Editorial

‘Retiring’ was only way for Wiersema to exit gracefully

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

The news of the early “retirement” of Hopkins High School social studies teacher Robert Wiersema was interesting, but not surprising.

Wiersema was placed on leave in November shortly after the tragic fatal shooting of four students at Oxford High School. There were complaints that he stepped over the line between freedom of speech and educational professionalism when he outlined for students just how he would have, hypothetically, shot up the school in a more efficient manner.

I’ve been watching and reading reaction, and it has become clear to me that Wiersema for a long time has been a controversial figure who has strong supporters and strong detractors. Some believe him to be quality instructor who challenges the kids. Others assert he has shown a lack of professional integrity and it finally caught up with him two months ago.

I’ve personally talked to other teachers who have admired him. I’ve also talked to many Wayland teachers who had nothing good to say about him.

I had a personal experience with him while he was president of the Wayland Board of Education.

Let’s go back to March 2003, when President George W. Bush and Congress were preparing to invade Iraq and oust strongman Saddam Hussein. My daughter, Heather, often stood at the corner of Main and Superior Streets downtown holding signs exhorting American leaders not to start a war in Iraq.

I heard rumors that some people on the other side of the issue were going to make trouble with these “wrong-headed protesters,” so I and a few friends made an appearance to show support for her, a local pastor and a few other “peacenicks.”

There were passing motorists who honked in support of her signs and some hooted and hollered, “Bomb Saddam now!”

Then came Robert Wiersema in his car on the way to a school board meeting. He parked his vehicle, got out and promptly crossed the street, stepped in front of us with signs in support of President Bush and invading Iraq. He yelled at passing motorists like a cheerleader and seemed to take great pleasure in stealing away our freedom of speech by a form of “cutting in line.”

He was confronted by retiring teacher Jeff Salisbury, who asked him why he was so exuberant in his support for Bush and the war and why he wanted to physically block the “peacenicks” in such an obnoxious way. There was another pro-war and pro-Bush demonstration, but it was being held quite a ways to the west on Superior Street.

My thought of Wiersema that day was that his conduct was unbecoming of a school board president. Though he certainly had just as much right to free speech, he didn’t have to be such a jerk about it.

A few years later I did substitute teaching at Hopkins High School and during lunch hour passed Wiersema’s classroom where there was a lot of commotion. I learned that he was showing students the movie “The Incredible Hulk.”

Then I came across a letter he wrote to a student who had expressed opposition to the Iraq War and after reading it believed his attitude to be condescending with a twist of “I know better than you.”

When a Hopkins teacher waxed eloquent about what a great teacher he was, I replied that I thought that emotionally he acted like a spoiled 10-year-old. My comment was not appreciated.

I also came across his loud and proud denunciation of the teachers’ union and his decision to resign from the union to teach as an independent contractor. I was told two months ago that his decision to leave the teachers’ union very easily could hurt his legal chances if the school district chose to show him the door in the wake of this unfortunate incident.

I do know that few teachers who knew him Wayland had anything good to say about him and he interpreted his loss for re-election at the polls in 2010 as a consequence of the teachers’ union joining forces to have him ousted.

It was good that Wiersema decided to “retire” rather than fight a potential firing for misconduct. He did nothing wrong legally, but his poor judgment and boorish and arrogant behavior indeed did finally catch up with him.

14 Comments

  • Wow…you are definitely conveying ‘truth and accuracy’. It is amazing. Maybe we should sit down and talk like two rational people?

    • Robert,

      This will never happen. This guy doesn’t operate this way. He usually relies on his “credible” sources……….

      Cheers!!

    • Opportunity cost and all…what sells and makes money? Surely not providing fair, truthful, and accurate articles (find us one source that actually does!)

      That said, this is the business owner’s decision and fortunately you are very well aware of this and know you’ll never get this opportunity here, or really anywhere.

  • I think the author’s kettle is calling the pot black? Those who live in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones?

    • This is what I see, and I find it a sad state of the world we live in today:

      schadenfreude
      shäd′n-froi″də
      noun
      Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
      Malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else’s misfortune.
      delight in another person’s misfortune

  • Mr. Wiersema,

    I have heard only good things about you. Often if one is too direct of a communicator, the frail turn into sheep.

    Keep your chin up and thanks for being a great teacher.

  • Mr Wiersema wasn’t a classroom rookie. Anyone who has any classroom experience with high school students knows what’s said in the classroom becomes public information minutes after class ends. With so many students having cell phones minutes can become seconds after the student(s) start posting or texting.

