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.