New York Teacher Left Unemployed After Writing Column About Prior Work As Sex Worker

We have followed a disturbing trend of teachers, and other public employees, who have been fired for activities in their private lives, including jobs previously held in the entertainment or sex industries. Now, an elementary teacher in the Bronx, Melissa Petro, has lost her job because she wrote a column in the Huffington Post on her brief stint as a sex worker. Dubbed the “Hooker Teacher,” Petro was shown the door at the demand of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In the column, Petro objected to the move to block people from using Craigs List for sexual services and added this bombshell: “From October 2006 to January 2007, I accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men I met online in what was then called the ‘erotic services’ section of” The column by Petro caused a firestorm of controversy from a cover story in the New York Post to an array of blog and print stories. Now, in a Salon article, Petro details how the label as the “Hooker teacher” has barred her from getting another job despite an excellent record that includes two master’s degrees, five years’ experience in nonprofit work and three years as a teacher.

The story raises the question of why a teacher cannot write about such experiences in her private life and advocate for similarly situated people. She is not saying that she is currently a prostitute. I also doubt that elementary students are going to be reading the article and most are unlikely to know of or understand the controversy. My concern is that this growing list of discarded teachers and employees creates a chilling effect on the free speech and association of citizens who are not given any concrete guideline as to what is considered unacceptable viewpoints or speech. The result is that teachers may over-compensate and avoid any speech or associations that could be challenged by any parent. I realize there must be some ability for a school to deal with extreme cases but I am unsure of what standard applies to give notice to teachers. It also seems to me that any controversy now caused by a teacher’s writings or statements in his or her private life can be used as a basis for termination.

We have previously seen teachers (Here, England, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), here, here, students (here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here).

I have only read a few quotes for Petro’s writings but the objections appear to be her admission that she was once a sex worker and her failure to denounce such work by others (and supporting their use of Craigs List). Should that be the basis for forcing a teacher out of her job? What do you think?

Source: AOL

42 thoughts on “New York Teacher Left Unemployed After Writing Column About Prior Work As Sex Worker

  1. Interesting case. Why she used her real name is beyond me, but her past experience in that field is troubling as a teacher. I do believe she should not have been fired for it, but I am guessing that she skipped that work on her resume! The school district should not be allowed to fire a teacher for expressing her first amendment rights outside of school.

  2. Bloomberg…..wanted her fired for being a what…. now exactly how did he make his money….. oh yeah… making people feel good about getting screwed out of their money…. hmmmmm…..

  3. In my career, I have come across any number of professional women who worked as call girls early in life. Some paid their way through graduate school to a doctorate that way. Others, just to survive.

    Bloomberg’s hypocrisy, like that of many politicians, knows no bounds. Lessee, what do they call people who perform favors for money….ummmm…the word starts with a ‘w’ as I recall. There is a big building in Washington, DC where five or six hundred of them supply ‘services’ to their johns. Much bigger whorehouse than the Mustang Ranch.

  4. I wish I could say only in America but as your examples show this disgraceful practise of firing people for things they do in private is carried on here in the UK too.

    I once wrote a constitution for a newly formed district committee and in it I was very careful to tie down the committee’s powers to suspend or remove someone such that they could only do it in relation to something done while representing the committee, which I also carefully defined such that it could not be said a person being a committee member always represented the committee.

    These broad spectrum powers really need to be challenged. While I wouldn’t want to work somewhere I’m not wanted no mayor should have the power to summarily remove someone and any question or disciplinary hearing should be confidential.

    Did you know that if you complain about a judge in Texas the rules state that the panel that deals with it cannot name the judge in corrispondance; they can only refer to the case number and the collective noun, judge. That’s the kind of protections we should all have.

  5. mespo,

    The story I posted is about a student….54…at oakland university that wrote a paper for his graduate degree in A critical writing class hot for the teacher…..

  6. This is not surprising as the parents probably were calling and complaining constantly. It is shame as those teaching jobs in NYC pay well and have good benefits.

  7. She displayed rather poor judgment, e.g., using her own name. Her students may not have read the column or understood her previous occupation (actually one or two precocious students in the school might have read it), but parents may have read it. I’d be a little shocked if she was the teacher of my child, but through my research work in HIV prevention, I’ve known a lot of people who have engaged in one form of transactional sex or another, and I wouldn’t be a blue nose about. The problem here is that teachers are figures of authority not only for children, but also for their parents and my professional experience aside, many if not most parents would be uncomfortable with this. She should have used a pseudonym.

    If the economy was in better shape, one could advise her to go into real estate, a field that regularly attracts burnedout, laid off or occupationally unhappy teachers. It would be a place where “whoreish” behavior is well rewarded, although I say that knowing that it insults actual sex workers. I’m only being slightly facetious. One of the major commercial real estate brokers in my former city of residence had worked for many years in porn and escorted, as well.I know someone else with a similar background who does very well selling high end men’s clothing.

  8. As long as your personal life does not negatively impact your work life why is it anyones business? It seems to me that far too often those who have the biggest problem with this divide are those who have the most to hide.

    Heck a lot of teachers around here probably wish they could hook, it pays better and gets about equal respect form most people.

