N&R makes a good point…about the parents. Some parents were interviewed about Fair’s choice of words. Deena Hayes, GCS Board member whose district represents Smith High, was interviewed about her choice of words also…what about the behavior of the students that caused the reaction? There was extreme talking and laughter even while Dr. Fair was talking.

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/schools/images/Noah%20Rogers%20-%20Smith%20HS.JPG” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. And…if Dr. Noah Rogers (pictured) is such the disciplinarian we keep hearing about in the drive-by media (and brought here with a whole lot of buck from Norfolk, Va. to reshape Smith H.S.), why the breakdown in discipline here? If cell phones were even out and on..and recording, isn’t that a blatant violation of school rules?
Has anyone asked these questions?

[cue the cricket sounds…]


https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/174/467562460_5b75eef14f_m.jpg Next, my friend-in-blog-land David Hoggard inked a column for today’s N&R with his thoughts on the situation; some editorial is surrounded with his column on his blog this morning:

Recent incidents of some Guilford County teachers lashing out both verbally and physically at their students are certainly disturbing, but not all that surprising.  After all, despite what some students might think, teachers are humans, too.

As I listened to the cell phone recording (WGHP) of Smith High School piano instructor Dr. Evelyn Fair, the rage in her voice revealed to me a human who had reached her limit.  The other thing revealed in that recording was the probable reason for Dr. Fair’s full-tilt barrage of inappropriate obscenities and had-it-up-to-here dressing down of her charges: students were talking among themselves throughout the outburst and some even laughed at her as she raged.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, if a teacher became as enraged as Dr. Fair did (believe me, it happened), you would have been able to hear a pin drop during the brief pauses of her tirade.  We would have instinctively known we had crossed a line and were in big trouble.  Not so with Fair’s students.

They laughed because they knew no punishment would be forthcoming for their inappropriate and disruptive behavior; behavior that caused a doctor of education to completely lose her cool and probably her job.  The students knew they ruled the classroom and there was little that any mere teacher could do about it.

Ask any teacher in Guilford County and they will likely confess to arriving at the brink just like Dr. Fair.  “There but the Grace of God…”, they will say.  The only difference will be that they hopefully left out all of the expletives… or, no cell phones were recording them if expletives were used… or, they wisely left the room when they sensed themselves getting ready to go over the edge.

The latter choice would be the wisest, of course.  But more to the point; in today’s unruly classrooms, their leaving might be the only practical choice because teachers know it is very difficult – if not impossible – to get disruptive students out of their classrooms.

By law, a teacher or an administrator can no longer unilaterally decide to expel or otherwise mete out swift disciplinary action to deal with disruptive students – the litmus test for keeping order is now a legal question: is the observed bad behavior “significantly disruptive”?

Since the 1975 Goss vs Lopez Supreme Court ruling, students have learned they can do pretty much whatever they want without fear of swift consequences.   In effect, Goss vs Lopez elevated disruptive students’ due-process rights over the rights of the whole school to get a proper education free of disciplinary distractions.

In our schools, ‘due process’ is known as ‘writing him up’ – a legal set of documents that every teacher knows well and one that has caused many to absorb student abuse and look the other way rather than undertake the onerous paperwork required.

In an eye-opening, 2000 essay entitled “Who Killed School Discipline?”, City Journal author Kay Hymowitz put it this way, “…Because of Goss, you now had to ask: Would a judge find your procedures satisfactory? Would he agree that you have enough witnesses? The appropriate documentation? To suspend a student became a time-consuming and frustrating business.”

Frustrating indeed, right Dr. Fair?

Until teachers are once again able to call the shots in their classrooms with the confidence that the parents of disruptive children and administrators will back them up, I fear we’ll be hearing more and more of teachers losing it in the classroom in the future.



Ironically, it has been since 2000 when Guilford County Schools expelled its last student. You can probably thank No Child Left Behind for that. Well, our most challenged children are being left behind, along with our teachers and our highly-impacted schools…all the stakeholders are being left behind.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer, but one has to start somewhere. And until we get to that point, I will bet you a dollar to a Krispy Kreme donut that this will happen again.

E.C. 🙂


4 Responses

  1. EC– This was a great column by David. I think he is right that the legal environment is poor. But I also agree with you that GCS could do much more to test the limits of the law and maintain better order. The system simply chooses not to do so.

    You might want to take a look at David’s post from two years ago, to which he links in his post today over at his site– if you had not already seen it.

  2. Schools can operate within the law [they really have no choice] or they can operate in fear of it. Fearing the law and avoiding any possible situation that calls on it breeds a culture of passivity in a school district; passivity invites loss of control. It just gets worse.

    And the only way to do anything about it is to get some strong, confident, talented and committed people in leadership roles.

  3. Reminiscent of “Deena Hayes: Right question, wrong words”?

  4. “…students were talking among themselves throughout the outburst and some even laughed at her as she raged.
    Now I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, if a teacher became as enraged as Dr. Fair did (believe me, it happened), you would have been able to hear a pin drop during the brief pauses of her tirade. We would have instinctively known we had crossed a line and were in big trouble. Not so with Fair’s students.”

    It struck me, the truth of the above reply to the post. I agree that one could have heard a pin drop when I was in high school and a teacher became that angry. It is not so today!
    It struck me equally that the commenter voices incredulity about student outbursts and laughing at teachers who scold them, to wit: “some even laughed at her…” The truth of the matter today is it would be incredulous to say students did not laugh at her—sad, but true.

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