Michelle Rhee: “The Bee Eater”


January 8, 2013

Before becoming chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools system, Michelle Rhee was a newly minted teacher in one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods. Her school was one of the lowest performing in the city, and as a new teacher, Rhee often struggled to win the attention of her students.

That is, until the day a bee flew into her classroom window, causing panic among her unruly second graders. When the bee finally landed, Rhee smacked it with her lesson plan, killing it immediately. Her next move still causes Denise Hall, a former student, to shudder to this day: Rhee flicked the bee into her hand, popped it into her mouth, and ate it.

“It freaks me out, just talking about it, the bee story,” Hall recalls in the above clip from The Education of Michelle Rhee, which premieres tonight on FRONTLINE.

The move paid off. As Rhee put it, “You can ask my kids, they’ll tell you, ‘She was strict; she was mean.’ But in the end, they all knew the reason why I was doing everything was because I believed in them and I cared about them.”

During her time in Baltimore, Rhee learned the importance of having a good teacher. The home lives of her students never changed, she said, but because they had a teacher who set high expectations of them, they soon set high expectations for themselves.

Years later, Rhee brought that same philosophy to her new job in Washington, but instead of setting high expectations on students, she set them on teachers and principals. It was an experience that launched Rhee onto the national stage, making her one of the most admired and reviled education reformers in the nation.

The Education of Michelle Rhee airs tonight on most PBS stations (check your local listings here) or you can watch it online, starting at 10 pm EST.

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Digital Editor



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

FRONTLINE Earns Five Peabody Awards Nominations
Five FRONTLINE documentaries have been named 2021 George Foster Peabody Award finalists.
May 4, 2021
‘Escaping Eritrea’ Filmmaker Evan Williams Describes ‘Phenomenal Sacrifice’ of Eritreans Sneaking Footage Out of Country
'Escaping Eritrea' producer Evan Williams set out to learn what was driving so many Eritreans from their homeland. He found answers — as well as people trying to smuggle secret footage out of the country.
May 4, 2021
500,000 Refugees, ‘Slavery-like’ Compulsory Service, No National Elections, Border Conflicts & Secret Prisons: 5 Human Rights Crises in Eritrea
From compulsory conscription to the mass exodus of refugees, here is an introduction to five of Eritrea’s biggest human rights crises.
May 4, 2021
‘I Didn’t Lose Hope’: Meet a Man Who Risked His Life to Secretly Film Inside One of Eritrea’s Brutal Prisons
A refugee speaks out and shares his secret footage in ‘Escaping Eritrea,’ a five-years-in-the-making documentary investigating one of the world’s most repressive regimes.
May 4, 2021