Oh, #Florida!

Who is the Worst Teacher in Florida? Introducing the Debra Lafave Bad Teacher Award.
The rules are different here.
July 11 2013 5:44 AM

Oh, #Florida!

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Introducing the Debra Lafave Bad Teacher Award.

Attorney John Fitzgibbonsand Debra Lafave speak to the media during a press conference after charges of having sex with a 14-year-old middle school student were dropped in Marion County March 21, 2006 in Tampa, Florida.
Debra Lafave, with attorney John Fitzgibbons, speaks during a press conference in 2006 in Tampa, Fla.

Photo by Tim Boyles/Getty Images

A sizzling new novel about Florida hit bookstores this month. No, I'm not talking about Carl Hiaasen's Bad Monkey (but that one's pretty good). I'm talking about Tampa by Alissa Nutting.

In Nutting's book, a 26-year-old teacher recounts her elaborate seduction of a 14-year-old student. It's based on a Florida case involving a teacher who, according to Nutting, had been one of her classmates at Bloomingdale High School in Valrico years ago.

Nutting's ex-classmate was Debra Lafave, a 23-year-old reading teacher at Greco Middle School whose blond hair and blue eyes made her into a media darling in 2004 even as she faced charges of lewd and lascivious battery on a 14-year-old student. Her pouty-lipped picture became a fixture on front pages and TV screens around the country. Her attorney said she was too pretty for prison, but her look was just right for a chat with Matt Lauer. There was talk of an insanity defense, but she wound up pleading guilty to two felonies and serving probation, to the copious disgust of Nancy Grace.

Lafave has been out of the headlines for a while, but you should expect to see her name pop up all over again thanks to Nutting's book. So while she’s back in the news, I have a proposal. Florida already honors a Teacher of the Year, so I propose we hand out an annual Debra Lafave Bad Teacher Award, too.

The competition is likely to be fierce.

Bad teachers are notoriously hard to fire in Florida. Still, we have had teachers fired for having a side job as a bikini model or for having a past career in gay porn. We have had teachers who got in trouble for tapping a student on the head with a banana and for making some kids wear a “cone of shame” dog collar as seen in the Pixar movie Up.

We have had some teachers who made headlines because they didn’t get along with their students—say, mocking them as both stupid and ugly (“Honey, you look bad every day. Pages will be turning in the yearbook and mirrors will be smashing.”) We had others who made headlines by getting along with their students a little too well. In one case, we had a couple of teachers who clearly had trouble getting along with each other (to the point one went looking for a hitman).

I know 2013 is only half over, but I think we’ve already got a clear winner for this year’s Debra Lafave Bad Teacher Award. I think it should go to the first-grade teacher from Polk County who claimed she was dying just so she could skip class. She kept it up for a whole school year—and probably would've gotten away with it except she then claimed another teacher was trying to kill her.

Now, let me add that many of Florida's teachers are dedicated, passionate, overworked, and underpaid educators doing their level best to reach students who are transient, distracted, or uninterested. Meanwhile folks in Tallahassee are constantly breathing down their necks, and everyone’s grappling with the dreaded Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, or FCAT for short.

Because this is Florida, some people have tried to game the test—for instance, the principal and three assistants at Cocoa High who moved 54 disabled children to a different grade (on paper), so their FCAT scores wouldn’t drag down the whole school.

 The FCAT itself has had problems. Some of the people hired by a contractor to grade the tests turned out to be “janitors, homemakers, and store clerks” with no experience in education.

More recently a science teacher discovered some of the official answers were either wrong or there was more than one right answer for the multiple choice questions. “The Happy Scientist,” as Robert Krampf is known, tried to warn the state about the problem, but Department of Education officials dismissed his concerns and dawdled about making changes.

It turns out the only thing harder to do than fire a bad teacher in Florida is to fix a problem with the test that governs the fate of everything in the educational system. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.