In the fall of 2014, an assistant teacher secretly recorded Ms. Charlotte Dial at Success Academy charter school in Brooklyn, NY as she ripped up a first grader’s homework and publicly berated her for answering a question incorrectly. “There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” she says, as the girl retreats. After sending the girl out of the circle and having another child demonstrate how to solve the problem, Ms. Dial again chastises her, saying, “You’re confusing everybody.” She then proclaims herself “very upset and very disappointed.”
After being shown the video last month, Ann Powell, a Success spokeswoman, described its contents as shocking and said Ms. Dial had been suspended pending an investigation. But a week and a half later, Ms. Dial returned to her classroom and her role as an exemplary teacher within the network. Success’s own training materials, provided by the network’s leader, Eva S. Moskowitz, say that teachers should never yell at children, “use a sarcastic, frustrated tone,” “give consequences intended to shame children,” or “speak to a child in a way they wouldn’t in front of the child’s parents.”
Ms. Moskowitz dismissed the video as a one-off occurrence. A group of parents gathered by the Cobble Hill school’s principal defended Ms. Dial and said the video did not reflect their experience of the school. But interviews with 20 current and former Success teachers suggest that while Ms. Dial’s behavior might be extreme, much of it is not uncommon within the network.
The mother of the girl in the video, in emails to The Times, initially supported the school and asked that the video not be published, citing her daughter’s privacy. After the network said that Ms. Dial would return to the classroom, she said she was unhappy with the school, but declined to talk further. Ms. Dial did not respond directly to requests for comment, but gave a statement through the school, saying, “I’m deeply committed to the children and families of our school, and I’m sorry for my lapse in emotional control 15 months ago. As I tell my scholars to do, I will learn from this mistake and be a better teacher for it.”
Ms. Moskowitz said in an interview and a subsequent email that Ms. Dial’s behavior did not match Success’s educational philosophy, but she also called her “a wonderful and committed teacher” and said she had lost her cool because she “so desperately wants her kids to succeed and to fulfill their potential.” She said Ms. Dial had been reprimanded and had received training in how to be more aware of her emotions and manage them. She said it was possible that some teachers — “I think it’s really a handful of people” — had misinterpreted the network’s philosophy and that, out of an abundance of caution, the network would provide additional training to all its teachers in the importance of tone in speaking to students. Still, Ms. Moskowitz said the video was not indicative of any wider problem, and she questioned the motives of the assistant teacher who recorded it.
“This video proves utterly nothing but that a teacher in one of our 700 classrooms, on a day more than a year ago, got frustrated and spoke harshly to her students,” she wrote in her email.
But Joseph P. McDonald, a professor of teaching and learning at New York University’s school of education, who viewed the video at The New York Times’s request, described Ms. Dial’s behavior as “abusive teaching.”
“We don’t see enough here to know for sure that this classroom is typically full of fear, but I bet that it is,” he wrote in an email. “The fear is likely not only about whether my teacher may at any time erupt with anger and punish me dramatically, but also whether I can ever be safe making mistakes.”
What actions, if any, do you think Success Academy should have taken against Ms. Dial? Do you agree that she may have simply lost her cool for a few or is there a larger more serious issue here?