Thursday, February 08, 2007

Only Thin Teachers Need Apply

Today I had a truly horrifying experience.

I helped host a tour of my son's school. After the tour I was speaking to another parent who had her child in the school already, but decided to "tour" to learn more about the upper grades. We were discussing the positives and negetives of the school. She told me that she thought the school might do better to have younger teachers. She said that the older teachers looked (something to the effect of) bogged down. I told her that I disagreed because new teachers, while idealistic, tend to be too inexperienced (which I know more than first hand). She told me (then) that she was concerned about the teacher's weight and it bothered her that a school would have a teaching staff that was half "obese." I told her that this was shallow, and curriculum was what mattered. She told me that she thought that there was so much childhood obesity that having an overweight teacher was a bad role model. The pricipal walked up -- end of conversation.

I felt like I had been hit by a truck. First, I want to say that I am taking a risk by even writing this. I have at least one reader from the school. But, I'm so upset, I have to get it out.
To me, this is blatent prejudice. One can take out the word obese and fill in the blank: black, Jewish, crippled, gay, Catholic, Chinese...whatever. The woman's argument might be that overweightness is something you can control, and thereforwarrents prejudice. But, who do you know with a weight problem who TRULY fault for that weight problem. Let's follow her logic that kids should have healthy, thin teachers to provide good "role models." What about the teachers who stand outside and smoke - or drink coke at lunch - what about the problems with anorexia and buleima -- because as our parent argues -- people should be thin?

What was most startling to me is that the woman (who barely knows me) would think it's okay to utter such a thing! What happened to PC?


gina said...

It is pretty amazing when people assume others share their biases, which I imagine is why she uttered such a thing to a stranger. It sounds like she was clueless to the fact that what she said could even possibly be interpreted as being offensive.

Jennifer Bartlett said...

Thanks Gina.
The more I think about it, the more forgiving I am. I think this comment was about the woman's own issues and paranoia with weight rather that any intended prejudice.

Unknown said...

Maybe it wasn't about the weight exactly but a general suggestion of where value systems lie if a large percent of the teachers really have very visibly unhealthy lifestyles. That would suggest to me that it is not a community that is thinking much about wellness or very holistically. And school isn't just about curriculum, it's a total immersion- no aspect of the child stays home while the academic learning brain goes to school. This is to say that you've caused me to look at myself but I can see where she was coming from. ... honestly when I went to a pto meeting at 31 I was taken aback by all the really overweight moms. It told me that these people were not thinking the way I was thinking. On an individual level it's impossible to make a judgment but on the level of a community I'm not so sure. ...And when trying to find a school any parent is searching for clues of what the value systems are. But then if a school wanted to ban all sofa drinks from being in the building I'd be all for that too.

Jennifer Bartlett said...


I see your point too. I see both sides. On the one side, it looks like prejudice in sheep's clothing. On the other side, it does hint at a different "value" system. Again, much of the culture is unhealthy and eatss too much fast food. On the other hand, as someone who has had overweight family members and friends, I know that overweightness can come from a list of impossible to overcome problems.

I tend just not to judge people by how they look because it's happened to me -- well, on a daily basis.

I think it's also hard as a teacher to be all things. I have had conflicts about this myself because I have done things that I told my kids SPECIFICALLY not ro do.

I am not sure, but I do think I disagree about a school being "whole immersion." How could many different children fit into such a school? I tend to think "vakues" are for home (and church, if decided). I tend to have always thought that if I wanted my boy to learn values in school I would send him to Catholic where there is an agreed upon system that I endorse (except the gay thing!)