Teacher of the Year, 2008

Via agent-orange comes the following story about one of the worst teachers in America:

After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn’t like about Barton’s 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.

By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.

[…] the boy had been sent to the principal’s office because of disciplinary issues. When he returned, Portillo made him go to the front of the room as a form of punishment, she said.

[…] Barton said after the vote, Portillo asked Alex how he felt.

“He said, ‘I feel sad,’ ” Barton said.

Alex left the classroom and spent the rest of the day in the nurse’s office, she said.

Barton said when she came to pick up her son at the school Wednesday, he was leaving the nurse’s office.

“He was shaken up,” she said.

Barton said the nurse told her to talk with Portillo, who told her what happened.

Alex hasn’t been back to school since then, and Barton said he won’t be returning. He starts screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at school.

Thursday night, his mother heard him saying “I’m not special” over and over.

Barton said Alex is reliving the incident.

The other students said he was “disgusting” and “annoying,” Barton said.

“He was incredibly upset,” Barton said. “The only friend he has ever made in his life was forced to do this.”

The following is an e-mail I sent to Wendy Portillo:

Wendy Portillo,

There are many who look to the youth of today as increasingly troubled, with blame placed on television, video games, and nearly every place but where it actually belongs. Chiefly among the parties actually responsible are people like you.

Not only have you demonstrated an alarming ignorance of the way the human mind operates, you’ve also proven yourself sociopathic through an obliviousness to social dynamics among children so profound that you gleefully chose the worst possible course of action without any hesitation and embraced it. I’m rather astonished that anyone ever trusted you with your own children, let alone other people’s.

Whatever possessed you to single out a child — an autistic one, for that matter, already struggling with social interaction, incapable of fully parsing the meanings of emotions — and allow everyone else in the class to gang up on him? Actually, I need not even ask, as your motivations are transparent: You used the children for which you were granted responsibility to outlet your aggression and frustration with a particular student. And in doing so, you’ve taught them a disturbing lesson about the merits of cruelty, and have led them to place a greater value on obedience than genuine morality.

I considered e-mailing you a parody letter of congratulations from some supremacy group or another, but decided it was ultimately a bit childish and sensationalist. But the sentiment rings true: It’s clear that you feel anyone who doesn’t fit into your rigid definition of acceptability is a danger that should be eliminated, weeded out from society at all costs, even if it means taking advantage of children and turning them against each other in some sadistic little game wherein they’re taught it’s okay to be a bully as long as it’s done as a committee. That you’re allowed to instill such values in children is horrifying. In a sensible and rational society — which, admittedly, is nothing but a pleasing fantasy — you would be fired for this. Likely, you’ll merely be slapped on the wrist and allowed to continue to propagate your deranged message until the end of your career.

This is a sad day for education, and does not bode well for the future of America.

Thoroughly appalled,
J Crowley

56 thoughts on “Teacher of the Year, 2008”

  1. Absolutely digusting!That person ought to banned from teaching! Best regards, the Right Reverend Kestrel

  2. *twitch*

    This . . . gah. It’s worse than what I had to put up with in school (and my usual response to bullying articles is to realize that when someone who put up with less than me is newsworthy, there’s a good reason my psychiatrist was impressed I’ve never attempted suicide).

    *holds up crowbar* Smashy wants to have a talk with this woman.

  3. Jabberwock, you are my hero for the day! As the mother of an autistic child, I am not only appaulled this was done to a child but done to one with social and communication deficits. It is just unreal that a teacher would ever choose the route of destroying a child’s confidence and self-esteem as a means to trying to change behavior- or whatever her goal was.

    I don’t want her to die in a fire. I want her to stand up in a room facing her peers, broadcast on the news, with each peer telling pointing out all her faults. I’m pretty sure when this hits autism cirlces, the amount of outraged hate mail she is going to get will be her just desserts.

    *off to circulate this in the autism community*

  4. I was annoying and socially awkward too, but they gave me student of the month for being friends with an autistic boy. It took 15 years for me to start rocking back and forth chanting “I’m not special”. How does this teacher imagine institutionalizing pariah creation is better than, say, beating him?

