Student sets teacher on fire

Student Sets Teacher Gabriela Peñalba On Fire: Police
The Huffington Post | Posted: 11/28/2013 1:35 pm EST | Updated: 11/29/2013 8:11 am EST

A Tennessee high school teacher was set on fire by one of her students, cops said.

WATE reports that Gabriela Penalba, 23, turned her back to her class on Monday morning at West High School in Knoxville when a 15-year-old male student set her hair and shirt ablaze using his lighter, police said.

Students quickly put the fire out.

Gawker notes that the student allegedly “exploited the commotion” by throwing the lighter out the window and fleeing before being captured by police.

The quick thinking of her students helped Penalba avoid any burns, according to WBIR.

The student faces aggravated assault and evading arrest charges.

His name has not been released because he’s a minor and has not been charged as an adult.

Eduhonesty: This story hit the news. Many don’t. America’s children almost all go to school until their mid-to-late teens. Last year, I had one who was hearing the voice of Satan. This year I’ve got one with eyes as cold as dry ice. I’d say less than 1% of my students are scary — but for a high school teacher that nets out to 1 or 2 a year and statistics don’t always have much to do with reality. I’ve gone years without trouble and I’ve had multiple sources of possible trouble in one year. I once had a student put a foreign substance in my coffee. Fortunately, classmates alerted me. A fair number of my colleagues have been hit or otherwise harassed over the years. One ended up leaving the state as a result of student violence and its aftermath.

From a University of Illinois publication:

“The largest Hispanic neighborhood in metropolitan Chicago, Little Village is an area plagued by high crime rates and gang violence. Although the community comprises only 4.4 square miles, police recorded 2,625 crimes there during 2006, including 1,222 thefts, 268 robberies, 22 criminal sexual assaults and 11 murders.”

I assure readers that a fair number of these crimes were committed by local middle school and high school students. These kids don’t settle down just because they entered the halls of their local school. They don’t declare a truce at the school doorway.

There’s a reason for all the cameras and surveillance equipment in America’s schools nowadays.

The former educators who create U.S. educational policy

Having taught once does not make anyone an educational expert. The opposite may be true.

This country is filled with educational administrators who left the classroom for the board office or administrative positions in schools. Many of these administrators were excellent teachers. Whether they left for higher salaries, the chance to influence district reform efforts, or any of a number of valid reasons, these administrators are often sincere when they say, “I miss the kids and the classroom.”

But let’s be clear: Many people move up because they are stressed out or even burnt out, while remaining unwilling to walk away from the investment they have put into education. One common path out of the classroom involves taking evening classes and then moving into administration, leaving unmanageable classes and underappreciated students behind.

Some teachers move up for the greater good.

Others move up because they can’t cut it in the classroom.

Eduhonesty: The best teachers, those who love teaching and can teach, tend to stay in the classroom. Why leave a job you love? (As I noted, some solid reasons to climb the admin ladder DO exist — such as $$$.) If America wants to know how to reform eduction, we ought to ask the classroom teachers. They are the true success stories in American education.

Why don’t we poll the teachers?

We are racing into Common Core Standards, just as we raced into the Danielson Framework, and No Child Left Behind.

Why don’t we ask working teachers if they believe these schemes will benefit students? We have the technology necessary to conduct the polls needed to find out what educators think. We ought to use that technology.

When this issue arises, many times politicians and pundits will say that some of the creators of the latest new educational policy are former educators. How many? What percentage? Relatively few teachers have been involved in some of our most sweeping legislation.


Florida Teacher: “I Was Among Those Who Reviewed the Common Core in 2009”
By Anthony Cody on November 6, 2013 11:43 AM

One of the sticky issues regarding the Common Core remains the secretive way the standards were first written, and the almost total absence of classroom educators from that process — which I first pointed out in 2009. To this concern we have been repeatedly told that teachers were involved in a review process that followed this initial “confidential” process to write the first draft. The Common Core website features a document entitled “Myths v. Facts About the Common Core Core Standards.” b

The document states:

Myth: No teachers were involved in writing the Standards.

