I received this letter from a teacher in Los Angeles. She has been following the heated exchanges on the blog about Rafe Esquith, the celebrated teacher and founder of the Hobart Shakespeareans who was fired by the LAUSD board. She decided it was time to set the record straight, as seen through the eyes of a teacher in LAUSD. Having heard from her before, I know she is for real. I am posting this not because I agree with it, but because I think readers will find much to discuss and debate. I make no judgment about whether Rafe is guilty or innocent. I don’t know. I am with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times on this one. The board warned against a rush to judgment when all the facts are not known.
The teacher writes:
I assume that most LAUSD teachers do not read this blog since working as a full time LAUSD teacher and having a life for one’s self after 3 p.m. is a task in itself. From the majority of the comments posted here, I just sense that these people are not or have not been LAUSD classroom teachers, and if so, it was a while back. Sadly, the climate on LAUSD campuses has changed since the teacher jail issue and since the popularity of technology, the use of emails, private or LAUSD emails, texting, social media and so on. I believe that when the LAUSD employee is on a LAUSD campus, there may not be an expectation of privacy concerning any technology, but I am not 100% certain. This exists on many work sites, not just LAUSD. You can only have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your own home and that’s only if you are law abiding (not accessing illegal stuff online). Even if it’s on a privately owned cell or computer, your employer may be accessing what you do on that in order to track your behavior.
Now, what the employer does with any information he/she gathers from an employee’s information that can be found on a cell phone or computer is another story. That’s where there may be some kind of invasion of privacy, retaliation, etc… I am not a lawyer. I just have opinions.
If the publicized emails Rafe sent to students are authentic, and that’s IF they are, then Rafe may perhaps be guilty of some poor judgment, acting too silly with kids, and just, well, over stepping his boundaries a bit, but nothing severe enough to be terminated for.
One issue that I don’t read online concerning Rafe or teacher jail is this: students in many LAUSD schools can be called urban youth, inner city, at risk students, people of color, low income, struggling learners, Title One kids, or just, well, ghetto. What is not discussed is that some of these kids are CRAZY in the classroom and are not easy to educate. What I mean by CRAZY is that they have NO FILTER as to what comes out of their little, underage mouths. The students I taught knew ALL of the naughty words in two languages (but maybe needed help with spelling those words correctly!)
Over the years I heard kids talk about what they watch on TV, movies and the internet. They know about more naughty things that I didn’t even know existed until I was in high school, college and, well, I’m still learning.
Kids talked about grandma porn, watching footage of people defecating in each other’s mouths, beheadings (yes, real ones) that can be viewed online, they talked about the Jersey Shore TV show, South Park, Jackass, Sasha Baron Cohen, Dave Chappelle, etc… They knew about all of this material.
I was called “ugly” “bitch” and fill in the blank with any or all swear words insults you can think of by some of my students who were, by and large, a hoot to teach, but not so innocent in terms of language that they were very familiar with. I could not get kids to be held accountable for having a lighter or some contraband on their body because by the time they got searched by the dean of discipline, they had already keistered the item, yes, shoved it in their butt. They seemed to be experienced with doing that and I am talking about 9th graders. They talked about how to pass a drug test using someone else’s urine, how to steal cars, get away with rape.
I showed Schindler’s List, yes, that movie with the NUDITY (ooohhhh!) and year after year, a few students rooted for the Nazis even after I tried to explain to them that Nazis did not like Latinos.
Rafe is a tremendous loss to LAUSD and society.
If you view the Hobart documentary online, you see that he was more than a teacher. He was a dad, uncle, friend. If a dad or an uncle tickles a fifth grade child is that the behavior of a pedophile???? If a dad or an uncle makes comments regarding a pubescent girl and her “hotness” is that pedophilia or may it just be embarrassing for the child? Borderline inappropriate. Insensitive, sloppy, but not criminal, Not politically correct for 2015 but then what is? Some girls would not like that attention at that age or any age except from their boyfriend, husband, etc…
Some of Rafe’s students come from Korean backgrounds where a spanking may not be out of the question on child discipline, in some cases. Rafe joked about spanking. A young girl may not understand the darker, sexual, naughty side of a comment like that but Rafe seemed to be one BIG GOOF with the students. He loosened them up in order to get them to act in theater class.
I taught theater for LAUSD. The students I had, showed the personality of a wet mop while reading their lines. These are kids who have not been exposed by their own families to music, theater, or athletic activities outside of school, generally speaking. Rafe tried to break them from their shyness, their shells, to free them up.
Rafe may have deserved a talking to, a slap on the wrist for some of these emails that are taken out of context. Some of the emails show a tone of Rafe coming off as a “sugar daddy” with students. Rafe is an older gentleman, harmless, a ham, creative. He wanted his students to succeed more than ANYTHING, to excel, to thrive and compete. He is not perfect nor is anyone. Think of a few of your favorite teachers. Were they infallible Mother Theresas? I learned so much from a few teachers who were faarrrr from perfect! But that’s another essay to write.
Besides that I have witnessed numerous male teachers shower certain, pretty students with flirtatious toned banter, and these men still have their teaching jobs, and two male teachers at one school where I worked were rumored to have married their female students. Please, what actionable crime did Rafe commit?
Some girls in LAUSD high schools and even middle school dress like they are going to a red light district, for example, they wear low rise jeans where the tushie spills out when they sit to reveal thong underwear, skin tight white t-shirts with black bra, you name it, they wear it. I had some 17 year old students talk in class about how they buy each other vibrators for their birthdays. This was a few years back, before teacher jail was talked about, but if a LAUSD classroom teacher even speaks the word “vibrator” in a class, that grounds for termination right there. End of story.
America is a FAKE puritanical country. If fact, our society is so not in touch with its own bipolarness full of smut peddling and acting, like we can’t say “naked” in a classroom, however, I wouldn’t have it any other way (except someone please pull the curtain on the whole Khardashian clan). I wouldn’t want to live in a “real” puritanical country, would you? Our American princess Kim K. got started on the fame track with a sex video and shoots to international stardom.
In contrast, Rafe, tirelessly worked for decades to give kids a chance at realizing their dreams, gets vilified and tarred and feathered for having an eye for a pretty girl, being sloppy and over-exaggerated in emails (and a little bit inappropriate), and spoke the word “naked”? Something seems wrong. Where was the due process??? Oh yeah. It’s LAUSD, a school district that seems to be shutting down, snuffing out teachers who don’t show up ten minutes before class starts and teach to tests that these students don’t understand. LAUSD teachers don’t speak up on behalf of a co-worker when they KNOW the district is railroading them out of their career, in fact, they mostly all aid the district. By the way people, it’s teachers and administrators who send a teacher to teacher jail—not students. Just a rumor I may have heard. Rafe will be missed by so many but many teachers on campus nowadays will be forgotten like unwashed gym clothes left in a locker.