Fire Them All: No, Training Cannot Fix Teachers Like This One

Having some time to kill in her middle-school “Social Emotional Learning” classes (don’t get me started on that) at KIPP Poder Academy (in Texas), a public charter school, the teacher decided to introduce students to “Bear, Hunter, Hooker,” a variation on Paper, Stone and Scissors. The seventh-grade students were challenged to strike the pose of a threatening bear, a hunter pointing an imaginary rifle, or “seducing hooker.” I’m not clear on the rules of the game, but this story was one of dozens over the years that made me glad I wasn’t a parent encountering an example of teaching incompetence and lack of common sense like this, because I’m not sure how well I would control myself. As I understand it, when the “hooker” and hunter pair are improvised, the “seducing hooker” “wins over “beats” the hunter by “seducing” him. I assume that the hunter beats the bear, and the bear eats the hooker, or something. Students were allegedly organized to participate in order of least to most mature. In one of the classes, students were rewarded with candy to participate in the exercise.

At least one parent reacted badly to this classroom content. I wonder why? Yet it took her six months of battling with the school and enduring red tape and conferences for the school’s administrators to publicly concede that having kids imitate prostitutes, hookers or sex workers, whatever you want to call them, is not appropriate educational fare.

In the grievance process, the parent asserted that the game violated KIPP’s handbook prohibiting behavior like,

  • Verbal conduct such as epithets derogatory jokes or comments, slurs or unwanted sexual advances, invitations, or comments.
  • Visual conduct such as derogatory and/or sexually-oriented emails, posters, photography, cartoons, drawings or gestures
  • Sexual harassment which includes, but is not limited to, inappropriate conduct which has the purpose or effect of (1) creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment (20 unreasonable interfering with an employee’s work performance or a student’s

She also claimed the game violated numerous aspects of the Texas Education Code’s Local School Health Advisory Council and Health Education Instruction, Section 28.004 g-j, the Texas Penal Code, The Texas Administrative Code of Educator Ethics and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  The school administrators stonewalled and denied that the game, though not an approved part of the curriculum, inappropriately introduced sexual material to students. Initially all she got from her ordeal was this:

No weenie she, the parent persisted, noting that other parents had not been told about the incident though five and a half months had passed. After the parent had gone through all the levels of the grievance process without satisfaction, she finally made a presentation before the KIPP Texas Public Schools Board on January 18. The board acknowledged that the episode was unacceptable, but allowed the school administrators another month to “get their story straight” and “give a more appropriate response.”

Eventually the board approved a motion to hire a child abuse nonprofit to meet with the students, and to change the grievance process. The teacher , however, was not fired; the school said she would be retrained. It also released this nauseating statement:

Dear KIPP Poder Families,

While we always Chase Excellence as a core value, sometimes we stumble.

A rationalization right off the bat: “Everybody makes mistakes.” Some mistakes must not be made by teachers and schools. This was one.

When we do, we own up to our mistakes, correct wrongs, and commit to do better. It is what we want for our Little and Big KIPPsters at KIPP Poder.

Yecch. Yeah, you own up to it after doging, fighting and trying to avoid the problem for six months.

I am writing today to share an incident that occurred this school year that did not meet our bar of excellence.In September, one of our 7th-grade teachers had extra time in her advisory and played a game with students called “Bear, Hunter, Hooker.” This game is similar to rock, paper, scissors in that students select one of three options, act out a specific action related to the option, and one option wins. This game was not part of any KIPP curriculum, and it was not appropriate for students.

Ya think????

Any activities with actions or words like “hooker” or “seduce” should never have a place in our schools. While the intent was never to sexualize a child, I recognize that the impact may have caused students to feel uncomfortable or traumatized. That does not honor the respect we aim to teach our students at all times; in truth, it is degrading. After learning about this incident, we immediately addressed the matter with the teacher, who acknowledged and understood the concern and deeply regretted playing this game.

Because she was reprimanded. The question remains how a teacher qualified to teach could have thought for a nanosecond that this was an appropriate class activity, and the answer is easy. A qualified teacher, a trustworthy teacher never does this. Never. It is signature significance.

In addition to our annual training for all staff, we have also scheduled an additional full-staff training for all our teachers on appropriate and inappropriate behaviors with students to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

As I have already suggested, training can’t fix this. You can’t fix stupid, or incompetence at such an extreme level.

I apologize for not communicating sooner; after working with a concerned parent, we acknowledge that we should have shared the incident with you right away, address how we were handling this matter, and make resources available to parents for talking with their children – we promise to be more transparent in the future.

Your promises are worth exactly nothing. The school’s administration demonstrated that it has terrible judgement, dead ethics alarms, and cannot be trusted with the molding of young minds.

We also encourage students and parents to come to us immediately if there is ever an incident that makes a child or adult feel uncomfortable.

Because you responded so well this time?

It is our goal to make sure KIPP Poder is a brave and belonging space for every member of our Team and Family. I also know this game may have resulted in students coming home and asking you questions, and I want to provide you with talking points if you want to engage your student in a discussion about the incident:

Why in the world would any sane parent come to you or anyone in your school for guidance after this incident and your completely wrongful handling of it?

It is important that any game or activity that we play shows care and respect for others. How do you think this game did or did not show care and respect for others?

