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Teacher Speaks Out After He Was Fired for Students Doing His Hair

Teacher Speaks Out After He Was Fired for Students Doing His Hair

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In May 2024, teacher JaQ Lee’s reputation as a teacher was ruined after a video of him interacting with his students went viral. The video showed Lee’s female middle school students unbraiding his hair.

Lee often recorded himself at the school where he worked and put the videos on TikTok. Many of the videos included him playing darts with his students or simply recording videos of himself with his classroom as his backdrop. However, a TikTok livestream soon caught much-unwanted attention from the middle school teacher’s channel.

Lee posted a clip from his livestream on Friday, May 3, 2024. The TikTok video was 4 minutes and 24 seconds long and showed four of his female students unbraiding his hair during the last few minutes of class.

Lee explained in a voiceover that he had a hair appointment “immediately after school” and didn’t have time to take his hair down before that. He said a crew came in that day to film a promotional video for the school, and he had to look “presentable,” which made him to wait until later to take his hair down.

When Lee finally had the time to take it down after the promotional video, he said it would have taken too long to take his braids out himself. He said he asked “four or five of over 100 best friends” to help him take his hair down, and in return, he would offer them a pass to leave class 10 minutes early.

Lee clarified that he didn’t find anything inappropriate about asking students to unbraid his hair, but it caused quite a backlash on TikTok and X, formerly Twitter. On X, a user named @TanelleIrene reposted the video and asked Black parents to share their thoughts. The tweet went viral, and Lee shared in another TikTok that the middle school fired him because of the video.

Comments ranged from support for Lee to outrage and agreeing with the school’s decision to fire him. A science teacher on Reddit commented, “The dude is recording a live video on district time and possibly their network (he should be teaching, and the students should be learning or at the minimum, be doing their own independent work). That in itself would violate his contractual duty and is grounds for dismissal or non-renewal. Recording students also touches on a lot of privacy issues and possibly violates FERPA as well.”

While another teacher on Reddit said, “The culture, now, in the USA, is so toxic that we are attacking norms already established in our past generations and painting people with evil rhetoric. We are the problem. There have been many times in the past where students and teachers could bond like this. It has even been shown in American movies like Kindergarten Cop, Daddy Daycare, Mr. Nanny, The Game Plan, The Pacifier, etc. So why all the outrage NOW? We have become a demented culture that only looks for the worst in people and uses our hate, prejudices, and shaming to pursue targets. And, in turn, we produce the worst.”

Several commenters didn’t feel that taking out his braids was inappropriate, but filming and posting the act was. “You need a signed release form from a parent before sharing their pictures or video on the web in any way. Even then you need to show careful judgement about what you post and where. Posting a video of students doing your hair on social media is not exhibiting careful judgment,” one Reddit user wrote. 

After getting fired from his school, Lee reacted on video by reading some of the messages he received from his students after they heard that he was fired. He cried as he shared the support that many of them showed for him and that they “know that there has never been anything weird going on.”

Some students even referred to Lee as their “bestie” and said he helped them through dark times while teaching at the middle school. Lee also got support from commenters who, despite the backlash, didn’t think he should’ve lost his job for his act.

“You don’t deserve this,” one person wrote underneath his video. “We need more educators like you, that genuinely care about your students. This is so upsetting.”

Writer Elizabeth Randolph from Distractify said, “Lee’s decision to ask his students to unbraid his hair is something I, someone who doesn’t even have children, would take issue with. While I have been fortunate enough to have teachers feel like safe spaces in school, they’ve never once asked me to groom them. However, JaQ appears to be genuinely heartbroken by the accusations and firing, and it makes me upset to know the students who bonded with him won’t have him around.” 

For further context, Lee explained that since it was a Friday and all of his middle school students had done well in their class projects, he decided to let them “have fun” as a reward. He dismissed class early, and this is when the students who volunteered to help him with his hair started to remove his braids. The students helping with his hair ranged from students from his own class, as well as students from other classes who had also performed well on their projects and were given free time as a reward.

Lee asked if similar comments would arise if he were a woman, wondering if his interaction with female students would also be labeled as “weird.” Despite the criticism, Lee continued to say that there was nothing odd about letting his students remove his braids. For him, it was an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with his students that went beyond the classroom.

Lee said, “I don’t think there’s anything weird about this. People saying, ‘Oh, that’s too intimate.’ To me, it’s literally just hair. It doesn’t have to be weird. Some people have never had cool teachers before, and it shows. I personally believe that building authentic relationships with students is paramount to being an effective teacher. I make sure my students know and can feel that I care about them beyond the schoolwork and all the stuff that I have to make them do. I take the time to get to know my students outside of academics because caring for the whole child is what’s important.”

When asked whether the children’s parents were aware of the livestream video, Lee said that many of his students’ parents follow him on social media and appreciate the unique bond he has built with their children. He also said that the school administration knows his social media presence and “loves” his content. 

If this is true, and the administration knew about his video content beforehand, then they fired him because of the viral nature of this particular video. This is a complicated topic, and I think if there weren’t a video of it for people to judge, the teacher would still have a job. That doesn’t make it wrong or right, but as a teacher, I was also afraid to have any kind of physical contact with my students, including hugging or even patting them on the back. It’s a different world we are living in, and I appreciate the relationship Lee has with his students, but he definitely took a risk without realizing it.

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Jane Morris

Jane Morris is the pen name of an ex-teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is worried awful administrators will come after her for spilling their dirty little secrets. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in Writing and Literature from an even fancier (and more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh through the tears.

She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.