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Commentary: Warrensburg bird-flipping teacher should consider example he sets

Warrensburg residents talk about teacher’s obscene gesture

A photo posted on Facebook of a Warrensburg middle school teacher making an obscene gesture in front of the White House while on a trip with students has ignited a free speech debate in the community and beyond with some parents calling for the te
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A photo posted on Facebook of a Warrensburg middle school teacher making an obscene gesture in front of the White House while on a trip with students has ignited a free speech debate in the community and beyond with some parents calling for the te

Why would a teacher feel the need to flip off the White House and post it on social media? That’s what a Warrensburg Middle School teacher recently did, using the image as his Facebook profile picture.

It’s understandable that an educator would have an issue with the current inhabitant of the building. It’s understandable that an educator would be passionate about that issue — or, possibly, issues. Passion isn’t a bad thing. When directed properly, passion can make a person a fine educator.

And just because one is an educator does not prohibit them from having a private social life. It also doesn’t supersede the right to free speech protected by the First Amendment.

You will find no bigger proponent of free speech than The Daily Star-Journal. But this isn’t a free speech issue. The rights of this individual to do what he did are not in question.

That also doesn’t make it right.

My wife is in education. I was raised, at least partially, by two educators. I’ve spent much of my time away from work around teachers of elementary students, teachers of middle school students and teachers of high school students. I’ve even taught at the college level myself.

Being a teacher isn’t just a profession. It’s a lifestyle choice. When you teach, you are choosing to enter a field that will give you more intrinsic rewards than extrinsic. You won’t get rich financially. But you could become richly compensated emotionally and spiritually if your motivation is making a difference in lives and making the world a better place.

Part of that lifestyle is setting an example for youth to follow. It’s sad to say, but for some folks, their teachers are the only positive adult role models in their lives.

Part of that lifestyle is reaching students at their level. Sometimes that may require educators to abandon social norms and act, for lack of a better term, somewhat like a child.

Giving the bird to a building while on a trip with middle-school-aged children isn’t quite the kind of “getting on their level” most people would have in mind.

To be fair, Warrensburg Public Schools officials have said that the teacher in question was not on a school-sponsored trip. It appears to have been a private trip through a private organization that students paid to participate in, with teachers used as chaperones. It is unclear, though, if the trip was promoted through the schools or with the knowledge of the schools. The level of school involvement may or may not be relevant.

What is entirely relevant is the judgment displayed by this educator in the action itself, then taking the photo of said action, then posting it to social media — which was then seen by many people. No doubt students were among them.

Although it is reasonable to expect our teachers to have private time when they are not held to the same standards as they would be in a classroom, it is also reasonable to expect a teacher to take that responsibility and extend it to public situations. It is for that reason my wife won’t have a glass of wine with dinner if we are in a restaurant where she knows she has students present — not because it would be wrong, but because she knows that setting a good example for youth is one of the key roles of an educator.

Warrensburg Superintendent Dr. Scott Patrick said he was unaware of any policy broken by this teacher’s actions. It’s entirely possible that this action wasn’t a fireable, or even punishable offense.

But it definitely wasn’t good use of judgment.

The vision of the Warrensburg Public Schools is for the district “to be a model for student success in the global community.” I’m not sure this was the type of model they had in mind.

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