Hartford Elementary Special Education Teacher Disciplined for Calling Students “Maggots”

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A special education teacher is in serious trouble regarding an email in which she calls her own students offensive names.

In a May email obtained exclusively by FOX CT through an open records request, special education teacher Gwendolyn Fenton writes the following statement to a friend:

“I am having an awful day with the monkeys I am supposed to teach.  I would have a better time teaching gorillas to sign than this maggots (sic).”

Fenton has taught for decades, many of her years spent at Hartford schools.  She currently leads a classroom of kids at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School.

FOX CT’s Beau Berman visited her Hartford home Wednesday afternoon to ask about the email.

Berman: Hi, Gwendolyn?

Fenton: No.

Berman: Is she here? Gwendolyn?

Fenton:  No.

While she wouldn’t even say hello at her door, later on by phone, she admitted to sending the email.

“I’m embarrassed. That’s not who I am, I don’t know how it was given to you but it is not what the district expects of me and not what I expected for myself. It was out of a level of frustration,” said Fenton.

Her frustration may have only escalated after clicking send, now that she’s in trouble with the district after administration found out she sent the email, using her district email address nonetheless.

District Spokesman, David Medina, says Ms. Fenton has been placed on administrative leave with pay, pending investigation.

“I referred to them inappropriately. That is not the kind of person that I am,” said Fenton by phone.

The State’s Office of the Child Advocate agrees the comments were inappropriate.

“I feel sick that any school person and educator, particularly a special educator would ever, ever, express such a thought about children,” said Assistant Child Advocate, Mickey Kramer.

Meanwhile, Devon Palmer, a student at the school back in May when the email was sent, defended Ms. Fenton, even after we showed him the email in which she called her students monkeys and maggots.

“She’s a very wonderful teacher. She’s wonderful,” said Palmer.

He says behavior problems are so widespread at the school that it’s actually commonplace for teachers to complain about students.

“I didn’t know she would write something like that but I can honestly think that she would say something like that because she gets mad. Those students I remember one time, they almost jumped her,” said Palmer.

Hartford Public Schools tell us that Fenton had a disciplinary hearing scheduled for Thursday, July 11.

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  • Doodlebug2222

    I think it is very sweet the child defended her, but at the same time – sending an email using her official one (email account) was incorrect. My opinion is – if she got to the extent of such frustration, what avenues does the school have for her to .. talk to them about it?

    We know that most often that behavioral issues can be caused also by simple things related to .. how things are done in the school.

    I think while of course she should be punished to some extent, the school should examine what could be behind this and even discuss how often a teacher should be expected to take vacation, is this a situation of being overworked, understaffed or.. what.

    Not so much to pass blame but to rather really examine the situtation and any "possible" causes on their side of the fence to do what they can for the sake of prevention.

    I think they should have her stand in the middle of the room and have her kids hug her… Nothing can melt frustration better than that. Kids will be kids but teachers and parents should understand – it is nothing personal.. they are after all.. just children.. smile… and endure .. and be a good example of patience to them.

  • ravens533

    Give it a rest. Don't tell me you have never had a bad day and just need to vent your frustrations to a friend. I have heard other teachers and parents say a lot worse about the children in their care. It Is what she does in the classroom that counts.

  • Grumpy0ldMan

    I can see how she might be embarrassed by using the word this when it should have been these but give her a break, teaching is hard and teaching special ed is harder. You should hear the things I say about my coworkers

  • SophieKatt

    It's quite obvious that teaching children just wasn't the right career move for this individual. Perhaps she should contact that truck-driving school again, or perhaps sign up to be a longshoreman, or perhaps secure a job in construction.

    These are three professions that come to mind where derogatory name-calling are more in keeping with the environment.

    Of course the obvious down-side for this individual is the name-calling she will experience at the hands of co-workers, supervisors, customers and peers, as she probably can't take the abuse nearly as well as she can dish it out.

    You can't expect someone of her ilk to be professional and courteous.

    But neither should she expect others to be professional and courteous to HER, either.

    • Kay

      You are a ridiculous, pompous, self-righteous twit. Who hasn't vented in an email. Moreover, an email that she had the reasonable expectation would be private. From her own student: She is a wonderful teacher.

