Video Footage of an Aggressive Charter School Teacher is Stirring Controversy

Video footage of a first-grade teacher, at a prestigious New York charter school, harshly scolding a student for giving a wrong answer is stirring up outrage online and spurring discussion about the competitive culture increasingly ingrained in early education.

Charlotte Dial

The video was reportedly recorded in secret by a teacher's assistant in 2014 at Success Academy — a chain of New York City charter schools. In it, teacher Charlotte Dial berates a first grade girl for stumbling on a math problem she was asked to solve in front of the class.

"One... two...," the girl starts, before stopping and looking to Dial for guidance.

Dial responds by ripping up the girl's paper, which she was asked to use to demonstrate her understanding of the math problem. She then tells the student in a sharp tone to "go to the calm-down chair and sit!"

"There's nothing that infuriates me more than when you don't do what's on your paper," she says.

Charlotte Dial rips up a student's paper

After another student gives a correct answer, Dial turns to the girl again and states, "do not go back to your seat and show me one thing, and then don't do it here. You're confusing everybody. [I'm] Very upset, and very disappointed."

School administrators said Dial was suspended briefly over the incident before being reinstated to her model teacher position, a role in which educators are tasked with helping train other teachers. A Success Academy spokesperson told The New York Times, who received the footage from the teacher's assistant, that Dial's behavior was shocking, and not representative of the school's style. A group of parents are also defended Dial, saying the video was not reflective of their experience at Success.

Charlotte Dial

Part of a larger cultural trend?

Other teachers who worked or work there, however, told the Times that Dial's behavior was an extreme example of a common approach in which students with poor performance are made examples of in order to boost and encourage academic performance. Success Academy's network of schools is lauded for its ability to churn out students who perform well on state tests.

"It's this culture of, 'if you've made them cry, you've succeeded in getting your point across,'" one former teacher, Jessica Reid Sliwerski, told the Times. "I felt sick about the teacher I had become, and I no longer wanted to be a part of an organization where adults could so easily demean children under the guise of 'achievement.'"

Another teacher who resigned recently told the Times that "It felt like I was witnessing child abuse." Yet another said a child cried so hard while struggling to answer a math problem that she vomited.

Brooklyn Success Academy

Despite those accusations, a Success administrator told the Times that the 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."

The reaction to the video and subsequent Times article has been mixed. Some in the article's comment section complained that flustered observers should "get a grip," and expressed the need to "stop coddling children." However, others said the footage exposes a troubling culture that aggressively pursues academic achievement at an increasingly young age — sometimes to the extent that children are mistreated.


"How desperate must these parents be to subject their children to this sort [of] 'education' where test scores are the only measure of success. True learning comes from discovery, the ability to LEARN from mistakes (not be shamed by them) and the willingness to take risks," one commenter wrote.

The incident has provided an insight into a growing debate over the increasingly intense focus on high achievement and on-paper success for early elementary students — a trend which has been criticized for leading to schools like Success Academy excusing otherwise abusive teaching behavior as a necessary stepping stone to academic achievement, particularly on standardized tests.

Supporters say that such schools are demonstrably doing what they set out to do; 93 percent of Success Academy students passed New York state's math exam, compared to the 35 percent that passed from New York City district schools.

However, others wonder if the tactics are truly necessary to promote academic success, especially given the emotional costs.

"High standards, discipline, discovery, ownership (not imposition) of ideas, and a sense of wonder can all be achieved without wringing teachers or students dry," reads a comment on an earlier Times article on Success Academy. "Great teachers never have to humiliate a child or have them lose dignity in the learning process, never."

Watch the video of Dial and the student below. [h/t The New York Times]