Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I have received a file letter in which Assistant Principal Z makes the following conclusion:

"It is my professional judgment that you committed an act of verbal abuse when you made a statement in front of class 8C that made Steven Smith conclude that you called his ancestors and family cockroaches. Please be advised that any repetition of verbal abuse may result in further disciplinary action including a "U" rating and/or recommendation for termination."

I can't reveal the contents of statements made by students, but I will reveal the contents of my statement, because I signed no confidentiality agreement about my own version of the incident.



On the Monday May 5, 2008 the objective of the class was: SWBAT copy a DNA sequence. I had designed a hands-on activity in which students copied a DNA sequence by matching Adenine to Thymine and Cytosine to Guanine. We observed that students made mistakes in their copies, and we compared those mistakes to mutations in DNA. We discussed how DNA mutations could be beneficial to the organism and how mutations could be bad for the organism.

I had no problems with any students.

On Wednesday, May 7, 2008, the objective of the class had been: SWBAT design a visual representation of the generations of humans on earth. I introduced the concept of a generation of humans and the approximate time period for one generation (20 years). We then calculated the number of generations in 100 years and the number of ancestors in those generations: 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents, and 32 great great great grandparents. I asked students if they could remember the first names of their parents. They could. I asked them for the first names of their grandparents. Many had trouble with some of the names. Then I asked for the first names of their great grandparents. I told them that I couldn’t remember most of my ancestors’ names either. After the third or fourth generation we forget unless something is written down about them. However, we carry their DNA, and that is a permanent record of them in our genes even though we don’t know their names.

I modeled how to visually represent these generations in a family tree or pedigree chart. Then we calculated the number of generations since the first fossil record of humans 2 billion years ago and came up with the number of 100, 000 generations. I then asked students to design a visual representation of those generations on graph paper.

For homework they had to find out the first names of their ancestor as far back as they could go by asking their parents and other relatives. I also asked them to write a paragraph about one of their ancestors. I do not remember having any problems with any of my students.


On Thursday, May 8, 2008 the objective was: SWBAT make a visual representation of the evolution of life one earth—the geologic time scale.

We began the class by sharing the homework. I shared a story about my great grandmother. She was born on a farm. (I forget which state). Her mother had died when she was very young. She was one of the youngest of a huge family –about twelve (I think). When her mother died she went to live with a childless couple on a nearby farm. She always thought of this couple as her mother and father. The older children stayed with their father and helped run the farm. I demonstrated that there were many details that I did not know, or didn’t remember. That is how family information is lost. However, I stressed that part of my great grandmother’s DNA was copied into mine, as was her mother’s and her father’s, neither of whom I could name. I told them that my grandmother would probably know a lot more details, but I couldn’t ask her because she had already passed away. I suggested that they go home and ask questions about their ancestors and write some of the more interesting stories down, because that was the only way to keep family history alive after the third generation.

I then introduced the geologic time scale and told students that there were about 100,000 generations of humans, but our DNA also comes from millions of generations stretching back through geologic time to the first life form – a one-celled organism. The evidence for this is in our DNA and in the fossil record.

Because the stories had taken up the time I had to introduce the geologic time scale, I decided to modify the objective. I had the students use the rest of the class period read and answer questions about fossils and the evolution of life on Earth. Some of the students had not done their homework, so I told them they could work on it before starting the reading assignment.

As they were working, I heard Steven S. call John J. a cockroach.

I said to Steven, “You need to be talking about your ancestors because that is the assignment. I looked at Steven’s journal. Instead of working on his homework, he had drawn a nasty picture of John. Steven then started saying that I had called his ancestors cockroaches and that was “messed up”.

I then addressed the whole class and told them that although we were related to cockroaches and all other life forms on earth, we were not direct descendants of cockroaches, so it was incorrect to say that one’s ancestors were cockroaches or accuse anyone else of having cockroach ancestors.

I reminded them about accountable talk, and that anything they said should be either about their ancestors or about fossils and the evolution of life, because they weren’t supposed to be talking about anything else.

I also told them that if they weren’t talking about ancestors, but were actually saying insults, then they should know that an insult is more about the person who says it, than anyone else.

“So in a nutshell. Whatever you say today should be either about you, your ancestors, or fossils.”

This was my response to a case of flagrant bullying.

Steven got up and left the classroom without permission. When he came back he told another student (loudly enough so that I could hear) that he had gone to see Assistant Principal X. This is a bully who abused another student, yet he felt empowered to appear in the Assistant Principal’s office with no pass, and lodge a complaint against the teacher.