Fact: The common core state standards drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. In addition, there were many state experts that came together to create the most thoughtful and transparent process of standard setting. This was only made possible by many states working together. For more information, please visit:

As I reported in 2009, the two “Working Groups” that actually wrote the first drafts of the standards do NOT include a single classroom teacher. You can see for yourself on this list provided by the National Governors Association. The two “Feedback Groups” include only one classroom teacher.

Eduhonesty: Supposedly, educators were interviewed about Common Core after the fact, but there’s little sign that their input affected the final product.

Who are the experts in education? In my view, they are the classroom teachers who try to make all these legislative plans work, day in and day out. Why don’t we make more use of this pool of expert knowledge? Why did the Common Core ignore this resource?

I can guess at the answer. Because scores are low in some cases, teachers are blamed for not having created the higher scores that politicians desire. But what if the major factors leading to those low scores have little to do with actual instruction? What if poverty and parental educational deficits, just as examples, factor much more critically in our educational disparities and failures?

Education is the only field I can think of where the experts on the front-line are virtually ignored by the planners creating policy for the field.

Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb. – Batman (1960s)

So the kid’s supposed to be in detention. Yet he keeps leaving detention to go to his classes because detention is boring him. We keep trying to send him back to detention. After awhile, it’s really pretty funny. I say, “Manuel,” get back to detention.” I nudge him out the door. He gives me a big, goofy grin and heads out into the hallway. His escort flashes a tired smile at me. Again.

Most kids escaping detention go home, or hide in a cafeteria or bathroom. This guy keeps coming to class. I find him kind of endearing. I doubt security feels the same way.


Many students wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. We played review games and ate sugary treats. The mood was buoyant. I had fun today. I don’t write about that often enough.

More on Clarence

No doubt by now some people have read my preceding post and are indignant for poor Clarence. She wants him to drop out? What kind of a teacher is she? Doesn’t she know that kid needs an education?

To quote a line from the previous post: How can you come to school almost every day and have a “0″ in more than one class at this point in the quarter? That’s the key question.

I can help answer that question. When his teacher hands Clarence a test or quiz, he does not bother to answer a single question. Ever. When that teacher puts a daily short opener on the board, a five-minute starting activity, he does not bother to do a single one of these starting activities. He writes nothing. He produces nothing.

His teachers, the deans, the counselors, probably the social worker, too — everybody is trying to get work from Clarence. We are failing en masse. If we were merely failing Clarence, I’d sign off without hesitation on the ongoing, progressively more desperate attempts to pull this kid back into the game.

But the cost of this passive-resistant academic behavior extends beyond the borders of Clarence’s desk. So much misbehavior is embedded in the idea of having no points when you are more than 2/3s of the way through the quarter. It’s not like Clarence is just sitting there. He talks nonstop to his friends some days, never about the material, until I give up and send him out. I call his mom. She tells me she is trying but can do nothing with the boy. He writes on desks. He tosses pencils or candy wrappers out the window. He’s got plenty of energy and no desire to enter the learning game. His other teachers are tearing out their proverbial hair trying to find a way to help this kid. If you sit with him, one-on-one, you can make a little headway. He’s not hostile, and he’ll work if he has your full attention. He likes the attention. But in a class of 30 kids, one-on-one time is necessarily limited, especially since many other kids who are trying to learn would love that one-on-one time.

Eduhonesty: Here’s why I hope Clarence drops out when he’s old enough. When I send this boy out for doing no work or for talking — and I mean NO work — then a couple of his friends almost immediately begin working harder and smarter because the interruptions stop. The whole class changes some days. Kids who are frequently looking over at Clarence in disgust look at me in gratitude and we all start enjoying ourselves more. The lesson stays more focused. Student enthusiasm notches up. My own showmanship gets a chance to come out of the closet. As enthusiasm for the topic picks up, my pleasure in answering student questions creates an atmosphere conducive to more questions. Depending on the topic and timing of Clarence’s ejection, overall levels of student learning may not only increase, they may soar. There’s a very real cost to our desperate attempts to keep this boy in the classroom, a cost to every other student in that classroom. It’s past time to ask if our efforts to save Clarence are fair to other students. We wouldn’t let Clarence continually beat up or harass fellow students.