  9. For me, the most troubling aspect of this particular situation is that NYC apparently cannot/will not fire teachers and administrators who are obviously and pathetically incompetent. Why? Apparently it’s very easy to fire a teacher if something about the teacher ruffles the self-righteousness of one of the highly placed progressives in the political system
    Methinks this is just another example of the ferocious assault on our lives, liberties and happiness. It’s part of the divide and conquer and make them fearful of gov procedures that are part and parcel of the progressives stunningly successful continuing take over of our country. Dictators throughout time have have been apt at applying these techniques. How close are we to living under a tyranny? I think that all it will take is for one national emergency to pop up (probably conveniently right before the 2012 Nov election).

    We need to start preparing for and proceeding at taking back this country and restoring the God of Creation as undisputed leader. To think that we can appease the very destructive progressives by giving in to them so we don’t upset them is like feeding raw meat to a man eating tiger in an attempt to turn it into a vegetarian. Or to tax and spend our way to prosperity. Same lie, different words.

  10. If you want to see spineless jellyfish, there’s no need to go to an aquarium. Just visit your local school board. Rounded-end scissors? Don’t worry, we have a zero-tolerance policy for knives and guns. Aspirin or prescribed medication? We have zero-tolerance policy for drugs. Critical thought? We definitely have a zero-tolerance policy for that. Any quack or crank can take their idiocy to a local school and have the administration jumping through hoops to accommodate them.

  11. Richard,

    Your first two paragraphs hit the nail on the head.

    However, blaming what happened to that teacher on “progressives” is off the mark. I’d be willing to bet that the bulk of the complaints and the bulk of the people who find her past affiliation “unacceptable” are not progressives but most likely rather regressive religious folk. It is these same regressives (see most of the GOP presidential candidates) with their ignorance of common sense and inordinate embrace of “God’s word” that will introduce a type of shariah law into this country if we allow it.

    I do understand that our civil liberties are under attack from BOTH sides, but to blame one sect for the problem is irresponsible and somewhat dangerous IMHO.

  12. This brings to fore the topic of teaching as a career choice. Probably 99% of the readers of this blog have already chosen their profession in life. But many have children, nieces, nephews who are out there in life at the vortex of some path in the college level –is is law, medicine, business, college teaching or high school or lower grades of teaching. Teaching below the college level is a poor career choice in America, unless: you have no free will, are a sheep, a goat, have no political convictions, care not about your fellow teachers, care not about the lot of the non conforming student. In my prior incarnation as a human I had a number of friends, fellow classmates, who fell into teaching at the grade school or high school level. Of these folks the old saw about teachers is so true. Almost all of them went in dumb and come out dumb too. But the dumbest are principals. Go to your high school class reunion and see what the former football jocks are doing now or did until their dotage lifted them into retirement. Those who can: Do; Those who cant: Teach; those who cant teach: Preach to Teachers.
    I have modified it a bit to include the Principals at the end of the line there.

    This too, is why most dogs abhor Dog Schools, Kennels, and all the Sit Up Fido! People of the world. Now, if we get to roam PetSmart with a full line of credit and a prosperous Dog Pal (no dog ever says Owner), then one is in Dog Heaven. No self respecting dog would ever set paw in some public or catholic grade school in NYC. We lose our self respect in the first catagory and our rear ends in the later..

  13. Wasn’t there some issue a few years ago at one of the girls prep schools in Dallas…about the head mistress and one of the major donors….I think I recall that the mistress was allowed to use the NYC apt for services rendered….and one of the maids told the wife and it kinda got turned into a wide open scandal…..that was quickly hushed….No Linda Tripp in Texas at the time….It was was kinda of a messy divorce and…the head mistress exited the school rather abruptly for family reasons….but with a hefty leaving bonus….

    Maybe I am confusing this with one of those Texas Romance Novels…..But….I don’t think so….I hear they maybe even another messy Texas Divorce going on now…But whose talking…..

  14. She looks like a sweet person to me. Apparently she is permitted no past and her current perfromance is irrelevant. Teachers must be marble pillars you know. Why not just use the scarlet letter? But as Hawthorne also said in The House of Seven Gables, “Life is made up of marble and mud.” Give the kid a break and hire her back.

  15. Rich

    “She should have used a pseudonym”

    Yup, and what’s his name shouldn’t have written “Walden Pond”, where he calls for the FULL COMMITTMENT of each and every…
    Which few did then and fewer perhaps now. Many opposed the Mexican war then, but few would do anything; only waiting for others to solve the problem, whereupon they could utter mild approval.

    Seems this lady is a person whom we should all emulate, putting our asses where our mouths are, althoúgh some dont’t even come that far.
    She did, she put Freedom of speech to use. Tell me your latest exercise.

    Where we would be if we did? Don’t know, but we’d feel much better for it, and as some say: “They can’t fire us all”.

    Here what you say as a spokesperson is on the record; your private views are yours to express. Your sins or crimes do not pursue you through life, although they might make you eliminated for teaching, etc..
    Nor are your sexual/gender choices discussed, even perjoratively by critics. But it’s long from a paradise. No bragging, just facts.