    • nlw

      I would rather my children be taught by her than someone as judgmental and discriminative as yourself. You wouldnt last 5 minutes doing her job with that attitude. At least her expressions were meant to be private. YOU just openly passed judgment on her, truck drivers, longshoreman, and construction workers, let alone implying her co-workers are bullies like yourself. I'm betting your co-workers have plenty to say about that huge, self righteous chip on your shoulder.

  • Rachel441

    It was also a private email to a friend. If you look on the internet you'll find all kinds of blogs in which parents call their own difficult children horrible names for the entire world to see, I've seen some even say they hate their kid when they're having a particularly bad day. Doesn't excuse it, but it is somewhat understandable. I can only imagine how stressful being a special ed teacher would be, they should be able to vent to a friend without them running to the news media.

  • Carl_In_Alaska

    What was FOX CT's pretext for requesting this record in the first place? This is not the type of information the public needs to know.

    Open records requests were intended to uncover serious political corruption, not nitnoid emails sent in the temporary heat of frustration. The media and much of the public have become nothing more than cheap voyeurs.

  • AJD

    It was wrong for this teacher to have emailed this…however have to say after having taught for many years in schools with a lot of discipline and behavior issues, you do get pushed to the limits quite often. I think instead of burning this teacher at the stake, a better news story would be investigating what exactly is going on at this school (and many others across the country) that would lead to a teacher feeling this way. I think it would be quite eye opening for a lot of people who have no clue what is going on in our schools and what our teachers are up against and dealing with. My problem with stories like this is that it tends to make people see all teachers in a negative light. Why is it that all the awful names that students call teachers and the disrespect and horrible behavior that many show everyday is never a story on the news? That is FAR more common than misbehavior by teachers. I have literally seen good teachers have nervous breakdowns and have to go home before the school day is over and be out for prolonged periods of time because of the abuse they suffer at the hands of unruly and disrespectful students. At my last teaching job, it was very common for sub teachers to walk into the office even before lunch time and turn in the room key and walk out. People outside of education have no idea what students are putting teachers through in schools today.

    • Klaatu1

      cmon…."people outside of education"…..the teaching profession is not the hardest job in the world…Please….like the job, do it right, be professional and you wont have these problems

      • coloradoteacher

        AJD is absolutely correct. Klaatu1, you are incorrect. Teachers love their job and even those who are professional and "do it right" have "these problems." Teaching is an extremely difficult job and yes, people outside education may not always understand that. Just because you are a professional teacher does not mean you are a robot with no feelings. You could be the best most professional teacher in the world and still have melt downs. Being constantly disrespected by students and sometimes parents can take a toll on anyone.

      • Klaatu1

        blah blah blah…so is firefighting, ambulance driving EMT's, welders, garbage truck drivers…but they wouldnt and dont the money, benefits, and all the other stuff teachers get..DONT LIKE IT….STOP DOING IT

    • Freeatlast

      This is whole situation is why I don't teach public school anymore. As an side: Klaatu1 is a total fool. Go back under the rock you crawled out from.

  • Kim Crowe/Kentucky

    The main two things I see wrong here are 1)Her private email messages were being read by her employer, and 2)That she used her employer's assigned email account to vent something she had to have known would sound offensive and get her in trouble if it got into the wrong hands.

  • mlblogscbgoldsmith

    Far too many of my fellow teachers see their job as government work. The worst of us have (often through unions) kept public education from becoming an art instead of just a J.O.B.. If a pension and job security matter so much, the DMV is the place for you, not a classroom where you are setting back a nation through sloth, unprofessionalism and short-sighted dreams.

    • AJD

      And the same unions you and others like you like to trash are the same ones that kept the principal of the school I used to work at from writing disciplinary letters to put into my permanent job file over things like one student's locker being open a crack and one student talking to another in line on the way back from the bathroom among a whole assortment of other ridiculous things she tried to do. The union rep in my school got quite a work out dealing with all of her petty BS that had NOTHING to do with how well we were actually doing our jobs.