(Well, American education is screwed up enough that I’m not sure we wouldn’t let him do this for a few months, but I like to think that eventually we’d suspend him and after enough time he’d go to an alternative school where he might stay. Or might not. I remember when a girl who’d hit a teacher got sent to an alternative school a few years ago. She returned to school a few weeks later when she got thrown out of the alternative school. The teacher was pretty upset.)

Oops. Went sideways there. To get back on track, Clarence’s antics are not victimless crimes. Other students lose when he is in class. It’s time to let him leave school. If he won’t leave, it’s time to send him home.


I’ll call him Clarence. He’s a good-looking kid, rather tall with sharp features, and an easy smile. He attends school almost every day. I checked his grades this afternoon. We’re most of the way through the second quarter now.

How can you come to school almost every day and have a “0” in more than one class at this point in the quarter?

And why should this kid’s behavior affect my teaching evaluation? The Principal was concerned that he was not occupied for the whole hour since he claimed to be done with his work. He was not close to done. He had just decided to quit. He’s not passing any of his classes and his grades are higher in my classes than in most others. He’s such a pleasant kid on the surface that the Principal does not grasp the many problems he creates while killing time. Talking and distracting the class are only the start. He’s a horrific example. At least so far, he comes to school, does zero work and nothing happens to him.

Eduhonesty: I honestly cannot figure out what is going on with this kid. A lot of us are trying to figure him out. In the meantime, I have him in more than one class with more evaluations coming at me. When his mother told me he might be dropping out next month, I felt a brief surge of hope. Sadly enough, staying in school appears to be no win at all for this kid or his fellow students. His leaving school would benefit us all.

Paul Vallas on North Chicago Schools

From an article in the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Teachers weren’t happy.

To avert insolvency in North Chicago Community Unit District 187 by 2015, (Paul) Vallas recommended closing four of the district’s nine schools and laying off 130 teachers and staff — 39 percent of the district’s workforce.”

From further down in the same article:

“This is another typical stop on the education-reform road show. These so-called experts spend very little time on the ground and then suggest firing half the staff, closing half the schools, and expect, somehow, to see improvements,” said Aviva Bowen, a spokeswoman for the teachers union.

“Teachers in North Chicago are struggling to serve students with scarce resources. Funding should go into the classrooms, not the pockets of out-of-state consultants,” she said.

Eduhonesty: We are talking about an impoverished district with abysmally low scores on state tests. Many students in districts like this come from single-parent families, families that struggle to survive, families where grandma is in her early thirties and parents never made it through high school. Bigger classes in fewer schools can’t possibly be a good plan. If the district is so broke there’s no alternative — well, I understand financial constraints. But you can bet teachers aren’t happy. Students won’t be either.

The last solution in this situation should be one that decreases the number of teachers.

Here’s the link for anyone who wants to read the full story:

She named her daughter Princess

She’s a pretty little girl, bordering on beautiful, with elfin features and a confident walk. She only made it through about half of high school. I strongly suspect she can’t read, at least any of the practical papers most adults need to manage daily life.

I don’t know that there’s any way we could have kept Princess’s mom in school. I do know that handing her books she could not read to get her ready for a test she could not pass was a stupid plan. This girl’s far to hardheaded to be pushed around like that. I don’t actually know why she was thrown out of high school. I know that the odds of her staying in school were low to start with. She was living in a gang-oriented culture with little respect for the benefits of higher education. She craved the thug life more than the honor roll. When we try to squash girls like Princess’s mom into some preconceived middle class mold created in the Halls of Congress, teaching almost exclusively to a test that these girls find both incomprehensible and irrelevant, we ensure that many will leave school.

Eduhonesty: Duhhh, as Princess’s mom would say.


She almost always works. She is diligent and attentive. She asks if I need help before I think to ask for help. If her head is down on her desk, I’ll let it go for a minute or two if I can. You can’t allow students to sleep because one head on a desk will become two will become four until the whole classroom becomes a cabbage patch, at least if it’s a first or second period class. In general, bad precedents are to be avoided.

I am not always so good at avoiding bad precedents, though. Sometimes you know a kid just needs a break.

Eduhonesty: This post is for the students of the world who would claim its unfair when the Marilyns get a break that not everyone else receives.

Fair is not always equal. If you always do your homework and always come to class on time, you earn a few extra privileges over the course of the semester. That’s how the world works.