  5. I suspect teach is now making a list of candidates for further purges: the kid in the ugly wheelchair, the (shudder) atheist’s kid, the one who likes sardines…

  6. Sadly, I laughed my ass off. then it sunk in, that it wasn’t fake.

    to be honest, this should be done to bullies.

  7. Damn…

    Remindes me of a teacher I had in school. I don’t have autism, but I have something similar (though not that sever). I had this one teacher who thought I could never learn because of it. This bitch is far worse than that other teacher though.

    Just…God…she neeeds to get fired. This is just plain evil.

  8. There’s a lot of trash talk and mud-slinging at the TCPalm site, but also some thoughtful comments, appreciating the teacher’s feelings, but also calling them to take responsibility. This is a letter written to the teacher:

    Posted by ChristineRogers on May 25, 2008 at 2:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

    Ms. Wendy Portillo,

    As a mother of two children with Autism, I can certainly understand what a challenge dealing with that disability can be. It sounds like young Alex was in need of special therapies etc. to help improve his social and classroom performance and behavior and that those therapies were forth coming. You know and I know that due to the bureaucracy of the system that all these lovely IEP’s and things take time. I appreciate that fact that you were in a difficult situation.

    But what you did was flat out wrong. Not only did you lead a devastating attack on an already vulnerable little boy, but you taught all of the other children in that classroom that such an attack is appropriate behavior. You taught them that they need not respect their fellow child, student, and human being. You taught these pliable little five year olds that if they don’t like someone, or something about them to attack rather than work things out.

    Now little Alex screams in hysterical fear when he comes near a school. You did that. You, a teacher, have caused a child to be so traumatized by the mere idea of a school that he screams in terror.

    I know how you must be feeling getting all of these e-mails, that is one tenth of how you made a vulnerable little boy feel. Do you have any idea, any appreciation for how hard it is going to be for this little boy and his family to work through this? Do you have any appreciation for the fact that you, you all by yourself, have made it so this child will never again walk into a classroom as an open vessel ready to learn as children should? Instead now, due to your crewel actions, this child will always be on guard in a classroom setting, that is once he gets over his terror enough to enter a school and a classroom again. This child will never fully trust other children or people again, ever.

    People with Autism/Aspergers may not relate their emotions and connections to others the way a nerotypical individual would, but they have the same emotions as everyone else. That little boy thought these children were his friends, and you forced these children to do an abominable thing. I’m betting many of the children who said mean things didn’t even really think them or want to say them, but felt they had to because they were caught up in one of the worst incidences of emotional abuse that has happened in education in this country in recent years.

    You did that Ms. Portillo. You.

    Think about what you have done. You know the right thing to do. You taught that entire class of vulnerable children a terrible lesson that will be remembered life long that cannot be undone. You emotionally abused every single child in that classroom that day. You have inflicted scars that will never heal. You are unfit for teaching. And I think you must know it. Do the right thing and resign.

    Most Sincerely,
    Christine Rogers

  9. I honestly feel sick to my stomach over this. That someone we trust to take care of our kids for six-seven hours out of the day, to become surrogate parents, to help them grow and thrive in our society, would actually allow, let alone encourage, this to happen.

    Why? Why the hell would you do this?

    Just…..it’s honestly boggling my mind.

    I’ll take the moral high road, and not wish for her slow and painful death, but rather this: I hope that she regrets this decision for the rest of her life, and every time she looks at a child (or her own, if she has any) she sees young Alex, and knows that she may very well have ruined a child’s life before it even really began.

    Congratulations Ms. Portillo, you have completely destroyed my faith in humanity’s future. I do hope you are proud of yourself.

  10. I got wind of an email from Melissa Barton, Alex’s mother. She said that the thing to do here is to contact:

    Office of Governor Charlie Crist
    State of Florida
    The Capitol
    400 S. Monroe St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

    Citizen Services Hotline: (850) 488-4441
    Executive Office of the Governor Switchboard: (850) 488-7146
    [Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time]

    Fax: (850) 487-0801

    For individuals with hearing loss or speech disability:
    1-850-922-7795 (TTY)
    OR
    711 (Florida Telecommunication Relay)

    ASAN – Autistic Self Advocacy Network has also issued a statement on this. In particular, I highlight this section:

    Please be polite yet firm in your comments, pointing out the unacceptability of such actions when aimed at any student, as well as the need for this school to adopt policies to prevent this from happening in the future. This is an opportunity to drive home the message that we will not stand by while one of our own is abused. We ask that you please cc: info@autisticadvocacy.org in your e-mails to the school district so we can keep track of the strength and sources of this response. Remember: abusive messages hurt our cause – please be respectful in your comments.