    Why Mr Wiersema felt he needed to say anything about how he would have done things differently and avoided capture is a mystery to many of us. If it was in the context of responding to a student’s question, after two decades in the classroom Mr. Wiersema should have known better. A succinct answer could have been it’s a good idea not to have guns at school then moved on. The Hopkins Public Schools felt his response was deserving of suspension. Mr. Wiersema decided he would retire.

    Mr. Wiersema became a public person years ago when he ran for and won a seat n the Wayland Union School Board. He went public with his reasons to leave the teacher’s union. I know at least a half a dozen career teachers who left the teachers union at their districts but they did so quietly. Mr. Wiersema shouldn’t be surprised when previous remarks and actions are brought back after his recent comments and subsequent retirement.

    He’s not a victim.

  • Mr. Wiersema,
    Thank you for being such a good teacher. It’s a shame that you had to leave. I enjoyed your classes and thought you were one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.

  • It would behoove us all to put aside personal feelings, and remember that there are always at least two versions of the story. This matter is between the Hopkins Board of Education and Mr. Wiersema. Sometimes it is none of our business to know the details.

  • Mr. Wiersema was one of the best teachers that I had the opportunity to have his class in. I enjoyed his class enough that I signed up for every class possible he taught. Years later, he provided me with the skills and knowledge to be incredibly successful from his economics teachings.

    It is sad and unfortunate that he will no longer be able to provide students with real skills at Hopkins, but is the continuance of the downfall of the district. (I’m awaiting the public announcement/media coverage of current teacher at the district who poses a TRUE danger to students), but I won’t hold my breath that this will ever see the light of day.

    Having Mr. W as a teacher, there was active shooters at other schools in the country. He likely had this same lesson which was bent out of context (hence the no wrongdoing found by the police). In order to understand and prevent a shooter, you have to think like a shooter. That said, I would wager a highly accurate assumption that this less was along the lines of “this is what I would do and this is how you would LEARN to prevent it.” If there was 1 classroom I would feel most save in, it would be his.

    Of course I’ve been graduated for over 10 years so it is likely I don’t know many of the teachers at Hopkins now, but that said, I can only hope and pray for the students and community there is another like Mr. Wiersema that comes into the district.

    The best part of this situation is the fact that many of my peers in high school have realized how valuable Wiersema’s lessons were and how they carry over into the real world. I call these folks peers, as they were not friends with me in HS nor are they now, very few of them took classes outside of the required ones with Mr. W, and I’d say fewer even “liked” him as a teacher. He was challenging and was my first experience in my educational path as to what real life would be like. It is not always pretty; but if you work hard, stay true to yourself and always learn, you will succeed.

    Thank-You for making my life and countless of other student’s lives better.

    • Grateful life is like golf you are are only as good as your last shot. A fine teacher to you and maybe many others hit his ball out of bounds. In the old days you took a stroke and started over. Not now no room for error so much from learning from your mistakes. So many people waiting to pounce on anybody for anything. Some of them should look in the mirror!!! I wish Mr. Wiersema good luck in the future.

  • Love the Wayland Town Broadcast, not only as a former graduate of Wayland HS and resident but as a journalist and a newspaper editor myself for twenty years. What a fantastic service editor and owner Dave Young you provide to the area in the era of shrinking, balanced news reporting. Do not know the teacher in this thread but as a teacher of 19 years myself, teaching the same subjects, I glean from the comments and this news story that this teacher displayed a flagrant lack of professionalism. As a mental health professional, I also detect red flags of an egotist, narcissist, and an unstable personality who lacked poor professional judgement. Teachers generally and those in history and government should never let students know personal politics until they are retired. Students are captive audiences, and at ages when adult role models, no matter how lacking common sense, leave strong impressions. Me thinks with this instructors divisive private views made so public, he should have taught in a more doctrinaire charter school or private school where students of parents like him would have welcomed his views. Public school teachers should always be balanced role models intellectually and emotionally for all students while in the classroom and on the job. Academics, role modeling citizenship skills, and more importantly teaching effective thinking processes should be the priority. How best can we teachers prepare students to think for themselves in a rapidly changing world of 24/7 information? We must teach and prepare our students to know how to read, research, and communicate well. They must have everyday skills to know how to discern credible information from the fake. Having many former students on my Facebook several have told me they suspected my politics but never knew. I’m proud of that! A government/history teacher should always help students keep their eyes on the prize, well educated citizens knowing how to run their lives and nation!

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