Ronnie Polaneczky: Some advice for teacher who attacked pro-Romney student

Posted: October 10, 2012

ON TUESDAY morning, supporters will rally behind Port Richmond sophomore Samantha Pawlucy as she returns to Charles Carroll High School after being harassed by her geometry teacher for wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt.

Local political candidates (of course!) and others will gather outside the school as Samantha, 16, reads aloud the First Amendment and then leads everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance before the school day kicks in.

Hopefully, she'll enter Carroll to cheers instead of the jeers she endured on Sept. 28 for having the gall to express, in pink-and-white cotton, her preference for a Republican White House.

Note to Pawlucy: You know what's great? You're not even of voting age, yet you conducted your own research on the presidential candidates and donned your tee after concluding that Mitt Romney best reflects your values.

I know adults twice your age who take less care at the ballot box.

Note to geometry teacher Lynette Gaymon, who started the trouble when she deemed Pawlucy's political leanings unacceptable: You know what's sad? You didn't see before you a great kid who was civically engaged enough to wear her heart on her chest. Instead, you saw a threat to your own political beliefs and you exploited your authority to counter it.

That's unconscionable.

Since the tale of this ideological smackdown went viral, Pawlucy's family says that she has received harassing phone calls and even a death threat. Gaymon hasn't spoken with reporters, but her aunts, with whom she lives, have said that her voice mail is jammed with vile messages from anonymous taunters.

The thing is, Gaymon could end the drama for everyone if she would do what she should have done at the very beginning: Offer an apology.

A real one, this time, to replace the half-baked mea culpa she made during a meeting at the school last week with Pawlucy's dad. Reportedly, she became defensive and said she was joking when she told Pawlucy that Carroll was a "Democratic" school and that Pawlucy's Romney/Ryan T was akin to Gaymon wearing a T-shirt supporting Ku Klux Klan.

The meeting ended with Gaymon walking out, which tells us all we need to know about the effectiveness of her "I'm sorry."

So, I offer this advice to Gaymon, 28, who has been praised by some students for her energy and fun demeanor but who apparently hasn't developed the maturity to apologize like a grown-up:

Take a deep breath. Try to remember what it was like to be 16 and to feel humiliated in front of your peers. Own your role in Pawlucy's feeling that way when you ragged her about her shirt. Realize that everyone makes mistakes and vow to learn from your own whopper.

I'll even give you a script.

"Samantha, I am so sorry I hurt you. I thought I was being funny, but I realize now that there was nothing funny about what I did. I crossed a line. What upsets me is that I didn't even know it, which means I have a lot to learn. That embarrasses me, because I love teaching and want to be a role model to students like you. So I feel terrible that I let you down. You deserved better.

"I am going to try very hard to figure out why I felt entitled to say what I did, because I don't want to ever make a mistake like that again. And I am going to do everything I can to make sure that other students don't harass you because of what I started.

"I hope you will be able to forgive my insensitivity, but I understand if you can't. I think you're a strong and courageous young woman. And, again, I am so sorry for what I did."

And then remind yourself that everyone falls down. It's how we get back up that determines whether we're crippled by the fall or stronger for it.

So apologize, the right way this time. Your impressionable young students are watching. This could be the most important lesson you'll ever teach them.


Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at polaner@phillynews.com or 215-854-2217. Follow her on Twitter @RonniePhilly. Read her blog at philly.com/ronnieblog, or for recent columns go to philly.com/Ronnie.

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