  11. Okay, I think that’s enough. She’ll be fired or resign, that’s all, in my opinion, that needs to happen. And the school/state needs to pay for the kid’s therapy.

  12. 8. Well, that is one of Jesus’ main teachings: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.
    I must mention that I have never had a teacher remotely this bad. This teacher makes the worst teacher I ever had look like a Golden Apple award winner.

  13. Jabberwock, I applaud your sending that email. As a teacher myself, I am appalled at this woman’s reprehensible action; she is truly a discredit to our profession. I believe it is safe to venture that she will be changing careers soon, so we should hope that in the interest of poetic justice, her next vocation involves asking if one would “like fries with that?” or better yet cleaning said fries from the toilet of the establishment that served them, after their expulsion from the anal vents of the next billion customers served! P.S. I am looking forward to seeing more art from you soon.

  14. P.P.S. I meant if you feel should feel inspired, that is. I draw as well, and do realize it is better if not forced. 🙂

  15. Okay, I think that’s enough. She’ll be fired or resign, that’s all, in my opinion, that needs to happen. And the school/state needs to pay for the kid’s therapy.

    What *needs* to happen is a shakeup of the teaching profession so that people like this don’t become teachers in the first place. But it’ll take much more than this to achieve it.

  16. The main problem is that there’s not a lot of incentive for people to become teachers, so we really never have enough of them, and being more stringent just deprives the kids of individual attention.
    In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein discusses the neocon-organized privatization of New Orleans schools. Many public school teachers were fired and then hired back by the new charter schools at lower wages. How’s that for a “shakeup”?

  17. Eugh…this is…having been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome myself, I’m not sure I can muster the words to describe this.

  18. I’ll rattle off an email to her soonish, and I will post it on here.

    But, what is her email address? Jabberwock, are you going to send them to our addresses or post it up here?

  19. The main problem is that there’s not a lot of incentive for people to become teachers, so we really never have enough of them, and being more stringent just deprives the kids of individual attention.
    In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein discusses the neocon-organized privatization of New Orleans schools. Many public school teachers were fired and then hired back by the new charter schools at lower wages. How’s that for a “shakeup”?

    I’ve got three teachers in my family. Believe me, I know what the problems are — although they’re probably not as bad here as they are in America.

    Paying teachers more isn’t a complete solution: doctors earn a lot more than teachers do, and there are still lots of bad ones even in the most lucrative specialties. But if it attracted new, competent people to the profession so they could afford to get rid of the worst ones, it’d sure be a start.

  20. TawlBwrrd: Thanks; I’ve been thinking of doing another comic soon or something, so we’ll see what happens.

    LM: Part of the problem there is that Americans are far more willing to spend money on the military and corporate welfare and imprisoning people for casual drug use than on health and education. Even if individuals aren’t explicitly endorsing it, they’re implicitly doing so by voting the way they do.

    Of course, if we spent more on health and education and solved all of the problems that stem from not having a healthy, intelligent populace, there might not be as many profoundly stupid or ignorant people, and then who would the politicians have left to trick?

  21. LM: I didn’t mean that the “incentive” had to be higher pay. I don’t know firsthand what other issues the teaching profession has, although I suppose I implied that the job security might not be as good as one would expect. But again, this one bad instance means the teacher should be fired and doesn’t directly indicate the brokenness of the American educational system in general.

  22. I actually sent her an email telling to resign and try to disappear as quickly as possible, and issue a public apology. The fact that someone could do this to a child, an autistic child!, is just disgusting.

  23. Sweet *#(*($(!!! This is insane. I’m going to spread this around a bit, and see if we can’t get this twit tossed. Too bad I’m not an american myself so I’ll have to let my american friends do the writing.

