Perhaps you’ve heard about the vice principal who was recently fired in Mississippi for reading “I Need a New Butt” to second graders.
If you haven’t, here is the story.
Below is a letter I dropped in the mail yesterday, addressed to the superintendent, expressing my opinion on the situation and offering my recommendation.
March 14, 2022
Dear Superintendent Martin,
It’s come to my attention that you terminated a vice principal for reading ” I Need a New Butt” to second graders during Read Across America week.
As an elementary school teacher of 24 years, an author, and a former Teacher of the Year, I naturally assumed that the reporting on this incident was inaccurate, and I would soon learn that the vice principal had done something far more unfortunate or disturbing. But it turns out that you fired the vice principal for nothing more than reading a book that I have read to my students and my own children for years and a book that elementary school teachers across America routinely read to children.
So I wondered:
Why? Why would you terminate the employment of an educator with more than two decades of experience for doing something that teachers across America view as innocuous, commonplace, and noncontroversial.
A written reprimand would’ve seemed excessive to me, but it would at least be more measured than terminating the vice principal’s employment entirely.
Then it occurred to me:
You’re an ignorant coward.
Please understand that I don’t mean this as a pejorative. I intend no offense. It is merely a statement of fact.
I managed to find your profile on LinkedIn, and I see that as far as I can tell (which is to say, as much as you chose to list), you began your teaching career in 1996 at Denman Junior High in McComb, Mississippi, and you ended your teaching career in 1997 at the very same school.
So you taught in a classroom for 18 whole months. Not quite two academic years. You somehow landed in that school in January – midway through the academic year – then completed that year and one more full year of teaching before you began your ascent up the administrative ladder, culminating as superintendent for the past nine years.
So when I say that you’re ignorant, I’m not trying to insult you. I’m just pointing out that you don’t know anything about teaching, particularly in elementary school. You’ve never taught elementary school. You barely taught junior high school. You taught in one school for about 270 days, then you moved on.
How could you possibly understand teaching? Or elementary school?
When you were last teaching in the classroom, for that exceptionally brief period of time, you probably didn’t use email or have access to the internet yet. Cell phones did not exist. Social media did not exist. Google didn’t exist.
We were still worried about Y2K.
You’re not ignorant because of a lack of brain capacity. You’re ignorant because you don’t know how to teach.
Maybe you were once a great teacher – a long time ago for an exceptionally short period of time – but today, you know nothing. You can’t possibly fathom how a book like “I Want a New Butt” makes kids laugh, and when kids laugh at words on a page, they fall in love with books. They understand that books can speak to the things that they find amusing and hilarious. Books, in short, can be for them, too.
You don’t know this because you don’t work directly with children. You’ve actually never taught young children before. You’ve never felt the obligation of convincing two dozen third graders that books are just as amazing as Netflix and Roblox and TikTok and Snapchat.
You just don’t know. You’re not dumb. You’re ignorant. The same way that I am ignorant about beekeeping, gastroenterology, and astrophysics.
You’re also apparently a coward because one of the reasons your fired this principal was because you were worried that parents might complain. If true, this makes you a coward simply because you are making personnel decisions, at least in part, based upon a fear that some parents may voice concerns about the choice of a single book on a single day in the course of an entire academic school year.
You’ve upended the life of a person who has dedicated two decades to education simply because you were afraid that some parents might say mean things to you.
When leaders make decisions based upon fear of public opinion – especially when there have been no complaints thus far – they might as well be replaced by voting machines. Rather than relying on expertise, insight, and wisdom, you responded to fear of public opinion.
Thus my claim of cowardice. Not a pejorative.
Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps your LinkedIn profile fails to mention the decade spent teaching first grade. If that’s the case, then I’m admittedly wrong. You’re not ignorant. You’re stupid.
Either way, my suggestion is this:
Restore this vice principal to his position immediately with an apology. Simply acknowledge that you were barely ever a teacher, and even though you’ve spent lots of time in schools, it’s not the same as spending time in the classroom. You don’t understand what it’s like to teach children to read and love to read. You haven’t fought in the reading trenches day after day after day. I know some administrators feel like they spend time with kids on a daily basis and therefore know them well, but unless you’re actually teaching children, oftentimes spending more time with them than your own children, day after day after day, getting to know them truly as well as you know your closest friends, you don’t really know them.
Your response to this situation has made that abundantly clear.
So please, for the sake of this dedicated professional and the children in that school, restore this person to the position of vice principal position immediately.
Nothing wrong with making a mistake as long as you’re willing to correct it. As I tell my students every day, mistakes are valuable. But not if you fail to learn from them.
Learn, grow, and do better.
If you’d like to speak to me directly about this or any other matter, feel free to contact me directly.