Melissa Petro, the teacher who was reassigned from duties as an art teacher in the Bronx to the rubber room after word of her sex worker past became front page fodder, has a MFA in creative non-fiction and has dabbled in open mic nights. Which means she's more than happy write and/or chat about being thrown into the rubber room. The 30-year-old has a new essay on the Huffington Post ("I have no regrets and have done nothing I'm ashamed of.") and an interview in Marie Claire ("Prostitution is a far from perfect occupation — I will be the first to admit that — but it is an occupation, and it is an occupation that many individuals choose."). She also gives this news flash, "Teachers have s-e-x. That is to say, individuals who work as teachers are still allowed to be sexual beings with adult lives outside the classroom."

The city is attempting to can Petro over "conduct unbecoming a teacher." Petro has been teaching for three years, which means she has tenure, which then means the city has to go through an 83-step process to fire her. Petro's background turned into an issue for the Department of Education after a NY Post reporter noticed her September Huffington Post article about being a sex worker. From the Marie-Claire Q&A:

MC: How did the Huffington Post piece get so widely noticed?


MP: I didn’t mention that I was a teacher in the blog post, but I had done so in other pieces I’d written. A New York Post reporter put one and one together. He started following me around, asking people if they knew me. My principal called the cops, thinking the reporter was some weirdo stalking me at the school. When I realized the Post was going to run a story, I told my principal about the blog. I figured she deserved to be informed of the situation.



MC: How did you feel when the story broke and you got pulled from the classroom?


MP: The night I received the call telling me that I had been reassigned, I went for a run, all the while thinking, Shit, what have I gotten myself into this time? Maybe I should’ve just kept my big mouth shut. I thought, What the hell am I going to do now? Financial insecurity has always been a big worry for me. That was my immediate response — one of fear. I also don’t like to think that people are angry with me, even people that I’ve never met, so you can imagine, when I first read that the mayor of New York had referred to me as “that woman,” I felt very embarrassed and ashamed.

Then I kind of got my balls back. No one has the right to shame me today, just as I no longer shame myself. The Post called their story an “exclusive,” but this story was not their exclusive — it was my story, my exclusive; I had been writing about my experiences for years. In the days leading up to when the story broke, the Post reporter shouted at on the street: “This is your last opportunity to speak, Ms. Petro!” All I could think was, I don’t need you to quote me. I can quote myself.


Petro, who believe she's being forced out because the Post embarrassed the DOE, also complains, "Why, after serving competently as a teacher for more than three years, am I suddenly not fit to be in front of a classroom? Is it for having once been a stripper, or would that have been all right if only I hadn’t crossed the line and sold sex? Or would all of that have been OK, too, if I had kept my experiences to myself?" She adds that being called an "attention whore" and a "media whore" hurts more than being called a regular whore because "because at least when I was prostituting, I was getting paid. Let it just be said that I’ve in no way profited off these circumstances, certainly not monetarily. I don’t write for the money, or for the publicity — certainly not this kind of publicity. I write because I'm a writer, and because these are issues I feel strongly about."

Petro also blasts the rubber room, where teachers stew while allegations of misconduct are investigated. The room, which are supposed to be gone some time soon (maybe), is "a racket. I’m paid my full salary to sit in what amounts to detention."