School refuses to award teaching certificate, hates pirates

So, despite the amusing title, this story has me pissed off. According to Lancaster Online, in an article dated 27 April:

A 27-year-old Millersville University graduate filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the college for denying her an education degree and teaching certificate after a controversial Internet photograph surfaced last year shortly before graduation.

The picture shows Stacy Snyder of Strasburg wearing a pirate hat while drinking from a plastic “Mr. Goodbar” cup. The photograph taken during a 2005 Halloween party was posted on Snyder’s MySpace Web page with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” [...]

Stacy Snyder, drunken pirate

[...] “The day before graduation, the college confronted me about the picture,” Snyder said Thursday. “I was told I wouldn’t be receiving my education degree or teaching certificate because the photo was ‘unprofessional.’ ”

[...]

[Dean] Bray met with Snyder May 12. She accused Snyder of “promoting underage drinking through her ‘drunken pirate’ photo. Bray then stripped Snyder of her education degree and teaching certification, according to the lawsuit.

Snyder graduated the next day with an English degree.

This irritates me for several reasons. First of all, Snyder was 25 when the photograph was taken. Even in Pennsylvania, the legal drinking age is 21. How, then, does this photograph promote underage drinking? Why are educators often held to a higher “moral” standard? And, really, what the hell does that mean, anyway? Moral clauses are so very vague, because morals are different from person to person. Professionalism is the same way – ten different people will give you ten different definitions of professionalism.

If education programs and school districts want their students and teachers to hold themselves to some standard, then we need to know what that standard is.

However, I have the need to know everything about everything, so I dug deeper. While I don’t feel she should lose her degree or certification for this, I did wonder – did they ask her to remove it? Was she showing this to her students? Who found the picture and why?

My questions were quasi-answered in a second article, dated 2 May:

[...]Snyder was given a poor evaluation based on her performance while teaching at the high school and was warned not to direct students to her MySpace page, which contained the questionable photographs, [school district solicitor Howard L.] Kelin said.

Despite being warned to maintain a professional relationship with her students Kelin said, Snyder continued to direct students to her Web page.

“Snyder required ‘significant remediation’ as a teacher, and her evaluation reflected serious performance problems,” Kelin said.

[...]

Kelin also said the photograph released along with the lawsuit was not the same one Buffington and Reinking submitted to the university.

The photograph they submitted, Kelin said, shows Snyder holding a plastic cup and making a hand gesture while wearing the pirate hat.

Snyder mentioned on her Web site that she had been warned about posting online messages to students, Kelin said.[...]

Alrighty, so the picture is different, but that’s really not the issue. And, while I still think she should be awarded her degree, she also should have listened to her superiors. While I don’t feel that communicating with students through your MySpace is necessarily unprofessional, I do think she should have been smarter as to what she shared about herself with her students. If they gave her warning, it was poor judgment for her to continue to do it.

And, according to this second article, she kind of screwed herself over with the apology she wrote in response to finding out they were going to refuse her degree:

“This incident has caused me to open my eyes and realize that I am the only person to blame. I have to take full responsibility for my actions and live with the consequences determined by the administrative staff from Conestoga Valley High School and Millersville University.”

She’s suing for her degree and money, but given the fact that she pretty much said she would deal with what the university did to her, I’m not sure she’ll win.

“I dreamed about being a teacher for a long time,” Snyder said. “When I was growing up, I spent more time with my teachers than my own parents, and it inspired me to someday make a positive impact on children.”

Such a shame, I bet she would have been a really great teacher, too. Guess we’ll never know.

While I still think a majority of things like this are a result of holding teachers to a faulty system of professionalism for which we don’t know the rules, this case seems to be a result of a student teacher knowing the rules, disagreeing with and disregarding them, and being punished for it. It sucks, but she should have known better. So, future teachers, be smart about what you tell your kids about yourself. It might ruin your career.

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