      • Klaatu1

        huge BS call on this post…..that didnt happen and your principal probably should have written the disciplinary reports in your file…

      • AJD

        I love how people who weren't there always think they "know." I'm sure you're "right" and that's why after three years teaching at my school I was one of only three teachers that were teaching there my first year that were still there after those three years. Heck, my "mentor" teacher (even if you have previous experience, and I already had 4 yrs before going to that district, in that district they assigned you a "mentor" teacher your first year in the district transferred out to another school after my first year. She had taught at that school for ten years and after two with the new principal she got out of dodge) I'm sure you're "right" and there's absolutely no explanation for why after I finally left along with those final two others, the district administration forced her into early retirement because she couldn't retain teachers. There was not a single teacher that I had worked with at that school still left following the school year after I left. They had all quit and gone to other districts or transferred to a different school in that district. This principal had never even taught in a classroom. She was a speech/language pathologist that was actually still going to school to get her masters in educational administration when they hired her and got her provisional certification as a principal because of a shortage of administrators willing to work in high poverty schools.

  • Klaatu1

    Wow…teachers once again show how little class they have….Its amazing to me that when they are found to say disgusting things, or being verbally abusive, the excuse is always "teaching is a stressful job"……get out of it and do something else. The problem is that being a teacher is like winning the lottery…great benefits, only work 200 days a year, tons of paid time off, teacher buffet days, teacher planning days, etc etc….and the retirement is amazing, dont pay for their medical insurance..etc etd

      • Klaatu1

        I dont want to teach…that is the difference..If they want to teach do,,stop complaining about it….

    • Teach

      First, our time off isn't paid. We are given contracts and pay based on a certain number of days in the classroom for a specific period of time during the day. In fact most teachers work many more hours each day unpaid. Our pay is normally spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 we work, but that is for our benefit. And normally teachers in the ten months we work put in more hours that a person with a normal office job.

    • MsEliza

      1. Great benefits? Like what? Please elaborate.
      2. While we are only paid for 200 days a year, most of us work far more than that. I work nearly every Saturday during the school year, and many days during the summer… all UNPAID.
      3. Buffet days? Are you insane?
      4. Planning days? Hah! Never. Those days are spent on professional development, i.e. training and classes to give teachers the opportunity to learn new instructional strategies, methods of assessment, become familiar with the new CCSS, etc. Planning is usually done on our own time, after contract hours, and usually UNPAID.
      5. Retirement is amazing? Depends on what state you teach in, but most retirement systems are quickly going to hell in a handbasket.
      6. Don't pay for their medical insurance? Well geez, I wonder what that $400 taken out of my check for health insurance each month is really going to!

      Any more ignorant misconceptions about the teaching profession I can help clear up?

  • Klaatu1

    yeah the numner of days doesnt come close to the number of days most of us work in a year for the same money and far few benefits…so quit bitching, and either teach or get out

    do why should teachers be paid a yearly salary if they only work 91/2 months a year…wth is that about

    • MsEliza

      Teachers are NOT paid a yearly salary. They are paid for their contracted number of days (usually around 190). Teachers then have the option of spreading their pay out over the course of 12 months, which most opt to do. When teachers are getting paid during the summer, they are not getting paid for their time off. The paycheck is simply paying them for time already worked. It's a simple concept, really. However some ignorant individuals like yourself have yet to understand how it works.

  • JB182

    The article says nothing of how she is in the classroom. There are days when I have called my boss, co-workers, and subordinates much worse when venting to my friends. Is it a reflection of how I feel 100% of the time, NO, but there are days when I want to run screaming from the building…lol.

    We all need to vent Sometimes what we say comes out harsh. If she said this to the children in her care that would have been one thing, but she was just letting off steam to a friend and unlucky for her she did it in writing and everyone found out.

    I would be mortified if some of the things I had said went public, but hey I am only human.

  • nlw

    An important factor that is missing in anything that is written vs being said/heard, is tone. It seems everyone is assuming her tone was hot tempered, when in fact, if it wasn't HEARD, then its really just a guess as to what the manner is in which it was written. No teacher makes the choice to teach for decades if they REALLY felt this way. I've said worse about my coworkers and customers when mildly venting, or joking around and trying to be funny, when conversing with someone outside the circle of the situation. Her only fault is that she wrote it in her business email acct. Lesson learned. Now lets move ON!

  • RMH

    I only wonder why when people are "caught" saying offensive things, the first thing they say is "that is not me" If that is not you, then who the heck was it. It was you, just you being frustrated. Own it, then you can deal with the why. We are all entitled to bad days, it's what we doing during those difficult moments that make the difference. If teaching is too much for you, then maybe it's time to find another profession. Parents are entrusting their children to you for part of the day, and most of the year.