  24. Janet, your comments are astute, and you are correct that pay is not (or should not be) the primary incentive for becoming a teacher. It is mostly a myth that teachers are underpaid, although competitive incentive programs have been proven to increase scores (happy teachers produce happy students). As to our “issues,” the biggest is George W. Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind. Teachers in the United States, regardless of political affiliation (I am a registered independent), will almost unilaterally confirm that this is the worst education act in American history (if you are not aware why, it is basically because it requires more testing for students (and teachers), yet punishes school systems fiscally for failing to meet its requirements; which in turn, causes scores to fall further in many schools – then those systems lose even more money, in an endless vicious cycle. This is an over-simplification of the problem, but that is it in a nutshell!). However, it is still a noble profession and if one is interested in pursuing it, the link below lists some personal “issues” one might want to check to see if one has the temperament (obviously this Wendy Portillo does not) to become a good teacher (and we need all the good teachers we can get). 🙂

    http://712educators.about.com/od/teachereducation/tp/becomingateacher.htm

  25. What is funny you all are doing the samething that you upset with her about. So does that make you any better? No I know Mrs portillo she was my sons teacher last year and she is a great teacher and person. You have no idea how alex was in her class and it’s not far to the other kids (which my friends daughter is in the class with alex )that he can treat them bad and cause problems in class. How is that fair for the ones that want to learn and care about other. My prayers to Mrs Portillo.

  26. arlene, the kid was autistic. Expecting an autistic kid to behave normally alongside normal kids, without any kind of help, is like expecting someone to switch to a different religion without ever having heard of that religion.
    And even if he was as much of a disruption as you claim, that is no excuse for humiliating him in front of the entire class. It was cruel and heartless. *My* prayers go out to the two students who dissented in the vote.

  27. Arlene, as an aspie myself, Ican tell you that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    He is five years old. He couldn’t be rational about what he was saying or doing, and with Asperger Syndrome, social interaction would be disasterous. He couldn’t be expected to behave normally. The teacher should have helped the other students understand Alex and treat him with tolerance and compassion.

    Instead, she allows, no, ENCOURAGES, them to verbally abuse him. She basiclly put him in a cage and told them to point and laugh.

    There is no excuse. There is no defense. She’s an awful teacher who can’t handle a situation, and she has no buisness working with children.

  28. Linhasxoc, I am in total agreement with your point on post 35. Keeping perspective in this matter is important and Ms. Portillo simply made a grievous error in judgment; as such the punishment needn’t exceed the crime. To err is human…

  29. Arlene, as an adult with a presumably fully developed brain and sense of logic you should be able to see the difference between calling out an adult for a major, no, inexcusable fuck-up and tormenting an already disadvantaged child during a critical period of socialization.

    Ah the joys of run-on sentences.

    Btw, this is the entire school’s fault, from the crappy counselor who didn’t come up with accommodations until the diagnosis came in all the way down the chain that’s supposed to serve the best interest of the children. (I know I seem hard on counselors, I’m part of a program that trains counselors and some teachers, most of them are there b/c they are too stupid to handle a real major. )

  30. The same sort of person who would taunt an autistic child is the same sort who would sign the death warrant for a mentally retarded criminal defendant. This teacher probably also got a kick out of drowning puppies and throwing firecrackers at kittens as a kid.

  31. Arlene: Nobody is endorsing letting children be unmitigatedly bratty, whether they have neurological problems or not. Yes, perhaps Alex was disruptive or aggressive, and needed to be dealt with. But this wasn’t the way.

    See, ultimately, the bigger problem isn’t so much what happened to Alex but what happened to the rest of the class. The lesson they were taught was that it’s okay to be complete assholes to people — even those with disabilities — as long as they have authority’s permission, or as long as they do it as a group. Which is a terrible thing to be teaching children, regardless of whether the sentiment of it is so prevalent in our society.

  32. Jabberwock has actually hit upon the most salient point of this whole incident: children emulate adult behaviors; bad or good. Ms. Portillo should consider herself fortunate if all ahe receives is a demotion and public scorn (which she deserves), with the criminal penalties and civil liability she could face. The lack of a special education teacher in this classroom seems to indicate some budgetary problem in this system, due no doubt to NCLB (yes, I know that mantra is wearing thin, but until its scrapped or overhauled, you are likely to hear teachers rail about it to year’s end!).

