A Former Local Student’s Perspective on the Teacher Who Said Santa Doesn’t Exist
I was surprised to learn last week that the second grade teacher who told her students that Santa Claus doesn’t exist was in my hometown of Nanuet, NY, at my old elementary school. And as I’ve followed the story, I’ve been dismayed that a single mistake could cause so much trouble for a dedicated and loved educator.
I didn’t have Leatrice Ann Eng as a teacher, but I clearly remember her warm smile and welcoming attitude from the hallways and schoolwide activities at G.W. Miller Elementary. Ironically, I recall that her class’ winter party, with her homemade treats, was a famous and widely-envied event. When this story broke, several of her former students showed their support for Ms. Eng on Facebook.
The reality of what happened (talking about the North Pole during a geography lesson) seems incredibly different than the media’s image of a mean-spirited non-believer going out of her way to dash the hopes of children. I completely understand that it was not Ms. Eng’s place to discuss this with her students, and as a veteran teacher, Ms. Eng probably knows that too- she is reportedly apologizing to each family in her class personally; but this mistake likely came from the desire to expand her students’ understanding of the world around them, a motivation that should be applauded, not condemned.
Internet commentators actually sound pretty mild regarding the mishap, with many acknowledging that the teacher was not malicious, even if she made a mistake. Unfortunately, the media raked Ms. Eng over the coals in a cowardly attempt to manufacture a scandal. The pandering NY Post called her a “sourpuss,” “Scrooge-like,” and “evil”; local newscasters said the same, all as if these biased epithets were facts of the story. Does this sound like the smiling, party-throwing teacher I knew?
Although I hate to pick apart this non-event further, I can’t help but see this as an example of the need for tenure and strong teachers unions. While the anti-labor forces on the right want you to believe that these safeguards only help incompetent teachers, the truth is that even amazing educators like Ms. Eng face overblown controversies in the course of decades-long careers. Often, only the unions support the misunderstood and wrongfully accused. Fortunately, Ms. Eng appears to be avoiding harsh punishment from the school, but it easily could have been otherwise.
Yes, Ms. Eng, there is a Santa Claus. And I believe he’ll bring the goodwill and gratitude that teachers deserve for dedicating themselves to the education and well-being of children, this year and every year. Happy Holidays!