Monday, February 21, 2011

With Liberty And Justice For All: My Thoughts On A Local Teacher's Suspension Due To Blog Commentary

Over the past week or so, a controversial story has been circulating the Philadelphia area that has a number of people, myself included, rather heated.  For those who have not heard the scoop or read the article, I'll give you the brief summary:

A high school English teacher in a prestigious school district has been suspended (with pay) after her personal blog was discovered to include commentary many deem offensive.  The following is an excerpt from the article I linked above.

The debate centers over a post Munroe wrote on her blog just over a year ago. Entitled, “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…” it outlined the things she wished she could really say to parents about her students’ performance and personalities.

 They include:

 ■“A complete and utter jerk in all ways. Although academically ok, your child has no other redeeming qualities.”
■“One of the few students I can abide this semester!”
■“Has no business being in Academic.”
■“Lazy asshole.”
■“Just as bad as his sibling. Don’t you know how to raise kids?”
■“Weirdest kid I’ve ever met.”
■“I hear the trash company is hiring…”
■“There’s no other way to say this: I hate your kid.”

It ends with, “Thus, the old adage…if you don’t have anything nice to say…say 'cooperative in class.'"

For a year, the only response to the post was a “These are effing awesome” boost from someone, presumably a friend.

 
But the next response reveals the danger of the Internet, where everything ever written can be seen by all.

 “Jokes on you because this link is being cycled throughout the students of CB East via facebook. Have fun applying for unemployment. Sincerely, ‘cooperative in class.’” was posted at 5:54 p.m. on Tuesday night.

 From there, word of Munroe’s blog spread via Facebook and Twitter.

Written from a more neutral perspective, a second article discusses the defendant's reaction to her undergoing investigation:

"My students are out of control," Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."

And in another post, Munroe — who is more than eight months pregnant — quotes from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie": "Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS."

So, what do I think about all this????  Well, for one, I think it's a damn good thing I'm no longer teaching, or I'd be the next one removed.

In my honest opinion as a former student and educator, as well as a private citizen, the teacher made a 'ballsy' move.  That being said, so freakin' what???

Blogs are personal.  They serve a variety of purposes;  in this situation, it was an outlet for an individual to vent.  That is not illegal, and as far as I'm concerned, the situation violates the right to free speech. 

The teacher is not 'friends' with her students.  Her blog was not a teaching tool, nor was she inviting students to interact through that forum.  It was her personal intellectual property, designed by an adult for adult friends and family.  THEY discovered her.  Why?  Well, it seems they didn't like her much, so they went digging.  We've all done it; when kids don't like a situation at school, they feel they have the right to set out and 'fix it' themselves.  In this case, they didn't care for Ms. Munroe's brutally honest analysis, so they took matters into their own hands. 

No names were published.  The district was never revealed, and no information that could undoubtedly link Munroe's comments to specific people was provided.  The investigation took care of that, but not the author herself.  So, whether you agree or disagree with her words, no crime was committed. 

And that is the essence of the controversy - whether or not you AGREE or CARE FOR what was done, is it worthy of termination?  The lawyers don't seem to think so, and I'm pretty sure I agree.

I taught in a similar district.  Our clientele was comparable, as was the organization and structure of the surrounding community.  The population was composed of the same socio-economic status, and for these reasons, I happen to understand the root of Ms. Munroe's frustration.

The reality is, many of today's teenagers don't want to do anything.  And, when you ask or expect them to do something, they whine.  They whine and complain and question your motives.  Their goal is to make you feel insecure; to force you to question your professional judgment and alter your assignment or policy or grading system so that, essentially, they can jump through more hoops with ease.  In other words, they can get a higher grade with little effort.  Nine times out of ten, the kids will win.

It's about time someone called unmotivated kids out!  I'm not sure this was the bet forum to choose in doing so, but again, her comments were vague.  It takes a certain teacher to maintain high expectations.  In a world where administrators are afraid of parents and never back the teachers - a world where parents feel they have the right to speak to teachers in disrespectful tones, tones that, if we were to use in the classroom, would result in our immediate dismissal - teachers are clearly the underdog.  And GOOD teachers have become a communicable disease.

I'm going to wrap up for today, though I anticipate I'll be exploring this issue further throughout the week.  In closing, let me just say this: Ms. Munroe may have struck a nerve with many people.  Nerves tend to get 'struck' when people offer a dose of reality.  You don't have to like it.  You don't have to agree with it.  But, no laws were violated.

Ms. Munroe is guilty of one thing - seeking a creative outlet to reveal her frustration.  Sometimes, we have to let it out.  The reality is, she is a person first, a concept many fail to consider where educators are concerned.  As a person, she has the right to blog.  She has the right to be controversial and offensive if she wants to be - as long as no student or district information is revealed.

