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Should this teacher be fired for posting an inappropriate photo to Facebook?

An Ohio teacher faces losing her job for lining up the kids in her junior-high class, duct-taping their mouths and then posting a picture on Facebook that said: "Finally found a way to get them to be quiet."

At least, given the (over) reaction to the incident, that what must be what happened in Melissa Cairn's math class, right?

Actually, no. According to Cairns, who teaches Grade 7 and 8 and has been making the TV rounds in her own defence, one day last fall she gave a student a piece of duct-tape to fix her binder. The student – being a teen – thought it would be funny to put the tape over her mouth, and soon a bunch of other kids joined it. Laughter ensued. The students said: Take a picture! So she did, posting it on Facebook, with the "offending" punchline.

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For this, she is now likely to get fired. She's been suspended and has until the end of this week to convince the board she deserves to keep her job.

Now, perhaps all the facts have yet emerge, and should it become clear that Cairns routinely duct-tapes 13-year-olds, that's a problem. Admittedly, posting the picture – even if her kids proposed the idea – showed a lack of judgment, deserving perhaps of a slap on the wrist, with a clarification of the school's privacy policy.

But it's telling that, so far at least, no students or parents have come forward to say the incident was more than she's described – in fact, it was a colleague who alerted the school to the picture, which was promptly taken down. There's no suggestion that the quality of her teaching is in question (what's more, she's a math teacher when female math teacher aren't exactly the easiest to find). She also started an organization to raise awareness about domestic violence (which one report has already inferred - cue the sanctimoniously raised eyebrows - meant she should have known better).

Cairns, for her part, admits she messed up by posting the picture, but not in going along with the prank: "When you are able to connect with a teacher…that's when your mind is really open to learning."

In fact, aren't the most memorable teachers the ones who knew how to make - and take - a harmless joke? Being able to make a class laugh requires an educator to relate to them on their level, and ideally, lay down the law when it counts. Or so my kids tell me.

Of course, her case gets all muddled up with the ongoing debate about who should post what pictures to Facebook, and the place for privacy is an important issue. (Though, as one web commentator pointed out, it's not as if parents aren't snapping shots at every school event and dumping them online.)

But perhaps the most revealing comment came from an earnest school board official who asked: "Why was there duct tape in the classroom? How did they [the students] come to have access to it? We'll have answers to these questions later."

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They better: Duct tape, after all, is a real school hazard. And apparently, so is laughter.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More


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