Constructive criticism can be a helpful teaching tool, when done correctly. But Madeline Luciano, an eighth-grade teacher in Manhattan, crossed the line when assigning her students a task that gave them full permission to bully a female student who was already struggling for acceptance from her peers.
The ugly incident of teacher-approved bullying began, according to reports from New York School’s Office of Special Investigations, when the 13-year-old student left the classroom and came back to notice that her school bag was missing. She alerted Luciano to the fact, and the teacher helped the girl, who had complained of classmates bullying her in the past, find the bag. But the bag, when found, had been turned inside out, and the pages of her student portfolio had been torn.
Luciano claims that she asked the class what happened, and students began to speak out against the girl, saying they didn’t like her because she was “annoying” and “stupid.”
And at that point, rather than disciplining any of the students openly bullying the girl, Luciano decided to assign them a lesson that actually encouraged the bullying behavior.
The reports given by Luciano differ than those of her students at this point. Luciano claims that she told the students to “write a letter, as an assignment, indicating why they felt this way.” The students, however, claim that Luciano told her students to write why they disliked the girl on the chalkboard — presumably so that the bullied girl could see for herself why her classmates disliked her.
Luciano says that the comments ended up on the blackboard because one student got up and began writing down everyone’s responses as they shouted them out. Students, however, claim that Luciano asked for a volunteer to do that duty.
Imagine being a 13-year-old girl, standing with your book bag full of your special project that has just been torn up by your classmates, and, instead of helping you, your teacher has encouraged your classmates to shout out why they dislike you. And to be even more helpful, that teacher allowed another classmate to write those statements down.
“Everybody started screaming a lot of bad stuff,” one student told investigators.
Complaints about the young teenager included comments about her “attitude and how fake she is around people.” The student who was writing everyone’s increasingly negative but teacher-sanctioned comments on the board recalled that the bullied girl was called an “ugly person” and that she “annoys people,” according to the report.
Luciano only called a halt to the dubious exercise when the bullied student began to cry. That’s when she realized the assignment was inappropriate, she said to investigators.
The student who was writing everything down on the board erased all the comments and wrote “sorry” in their place, and Luciano said she then told the class that “they needed to work as a team and that they needed to treat each other with love,” the report says, but it was too little, too late.
Connie Mejia, the principal at the Manhattan school, fired Luciano after special investigators concluded in their report of the incident that Luciano had committed employee misconduct and recommended that Mejia take “appropriate disciplinary action.”
It’s too bad that some of that “appropriate disciplinary action” couldn’t have included making Luciano stand in front of a classroom while her own peers hurled insults at her.
And, because Luciano was still under her five-year probationary period with New York’s Department of Education, she has been denied the security clearance needed to find a job teaching anywhere.
But apparently Luciano feels that firing her was too extreme. She is currently fighting the decision, claiming in a petition filed in the Brooklyn Supreme Court that her firing was too harsh of a penalty and “an abuse of discretion” by the principal. The petition also asks the judge to repeal the denial of her security clearance by the Department of Education.
What do you think? Does Madeline Luciano deserve a second chance at becoming a teacher? Would you want her teaching your children? Or do you think she should look for a career that doesn’t involve children?
Bullying is a pervasive problem in our schools, but most adults, unlike Luciano, want to help solve the problem, rather than add to it. Click here to see the rather creative way one dad took matters into his own hands when he realized his son was a bully.
[Image via R. Viner / Getty Images]