It wasn't.  Case closed.  Suck it up; move on.

AS always, comments are welcomed, but please BE RESPECTFUL!  Please respect my opinion if you expect me to respect yours. 

ADDENDUM:  I want to add that, during my teaching career, the kids were truly the best part of the day.  In fact, 99% were wonderful and I remain in contact with many to this day.  Sure, I had moments of frustration.  No, I didn't go airing it on the Internet.  We ALL make mistakes and handle situations in ways we have not.  Let's be honest, everything posted on the blog in question can be heard every Friday when groups of teachers hit Happy Hour - and considering how close this often occurs to the district, I find that to be just as risky.  The point is, should this situation be used against the teacher?  There are a number of teachers who have done things just as mean - just maybe not on the Internet. 

11 comments:

  1. Well put. My friends and I were discussing this very same issue a few days ago. It's an unfortunate circumstance, to be sure. I agree that, because no personal information was shared, it technically shouldn't have been used against her. However, these days, you have to be able to play the game to keep that type of job. Tis the age we live in, I'm afraid.

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  2. Paul....I love you, but you are WAY off the mark on this one. She was mean, not truthful. Sure teens are lazy and parents are sometimes blinded by their view of their kid- shocker....is that really a new issue?

    Does she have the right, sure. She also has the right to not teach if she is that frustrated. Teens have problems. That is part of the job. You teach NOT because you love literature, but because you love kids. And airing frustrations about teens acting like teens because you think that they should all magically be perfect students with perfect parents that only get involved when you see fit, is a far from realistic. As unrealistic as it would be for a doctor to expect all his patients should be perfectly healthy or as unrealistic for a parent to expect a toddler to never have a tantrum or club another toddler over the head for a toy.

    As a teacher in that district, I am mortified that one she is taking on the role as a "voice for education"- she does not speak for me and two, that ALL teens are being crucified.

    Five years as a teacher doesn't make her an expert. Nor does 13, as I have.

    I don't see it her way...I take it on as a challenge every day. Do I get frustrated, you bet. But that is what I signed up for when I became a teacher.

    Becky

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  3. As a former teacher I understand the sentiment, though I still found most kids were pretty good. And I agree, these were general rather than specific statements and no different than what many teachers say in private all the time. I think it's more a problem of markteting for the board than anything - bad publictiy. I think it was probably unwise of the teacher to post these private complaints in a public forum. It's almost inevitable that such things come out.

    I'm curious to see what kind of response the board will take. And if a change in policy is on the way... a new clause, perhaps, for what can be said in public forums like blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.?

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  4. I agree with your statements about her having the right to blog whatever she wants, especially if she wants to vent to her family. I read the articles and admit the posts make her sound like a whiny, even cruel teacher who hates her students. But the blog had nothing to do with the school and never identified students. She didn't violate anyone's rights so she shouldn't be fired.

    However, I'm not sure it was appropriate for her to say those things considering how easy it is to find anything on the internet. I don't know whether her blog was public or not, but if it was, she was inviting trouble. Finding something like that by your teacher would upset any student and shatter any trust they have for the teacher.

    She has the right to say anything she wants, but she has to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

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  5. Paige - Yes, there is a game to be played. It wasn't in her best interest to do what she did; however, whether it constitutes legal action is another matter. People don't have to agree with what she said - I don't agree with everything myself. But using it against her is very different, and unwarranted unless a specific statute was violated.

    R. Cartee - Thank you for your thorough comment and offering many points that, I'll admit, were not considered. When I taught, the best part of the day was my kids. They were the reason I showed up daily. It was not my intention to crucify all teens, and I apologize if that was the impression provided. I taught amazing students, many who I remain in contact with today. Unfortunately, I have experienced the other side, and while it by no means summarized my entire career, it can drive one to the point of frustration. A lot of people, myself included, are programed to remember the bad. It's a character flaw, but not a crime. I never got beyond the day I was called in to a meeting in July and forced to change a grade - a grade that now appears on a transcript for a student who did not deserve it. Bottom line, he'd rather whine and argue then do the work. This situation brings me back to that moement. Although I did not go air it on the Internet, I also believe this teacher never expected her blog to be read by anyone other than a few adult friends. Yes, she should have been prepared, but, whether right or wrong, 'being mean' is not a crime. It's not preferable, but people in life are mean. In fact, the same principal once told us at a faculty meeting on bullying that "being mean is not referral worthy; there is a difference between being mean and bullying." Personally, I think that is yet another excuse to let people get away with things, but I also think it highlights how perspective influences thinking.