  33. This reminds me of my third grade P.E. teacher. I remember that one day he lined us all up against the wall of the gym. He then had each of us (or small groups of us) go separate from the rest, singling us out “Because I don’t like bald people”, or “I don’t like fat people”, or “You wear glasses”.

    I think the idea was to stop us shunning people we disliked, but it didn’t really do much but make us irrationally upset.

    IMO, teachers should save the clever psych demonstrations or whatever the fuck they think they’re doing for when they’re actually psychologists.

  34. Jack: ahh, similar thing to me, except it backfired; my sportsmaster (head gym teacher) was bald himself. Served the bastard right ^_^.

    Arlene: this is what I call the “Matilda Complex”

    Now, I know I’m repeating the words of the others here, but to “punish” a child in that way is wrong in the first bloody place, since it isn’t constructive punishment but an exercise of Mrs. Trunchbull’s Portillo’s authority over Alex because she’s a control freak.

    Secondly, as everyone else has stated, punishing Alex for this little act wasn’t permissible, since he has Aspergers (no surprise there).

    And (I know this is an odd angle to take, everyone else, but sometimes you have to take odd approaches in order to talk to people who have odd logic), but even if punishing an Asperger’s child for this act WAS permissible (which it isn’t), then this was way too harsh.

    Still, it isn’t permissible anyway. Sure, he shouldn’t have done it (i.e., he was performing an action that is wrong, with regards to itself), but he couldn’t help it; don’t you get that? he has Asperger’s, so he can’t control all his actions.

    It’s as simple as that.

    All you can do is tell him that he shouldn’t have done it, but it’s not his fault because he can’t help it, and get him the best treatment you can.

    It’s a fun game called constructive parenting! I recommend you should play it some time.

  35. we don’t even know the kid has Aspergers. he’s “is in the process of being diagnosed with autism”,(what? is there a loading bar at the bottom of the screen for this shit?) which could be the parents trying to find an excuse fir their shity parenting skills as much as a legit problem. it’s not hard to see a responsibility dodging mother shopping around for a diegnosis.

  36. Sorry, NOT Asperger’s; AUTISM.

    Falken

    Yes, that’s been known to have happened at least once in the past, but I doubt that she’d claim something like that now it has so much publicity – she could get discovered as a liar, so she probably wouldn’t dare.

    I’ll come back to that later, as well.

    And either way, “punishing” a child the way Mrs. Portillo did was child abuse – not only was it bullying, but it was teaching him that bullying by authority is perfectly acceptable, and could no doubt make him unconfident around authority or even hate it.

    Nice one!

  37. I saw an interview with this child’s mother yesterday. This poor child and his family are going through quite an ordeal post-traumatically because of this event. He usually has an excellent appetite and couldn’t eat meals with his family and keeps saying “I’m not special.” or “I’m disgusting.” He doesn’t want to go to school any longer. I can’t understand why any person would want to do this to a child. For a so-called professional who is educated to guide and instruct children…well she is the one who is disgusting. The fact that this child and his family have the challenges of Autism, ADD and ADHD to deal with minute by minute and have this BITCH add misery to this is appalling. Maybe she could get a job at a VA Hospital next and kick crutches out from our returning troops. Could this bitch be any more hated? I don’t think there is a punishment out there that would be as damaging as what she has done to this child and his family. Oh, I’m sure she’ll probably use the defense the she was once a victim of bullying and that is why she did it and she’ll get a slap on the hand and a new teaching job in a different school district.

  38. Does anyone know what is going to happen to that teacher or what actions the governor/school district has taken?

  39. Pardon my commenting on not-that-neeewww entries because this is one I just had thoughts on.

    I believe I’ve had a teacher like that, in elementary school (A private, Catholic one.) who, every year, would single out one or two kids to stalk with a camera and try to provoke them to act up. She even encouraged the other teachers to “help her out” with this. She targeted me when I was in her kindergarten class.