I am concerned about the fact that these verbal abuse allegations will make it harder for me to protect children from bullying in the future.


MORIAH'S COMMENT: I don't insult children. Ever. I value each and every one of them. I want them all to go on to be as happy and fulfilled as possible. That is why I became a teacher. It breaks my heart that my teaching career must end like this. But I'll move on and find many ways of enjoying the time I have left on Earth.

What keeps me awake until two in the morning is--What will become of children who have been taught to settle for easy lies instead of searching for hard truths?


Chaz said...

As a science teacher myself I understand what you were teaching. However, you appear to be dealing with vindictive and ignorant administrators.

Too bad they are allowed to target you. I suggest that you try to get statements from your students about the alleged incident because once you are removed from the school, it is hard to get their statements.

Moriah Untamed said...

Statements have already been taken from my students. For the most part they are negative toward me.

Back in November, they started taking statements from my students. In the beginning, the kids backed me up. Then gradually, over time, the statements became more numerous and more negative.

It started in 8B, with one or two students. More and more jumped on the bandwagon. Then it spread to 8C.

I have a negative statement from a girl in 8B who was a student of mine in 7th grade as well. Last year she came in before and after school to work on her science project, as did many of my other students. I didn't get per session money to work with them.

I won't be able to get any positive statements from anyone.

Moriah Untamed said...

I have a negative statement from a student who lives nearby. I know her parents. I have known her family for years. She wrote the statement without the knowledge of her parents.

I won't be able to get a positive statement from her.

These kids would probably say nice things about me if prompted under cross examination at a 3020a hearing--if it ever goes that far.

Anonymous said...

So, if I taught "The Metamorphosis",would I be in danger?
It seems to me that you have a not too smart student who doesn't process information correctly coupled with a nasty temperament. And the AP kept this going?
I say the AP is a cockroach.

ed notes online said...

There is a point when it comes time to name names - like AP X should be able to read this story whenver he googles his name.

Noel said...

When I read this, I just wonder whether you aren't in the wrong environment to begin with. Clearly you're someone who cares about kids and about helping them learn. But what a confrontational setting to try to do that in! It goes both ways -- these numbered processes and administrators collecting statements from students are obviously corrosive, but so is this doctrine of "accountable talk" that you invoke. It sounds like an environment of zero trust. I'm sure learning takes place there, but with the system generating so much noise, is it worth it?

Sorry if this is just stating the obvious....

Moriah Untamed said...

Voice, You said it, I didn't, but thank's for reading between the lines out loud.

Norm, It would be satisfying to confront them publicly, but unfortunately, that means publicly involving my students as well. They are tied to each other and to me. So for better or for worse, we all need to remain relatively annonymous.

Moriah Untamed said...


It wasn't always like this.

Imagine what would have happened if one of your classmates had called you a cockroach for all to hear in the middle of science class. I hope you find it hard to imagine. There should have been an implicit fear of unimaginable consequences.

Today, in the NYC public schools we teachers--especially senior teachers with high salaries--have to continuously worry about being brought up on charges, because this is the only way that the DOE can fire a tenured teacher.

You are right that the environment has become corrosive, that there is zero trust, and that little learning is taking place. That is another way of getting rid of older, highly paid teachers. When you really care about teaching, learning, and kids, what is the point of continuing in this atmosphere? What good can you do? That is why so many teachers are retiring.

But it isn't about a system that is somehow generating its own noise. The noise is coming from outside the system.

We teachers are being faced with a hostile corporate takeover. The agenda is to privatize the public education system. siphoning billions of tax dollars into a system of private charter schools with little or no fiscal accountability.

If this continues you will not have a public school in your neighborhood where you can send your children. You will have a private charter school, but your children may or may not qualify to get into it. If they do, it will no longer be free. You will still be paying taxes into the educational system, but you will also have to pay additional money to get your children into the best charter schools.

As a highly educated professional, you may be able to navigate this system. But children of parents who are not able to navigate the system... what will happen to them?

We are already seeing children who have no seat in kindergarten this fall.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me your school has an infestation problem.

While it's not politically correct, it seems to me that you are surrounded by cockroaches and really need an Orkin man.

But seriously, when it's time to expose the adult cockroaches why can't you say "Mr. Periplaneta Americana encouraged Student 1." "Student 1 bullied student 2," etc.?

Anonymous said...

Many public schools are infested with cockroaches = other teachers that report you for nothing. You have to be very careful and watch your back. We are living on times that you do not know who your enemy is.