  16. AY,
    “about the head mistress and one of the major donors….”
    I wonder if you meant headmistress or was she in fact head mistress.
    Just as I suggest using major donor and also majordonor as two slightly different concepts.

    Hire her back, YES to head a group to promote study of living examples of our bill or rights. A much needed supplement in our schools

  17. I707,

    The law of unintended consequences or was it….She could have very well have been the head mistress while being the headmistress…. it is all in the enunciation….of head and mistress…..

  18. Talking Dog, my father – a teacher until the advent of the computer age – used to say, “Those who can – Do; Those who can’t – Teach; those who can’t teach – Coach; and those who can’t teach or coach – become Administrators. ( He only met bad coaches during his short tenure. )

  19. Those that can’t do- teach. ? It’s easy to screw people over if you have first demonized hem in the society. I’ve heard that old canard for a couple of generations and it is always grating. Maybe it wouldn’t be so easy or the Teabagger thugs in office like Walker to destroy teachers and the school system if it weren’t that such a pervasive lie and insult wasn’t common. It’s long past the time to retire that attitude, it invites abuse.

  20. What is interesting is the assumption that working as a sex worker is wrong or immoral, as if she has something seedy in her past to be forgiven or punished.

    In other contexts, such as women marrying into money for their beauty and sexual prowess, or even having sex in exchange for dinner, sex for money or goods or services is widely accepted. In fact, the traditional family is partly based on financial security in exchange for domestic and sexual services. Why isn’t that considered immoral?

    Treating someone badly for being, or having been, a sex worker is immoral and often hypocritical.

  21. mal33,

    Are you trying to get one, two or more comments from a few on here that would view this statement as extremely condemnation on women who still suffer…… not all women have it as made as you claim…. some still have to work at it….. then again…. some as you suggest are very bitter….. The same ones that blame the male world…. still stick up for Pelosi that lost the House for the Democrats….. somethings sre better left unsaid….. I hear a train wreck for you soon…. somewhere…you will be deballed…..

  22. One can use Craigslist for sex? Oh well, perverts are everywhere.

    Sorry about that … I think I have Craigslist confused with Angieslist, Emilyslist ……

  23. Blouise,

    If you’re good (or bad) enough at it, I think you can be on both Craigslist and Angieslist.

    (I know. I’m a troublemaker.)

  24. Actually, I’m with Mal33. Demonizing someone for their choice (or the misfortune of having been compelled to be) a sex worker is not appropriate. It’s a business with a large consumer base, and if it were legal and properly regulated there would be much less victimization of women. It’s like drugs in that regard, that it is illegal keeps it under the control of vicious people.

  25. Blouise, LOL, Craigslist is a sales/services site- if you have it to sell you post it and others can see your listing and contact you to buy it. The folks that post there sell and service everything. Everything.

    Angieslist is a rating site for work/services performed. If I wanted plumbing work done I would plug in my address and review the reviews/ratings of plumbers in my area. Or, I would plug in the name and address of the people I was thinking about having do the job and see if they had any reviews and weather the reviews were good or bad.

    I have never heard of an Angieslist/Craigslist Adult Services tie-in. But actually, that’s not a bad idea. 😉

  26. There is an assumption that having a history as a sex worker is an indication of bad moral character. Since the person here was an elementary school teacher, it is not reasonable that she was planning to hire herself out to students, nor is there evidence that she had plans to pimp them out as child-prostitutes.

    Just on the basis of the article, I would draw the following conclusion about her moral character: she was motivated enough to decide that sex work didn’t reflect the kind of person she truly wanted to be and to find a line of work that was a better reflection of her personal values. Since she defended sex work, we can presume she doesn’t think sex work is enough of a social harm to merit illegality. Well, this isn’t an obviously untenable position. But more to the point, it is unlikely that she would be corrupting her students with this sort of argument (maybe if she were a high-school teacher).

  27. The public’s incredible fear of sex or anyone who admits to having had sex (except, apparently, Newt Gingrich) seems unbounded. And it’s particularly interesting, considering that except for sex, none of us would be here.

  28. Had Ms. Petro admitted to being a sex worker in a Nevada brothel, I’d object to her being fired. And I personally believe prostitution should be legalized, though subject to zoning restrictions (as in the Netherlands). But prostitution is a crime in New York, and it is quite stupid to admit to a crime in writing (within the Statute of Limitations, anyway). Let’s not forget New York Governor Elliott Spitzer lost his job over patronizing a prostitute, so there’s no hypocrisy here. This incident lies outside the zone of protected speech we should be overly concerned about. There’s a bright-line rule for teachers: if you don’t want to get fired, don’t admit to having committed a crime. Perfectly all right to say the law should be changed; that’s protected speech. But announcing you’ve broken the law – that can get you in trouble.

  29. The sad thing is that we don’t need that many more prostitutes but we surely DO need more good teachers and people who have their heads lodged firmly up their butts are too often in charge of who becomes what. I’d like to know the full story of the past of everyone on that school board. You’ll come up with intrafamily abusers, income tax cheats, malfeasors, misfeasors and a partridge in a pear tree.

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