    Also, from my dad I learned about evolution, and that humans are also animals. The nutter decided to humiliate me in front of the class when I brought it up by having the students vote on a chart that said “HUMANS ARE ANIMALS – HUMANS ARE NOT ANIMALS”. And left it up for however long that apparently, people would rather believe that humans are NOT animals. But by only three votes or something.

    Just a little anecdote I was reminded of and felt like sharing.

    But this. This is just rotten. This makes my own kindergarten teacher look like a saint. It sounds like the boy’s a bit beyond mere Asperger’s Syndrome, but that’s only speculation, and after doing a presentation on Autism for high school, just trying to imagine how this very young and not-yet-dealt-with (That sounded harsh, but it’s 12:27 over here and it’s just what comes to mind D:) child is going through, I can’t even begin to imagine. I don’t know how he’d perceive his own emotions when he’d have trouble reading them in others, and he just got hit with such a huge emotional blow…It all just really says something about the severity of the situation. I’m not sure if myself (And I was unpopular.) or anyone I knew would have taken it half as hard as he might have.

    And I commend your email to her, and I agree wholeheartedly. She reminds me so much of the general type of person who won’t even try to deal with a challenge, or anyone just a little outside of the “standard deviation”. She’s childish, petty, and a pussy. A vicious, vengeful pussy. That’s all I can say.

    Also, it seems there’s documents on this to be looked at. Someone watched an interview? Is it on YouTube?

  40. Furdurdur, pardon my ignorance on what was fully going on there. I’m just now reading the original dox/looking for more at this ungodly hour. The more you know.

  41. Ugh…

    I have Aspergers’ Syndrome (wasn’t diagnosed until I was twelve) and this makes me want to hunt her down, kick her arse until her nose bleeds, and then post the video on YouTube.

    What she has done is no less vicious than that.

  42. Uhhhh, ARLENE? Are you serious? We “don’t know” how Alex was in the class so therefore we should all just shut our pie holes and not do the “same thing” to Portillo as she did to him and the other students with her moronic game?

    Look, may of us DO very well know how the range of manifestations and behaviors of Autism, Aspbergers’ and other ASD’s look and how they sound and how draining it can be to be around some of the challenges day in and day out. Is that an EXCUSE for a grown “professional” woman who holds a teching license and is lionized and entrusted as an educator? Seriously?
    If you think so, I think we should all be *praying* for you, babe.
    A mature, reasonable person with two ounces of common sense and couth would have known that if she could not deal with a five year old child with special needs, then she should have done any of the following: Talked with the mom, communicated with the special ed department, asked for an aide, suggested an IEP meeting, communicated with the principal, communicated with Alex, and maybe even read a story or had a circle time talk about the many ways we all are different. Any of those and all of those would have been a big DUH to do. Instead the bitch plotted and planned some stupid “game” in which she uses all the “normal” kids to join her in abusing and isolating one boy.

    Yeah, I hope I am helping do something similar to her by “voting her out” of the classroom forever!! Only, she is a middle aged woman who should be able to take it and has less time on this earth to feel bad about it than little Alex.
    Do I feel sorry for the other kids? Yep. But not because they shared a class with Alex, but because they were the sick woman’s pawns.
    Are kids sent to school to remain ignorant or to realize that this planet is diverse and some peoople are different than us? If anything Alex’s presence enriched their education. Education is not all about reading, doing math problems and memorizing things, it is also about learning and growing with other human beings and understanding social sciences.

    Arlene, you just sound like another dumbass. I guess the Wendy Portillos of the world are a dime a dozen.

  43. Furthermore, as a woman of colour, Ms Portillo should definitely have more empathy when it comes to being picked on or isolated because of a difference. Shame on her for being such an insensitive asshole. I mean, she likely expects society to be a diverse, tolerant place of all colours, races, creeds. But when it comes to kids, namely white kids, with a disability-too bad. Ms Portillo is not interested in helping you, being fair to you, or accepting you at all. In fact she is too lazy and evil to even look at you or have you around. She makes all of us look bad.

  44. Mike,

    I just happen to know the EVIL person in question here. She (portillo) moved to America from Jamaica. Her boyfriend owes almost double her annual salary in child support. Her home in foreclosure and stress mounting in an already twisted mind, I guess this is how she relieved her stress.

    She is very mean. Not just to this child but to others. I have seen it.

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