    Bryan - I agree; the bulk of my kids (like 99.5%) were awesome. Teachers have bad days. The fact that her post was not discovered for a full year after being published probably means she had forgotten about that particular bad day and moved on to the next one. I LOVE your suggestion about policy change - I think it's time. When teachers are hired, spell out exactly what can and cannot be done. This way, whether you agree or not, you know what is unacceptable and can't argue the punishment. It will also give districts specific protocol to follow when these situations appear.

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  6. JE - Great point. I think you hit the nail on the head, as your comment sort of sparks the question: was her behavior worthy of termination? Not liking it is one thing, but if you are going to lose your job, you need to be breaking some serious laws. Unfortunately, social networking is a new thing for schools and there is no set precedent for what crosses the line. I think Bryan's comment above makes a great point- perhaps a clear policy needs to be implemented.

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  7. Well...

    I think that this isn't really a matter of right and wrong as much as savvy vs. stupid.

    1) So you don't like the kids. Keep a diary.
    2) DO NOT PUT THE DIARY WHERE THE KIDS CAN FIND IT.

    Sure, she was within the law, but just because something could be done, doesn't mean that it should be done.

    Even if she keeps the job, she is going to struggle with teens more now...

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  8. I think it's rather hypocritical that a teacher could get in trouble for something as silly as this, yet students are bullied and tormented all the time until they commit suicide and school administrators turn a blind eye.

    Maybe the school administrators should take a listen and see what is happening in the school Hallway instead of trolling around for teachers that are trying to vent.

    My favourite teachers were the ones that never followed the rules (and they actually taught kids something instead of passing them along). The ones that did follow all the rules were HORRIBLE teachers.

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  9. Here I am again, this time commenting on something that touches a nerve since I'm a retired teacher. I took the time to check out several related articles, plus Natalie Munroe's new personal blog. (BTW, I had no trouble locating the old URL using her name and 'English teacher,' although it redirects to her new site now.) She comments that she only had nine followers -- she and her husband and seven friends -- but if her intent was to keep her comments within that small circle, a click is all it would have taken to make the blog private so only those with the password could access it. Only the very naive would think that such derogatory comments posted on the internet couldn't come back to haunt her.

    Should she lose her job over this? Probably not, since there is legislation protecting freedom of speech. Would I want her teaching in my school? Sorry, but no. Her obvious dislike of the students and administration, and her apparent lack of authority in the classroom would undermine the effectiveness of the teaching environment. In fact, her words (past and present) suggest to me that she's in the wrong profession.

    All that being said, I don't condone letting students and parents railroad a teacher like this. IMO, the administration has handled the whole situation badly.

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  10. Misha - I like your phrasing. I think we can all agree it was not the smartest thing to do, and yes, she will never be accepted by students again. This will follow her forever.

    Austin - I think that's an interesting observation. We actually had a local situation last year where the opposite took place. A group of studnets made a derogatory facebook group about a teacher but were 'untouchable' in terms of any serious consequence. I find that unfair, especially since the student who created the group blatantly published the teacher's name and photograph.

    Carol - LOVE your comment. I think you really nailed the entire situation perfectly. First, it is a reminder that anything published on the world wide web can be discovered by anyone. I think schools need to develop a specific social networking clause in the contract - I know it's coming, but we need it now. And no, I wouldn't want her teaching in my school either - or teaching my kid for that matter. Unfortunately, I think we have many teachers today who share her feelings - just maybe not on the Internet. That doesn't mean their attitude doesn't dictate their job performance, and I think we need to recognize that. I agree it was handled poorly. It's not good for the district to receive this type of press, nor is it good for the teaching profession in general. I guarantee we have kids searching the net as we speak, looking for anything on the teachers they dislike. I think teachers need to be careful, but I also think a person can drive themselves to insanity trying to keep the Internet clear of their name - especially today. For that, I'm thankful I'm no longer in the profession.

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  11. I really think that the controversies over what teachers do or post off the job are a bit ludicrous. Yes, teachers do have this shiny, pure aura attached to the job, but they're human first, teacher second.

    High school students ARE complacent these days. It is up to a teacher to make them work--and want to work--but even then you can't expect them to love every waking moment of their job.

    Also, I don't think the blame should completely lay with the teacher, their abilities in the classroom, or the complacency of teens. Parents should also be responsible in making sure their children are actually WORKING for their grades.

    I can't say there's anything more frustrating than someone getting a good grade when they haven't earned it. It's like a slap in the face to the people who did and an invitation for more to get the same result for no work.

    I've never been a teacher, only a student. She probably shouldn't have posted it on the internet, but no one is perfect. Though, I wouldn't want her as my teacher after this came out. :/ Sorry to say.

    No one wants to be taught by someone who hates them. (I've had it happen, and it sucked big time.)

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