A Metro elementary school teacher was placed on administrative leave Monday after an audio tape of her insulting her students surfaced.
Noelle Smith teaches third grade at Sylvan Park Elementary School in Nashville.
In an exclusive interview, a concerned parent told Nashville's News 2 he placed a tape recorder in his daughter's backpack after she made a disturbing statement.
“She made the statement a couple of nights ago and it just killed me,” said the father who asked not to be identified. “[She said], 'Well, maybe I should just die.'”
“I mean she's just a kid,” he continued. “I said, ‘Honey, don't say that, that's way too far. That's too much, just calm down. Do your homework. Pay attention.' Things like that, but the aggressive nature that we ended up catching, that I didn't even believe existed, really explained everything.”
The parents put the recorder in their daughter's backpack to see what exactly Smith was saying to students last Tuesday.
“Alright, put it in your pocket, its recording. Make sure nobody sees it and you don't tell anybody either,” the mother is heard telling her daughter.
On the tape, Smith is caught making degrading remarks to her students.
“Mark it wrong. Get a brain. I don't know if you can grow one overnight,” she says.
“How hard is that [student's name]? Impossible? And I think you actually have to read information carefully before you try to answer things,” she says to another.
“I think you're really going to bomb the language and reading part [student's name]. I'm not playing when I say that,” Smith says to a third.
The relentless insults continue and don't stop at the students. Smith also insults their parents.
“Your parents are your very first teacher and they have a job to do,” she remarks. “Your mother is frankly not doing her job.”
She tells another student, “This is ridiculous. Call the Homework Hotline. Get your old brother. I know nobody speaks English at your house. Maybe they should learn just a little bit more so they can help you with your work. I don't know what to say. If I lived in this country I would want to learn the language.”
By the end of the day, the hidden tape recorder captured more than three hours of audio.
“We didn't know when to stop listening to the full three hours, but we tried to say, 'Okay if it calms down in the next two or three minutes, we'll stop and think about what we're going to do,' but those two or three minutes never came,” the girl's father said. “The sad thing is I wish it was on camera so I could just see how crazy she was acting.”
He continued, “When she came home that day when we put the tape recorder in her backpack, she said, ‘This is the first day I wasn't scared because you would hear everything that was said.'”
School Officials' reactions
Nashville's News 2's alerted Metro school officials about the recording.
After listening to just 25 minutes, Associate Superintendent of Elementary Schools Brenda Steele stated she had heard enough.
Smith, a tenured teacher, was told to report to the administration building Monday morning.
School officials told Nashville's News 2 Smith will remain on leave while the incident is investigated.
“The employee is on leave during that process and there are several steps. It can take some time, but the teacher won't return to the classroom during this investigation and during this process,” Assistant to the Director of Metro Schools, Meredith Libbey said.
Director of Metro School Dr. Jesse Register added, “We have a lot of teachers and anytime we have an issue like that, we address it immediately. That teacher has been removed from the classroom until we complete that investigation. It's really not appropriate for me to say anything else.”
Nashville's News 2 contacted Principal Evalina Cheadle on Tuesday regarding the incident.
Her only comment was, “No comment.”
On Tuesday, a letter was sent home to parents regarding the incident.
The letter signed by Principal Cheadle reads in part, “It is with a heavy heart I write this letter. Our third grade teacher Mrs. Smith has been placed on indefinite administrative leave to allow for an investigation into audio taped evidence received by MNPS.”
Parents said they were surprised to learn of Smith's leave.
“It's very hard to hear,” parent Terri Lovett said.
Former Sylvan Park parent Penny Davis told Nashville's News 2 she had her son moved to Charlotte Park Elementary earlier this school year because of Smith's teaching style.
“In her class, he had straight Fs,” Davis said, “two weeks after he left her on November 9 he [comes] home [with] an award from another school… Ever since then, every six weeks he's got another one. His reading level supposedly went from a 24 to a 40.”
Davis said she is not surprised by what was discovered on the recording.
“Not shocked at all. I'm glad because now, not only will it not happen to my child, it won't happen to any other child,” she said.
Despite the shocking audio recordings, one parent that Nashville's News 2 spoke with said their child had a “wonderful experience” in Smith's classroom.
“I think a lot of this is just the experience that you've had and I want to go on record and say we've had a great one with her,” Ellen Parker Bibb said.
Bibb went on to say that her daughter was in Smith's classroom a couple of years ago and that she was her child's favorite teacher of all time.
“She was able to get her to be motivated. She had all kinds of ideas about what she wanted to do. She wanted to be a writer and she was constantly quoting Smith. She was just perfect for my daughter and her personality,” she said.
Bibb also added she was shocked at what was discovered on the recent audio recording.
“That's kind of indefensible. You can't say that was a great thing to say or this was one of your prouder moments,” said Bibb. “Nobody has anything great to say about her having a bad day. Obviously, I'm sure she was not at her best.”
Bibb went on to describe Smith as an opinionated and outspoken person and even admitted that she can be a tough teacher.
“I would hate to throw the baby out with the bath water because there is so much she does so well,” she said.
Smith remains on administrative leave pending an investigation by district leaders.
A long term, competent teacher is scheduled to complete the school year in Smith's place.