More reaction to Ms. Whipple
This week’s story about Dunedin High teacher Maria Raysses-Whipple prompted a steady stream of phone calls and emails to The Gradebook. A few offered new material worth chewing on.
Judy Troutman, a retired teacher and former PCTA union rep at Countryside High, told The Gradebook she worked with Whipple in the 1980s. She said the same things later documented at East Lake High and Dunedin High – parents complaining, students transferring – also happened at Countryside, even though Whipple’s personnel file shows no record of it. She suspects the complaints weren’t put in the file because the principal was looking to transfer her. She said many teachers considered Whipple a problem. She also said she talked to former union director Jade Moore about Whipple but Moore told her she was being “catty” and “we had to give her a chance.”
Two former students and a former colleague from East Lake offered a completely different perspective.
Retired teacher Kathy Michaels said Whipple’s students always seemed to be “engaged, on task, really working hard” and were welcomed in the library because “they knew how to behave.” She said Whipple was strict but had her students’ best interests at heart. “Obviously, there were problems. In this day and age, being strict with the students and holding high expectations are very hard to do,” she said. “She was probably holding this unrealistic expectation of how students should behave.”
Former student Cynthia Zimmerman-Ferguson said she had Whipple twice – in fourth grade at Palm Harbor Elementary and in 12th grade at East Lake, where she graduated in 1992. “I was very happy to have had her in my life,” she wrote in an email.
“She’s just passionate,” Zimmerman-Ferguson, who now lives in Indiana, said in a phone interview. “Passionate about her students. Passionate about her students. She just wants people to exceed.”
So why did so many complain? “She is one who expects 150 percent, and that’s a lot to ask,” Zimmerman-Ferguson said. “She was tough. And you had to not take personal offense to her. The things she said were meant to help you, not harm you.”
Former East Lake student Kimberly Clark said she doesn’t recall student in her class complaining about Whipple. “I just remember having fun,” she said in an interview.
Here is the email she sent The Gradebook:
I am responding to the front page article published by St Pete Times depicting Mrs. Whipple. I am a former graduate of East Lake High School Class of 1993 who had the honor of having Mrs. Whipple teach me 11th grade English. I am appalled by the level of student & parent complaints that have surfaced. If they want to make an issue with the level of education the students are receiving they should do more investigating in the public school system. I went from having a honorary junior year having Mrs. Whipple as my teacher who in my opinion, is respectfully a strict teacher but one that is appreciated for instilling work ethic, confidence, and the drive to succeed to a senior teacher who made a joke out of teaching English. I will not make reference to his/her name for their privacy, but have to question the school systems recommendation to retain such teachers. I feel both a peer panel and student panel should be implemented to make light of the allegations that have surfaced. We are destroying a teacher's credibility based on what a student and/or their parents believe is acceptable teaching. As a former student of a school know for it's affluent neighborhoods, the students and the parents feel they should not have to put forth more than the normal in the classroom and when challenged they speak out against such practices. If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I would seek Mrs. Whipple to be my educator. I am not looking to draw media coverage over this teacher controversy but to be a supporter of Mrs. Whipple and to make a stand for the many teacher's who have recently retired in the previous years due to the demands of the school system with FCATS, classroom size initiative, and countless other issues that have made being an educator and parent question what we should be focusing on- the future of our children.