Mr. Teachbad, fired D.C. teacher, talks about his blog and his future
- Not so scary after all. (Photo: Kim Chi Ha)
An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Gwynn's song — which is "I Hate Children," not "I Hate Kids" — and the name of principal Maria Tukeva.
In a post last week, I wrote about 41-year-old Peter Gwynn, a former teacher at Columbia Heights Education Campus. Gwynn was fired in early July because of poor performance, but believes he was really fired because of his blog, Mr. Teachbad, where he refers to "lazy douche bag" seniors and writes that forcing students to take AP tests is "fucking pathetic."
Gwynn felt I should hear his side, and I wasn't going to turn down a chance to meet this man. Over coffee at Colonel Brooks Tavern in Brookland, while his 6-year-old daughter and son ate at an adjacent table, Gwynn tells me his story.
He launched Mr. Teachbad in December 2009 because he was "frustrated" with his students, at times, and didn't like how teachers were treated. "Different people have different ways of coping with that," he says. His way of coping? Humor. "The whole blog is a joke," he insists, "and it's honest, and it's satire, but you gotta be able to recognize [that]. I started it strictly to amuse myself."
Gwynn defends that video, in which he sings a song titled "I Hate Children," as merely an ode to his first day teaching. That's what happens after you spend a day with 32 sixth-graders, he says:
We're in this odd position where it makes people uncomfortable, I think, to believe that a teacher could be thinking inside their head sometimes, 'Oh my god, I can't stand these kids for another second, I'm gonna snap,' but ... to pretend that we don't have normal emotions about being put in crazy situations is a little bit idealistic.
Gwynn says school administrators were aware of his blog — which, together with his YouTube channel, has over 200,000 visitors to date, he says — but that he was never approached about it. (D.C. Public Schools and Columbia Heights Educational Campus' principal, Maria Tukeva, did not respond to requests for comment.) So he continued to write whatever he pleased — even though, he says, if he were his boss, he'd have asked, "What the hell are you doing? Why are you writing this crap?" (Some students also knew about the blog, he says. "They were the thoughtful ones, who would actually read something in the first place and realize it was kind of a joke.")
Administrators may not have approached Gwynn about the blog, but he feels they started treating him unfairly since its launch. During the 2009 – 2010 school year, he says, the administration chose to evaluate him on the first day back from Snowmageddon in 2010, when the city was just beginning to dig out. "The class was half full, nobody could even remember their names," he says, adding that even then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee had announced that D.C. teacher evaluations shouldn't be held that day.
Gwynn taught Social Studies, American History, and D.C. History for three years. That he lasted that long was a surprise — though not because of his blog. An average of 76 percent of DCPS teachers leave after five years of service or less, often due to "lack of support, endless meetings with no purpose and disorganized or even abusive administrators." Teachers who quit the profession have also complained about the IMPACT evaluation system.
"I do like teaching," Gwynn says — that is, "actually being in a classroom with kids." But that's only 20 hours a week. "The rest of it is ridiculous meetings and grading papers, neither of which I like."
He also didn't like having to teach to standardized tests, and isn't alone in his frustration that CHEC requires all upperclassmen to take at least one Advanced Placement test in the spring — a reason why this "drop out factory" made Newsweek's 'America's Best High Schools' list, which is computed by dividing the number of students who take AP tests — regardless of how many pass — by the number of graduating seniors. In 2010, CHEC administered 569 AP exams, the most in its history, but only 47 exams had passing scores.
"When I think about the quality of education that I was fortunate enough to receive, and compare it to the one given to my former Bell students, the contrast is almost offensive," Rachael Brown, a former AP English teacher at Bell, wrote last year in DCist. (Bell Multicultural High School is a part of Columbia Heights Educational Campus.)
James Boutin, a Bell teacher who quit after five months, told the Post he was hired in 2009 to teach World History, with which he has experience, but then was told that he would be teaching AP U.S. History, which he'd never taught (AP or otherwise):
I had never worked at a school where teachers were allowed to teach an AP course without first having taught the non-AP version. I’d also never worked at a school where AP teachers weren’t required to attend the AP conference for the course. AP courses are especially rigorous enterprises, not only for students, but also for teachers, especially first-year AP teachers. You don’t exactly have time to plan a quality AP course in a few days.
Despite his complaints, Gwynn isn't a fan of sweeping education reform, either, saying he's not sure there exists an effective way to evaluate teacher performance. But parents demand it, he adds, so schools graduate kids who don't deserve to graduate.
Gwynn jokes about being a substitute teacher at CHEC, but claims he's done with teaching for now. Instead, he plans to advocate for teachers and focus on his business, hustling magnets that say things like, "You are so lazy you don't even care enough to bother cheating."
He also wants to write a book about the experience of teaching, though one that incorporates other teachers' perspectives — an oral history in the vein of Studs Terkel's Working, perhaps. But, Gwynn says, his own book would plenty funny and silly, too.
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