Are you kidding? The game showed a lack of respect for parents, who didn’t send their children to the school to be instructed in how to strike “seductive poses.” How about that?

The term “hooker” is an unkind word and not one that you should use or repeat. It is important that we use kind words to refer to others to show them our care and respect.

The problem with telling students to imitate whores is not the word used.

If an activity at school makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always share with a trusted adult at school or at home. Is there an adult at school that you would feel comfortable talking with if something happened that made you feel uncomfortable?

There shouldn’t be. This episode proves that.

Would you feel comfortable talking with me or someone at home?Our school team is available to support you in engaging in conversations with your student about what happened. Our school counselor, Emily Aleman, is available by phone or in-person to meet with you and/or your student. You can reach out to her by contacting our front office at 210-888-6513 or emailing her She is also able to assist you with connecting with other resources for you and your student. I am also available to you to connect with you about supporting your student. You can reach me by contacting our front office at 210-888-6513 or emailing me

Wow. It takes a lot of nerve to write this and try pretend that there is any justification for trusting anyone connected with the school. “Just act as if nothing happened, and they’ll forget about it.”

Again, we take responsibility for any impact this may have had on your student or family. We do not take the trust you place in us to care for your children lightly. Your family and your student are part of our KIPP Team and Family, and we are committed to learning from this incident and making this right. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you have.

In partnership,Stephanie Lee, School Leader KIPP Poder Academy.


12 thoughts on “Fire Them All: No, Training Cannot Fix Teachers Like This One

  1. Because the principal, Stephanie Lee, and KIPP: Texas CEO Sehba Ali said that this did not sexualize the children, they should be required to begin all meetings by striking the “hooker” pose – one hand on a hip, one behind the head. If it’s okay for kids, I’m sure it will be fine for them.

  2. Huh. My family and teachers taught me to take responsibility for things. I guess that’s something that humans unlearn as adults, or they don’t get put in charge of things. We’ll just have to show people how to be effective while also being responsible.

    Incidentally, when I saw the image for this post, I immediately assumed it was a Second Amendment issue, since there were three examples of the right to bear/bare arms being exercised.

  3. “The teacher(s) involved acted on their own accord.”

    What jumped out at me with this phrase was that either 1) The principal doesn’t know how many teachers did this or 2) the phrasing really sounds like there were several teachers involved.

    Of course, this highlights one of the problems with using “they” and “their” as singular pronouns. However, administrators such as this seem to be incapable of writing a clear sentence like “The teacher involved acted on her own accord.” That would be much too clear and understandable.

    This was on full display recently when you were writing about a letter to the NYT’s ethicist. It simply makes ordinary English writing much more opaque and confusing (and offensive — I think it’s a micro aggression. 🙂 )

  4. I saw this and it saddens/frightens/infuriates me so much that I can hardly express it.

    I believe that this exhibit, one of so many examples, proves that I need to change my answer to a question I get asked a lot.

    “Why do you homeschool?”

    Usually I cite my wanting to raise my children in my value system, the need of my second child to have incredible flexibility for medical appointments, a desire to control various aspects of the curriculum such as including cursive and home ec, inculcating them in my faith, nationwide illiteracy rates of 45% in fourth grade and 25% in 12th grade (local isn’t much higher), and my experience as a math tutor showing me that children are not taught math appropriately anymore. The answer I should give is, “Why don’t you?”

  5. I’m astounded that this was allowed to happen. Not because of the hooker pose. Kids were allowed to pose as hunters with guns? Guns that go out and murder people every day? I would have expected the teacher to have been reprimanded pretty quickly for that offense.

    And I’ll bet she would have if the complaining parent had made a fuss about the hunter poses.

  6. I have no idea what is taught in a “Social Emotional Learning” class, and suggesting that junior high kids ought to be impersonating sex workers, even in an exaggerated and presumably light-hearted manner, is problematic at best. (I’m not sure if it’s better or worse that boys as well as girls would likely be doing so.) Nor do I understand the rationale for prioritizing participation based on perceived maturity (or immaturity), or for candy distribution.

    All that said, I think the game itself, stripped of the sexual content, has value. I’ve taught a couple dozen sections of Beginning Acting at the college level, and games that involve the entire body (unlike rock/paper/scissors) and that lend themselves to what I call “serious silliness” (students will invent new ways of making the bear scary, for example, but they need to stay focused, follow the rules, and keep the game moving) are great for breaking down the kind of inhibitions that hamper expressiveness.

    And I think it’s possible to over-analyze. Does it matter that we tend to think of hunters as male and “hookers” as female? How does it complicate things if those roles are reversed, or if the two players are of the same sex? My answer, “not at all,” probably wouldn’t be unanimously accepted by True Believers on either the left or the right.

    It might also be worth mentioning that well over half of my students, virtually all of them from Texas high schools, came into my class knowing and wanting to play a game called “Big Booty,” which has nothing to do with either pirates or posteriors. It’s about concentration and rhythm, and more importantly about maintaining both at once. But the name certainly suggests otherwise.

    Which brings us to other questions, to which I have no firm answers. Is it just the name of the game that’s problematic? If something like “flirt” were substituted for “hooker,” would that change anything? Would the game be appropriate for older students? Or both?

    I have no disagreement at all with the position you’ve taken, but there’s a grey area not too far away from what happened. I’m just not sure where it begins and ends.

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