News outlets reported on Thursday that Natalie Munroe, a teacher in Pennsylvania, had been suspended, pending termination, for writing critical comments about her students on her blog.
According to the articles (such as here and here), she had written that her students were “lazy” and “whiners,” among other things. My initial thought was to ask if she had directed comments at any certain students, or called them by name. It appears that she hadn’t. She did, however, use profanity on the blog; while it is unclear from the reports if it was directed at the students, it probably was, and that would be wrong–abusive language is never appropriate. She also seems to have made comments about children’s physical appearances, and written things like, “I hate your kid.” Yes, that’s over the line.
But the headlines, the complaints against her, and the comments on articles I’ve read mostly excoriate her for criticising students in general, not for the inappropriate content itself. Parents and students at the school are outraged that a teacher could write about frustrations over poor student performance.
Really? Have any of the offended parties here bothered to consider what merit the criticisms might have? Is it really so awful to suggest that maybe, just maybe, some teens actually are lazy whiners?
Before anyone goes crying “Blasphemy!” and prepares to storm my castle with pitchforks and torches, can you see the irony of the situation? If the teacher here was saying that her students and their parents are self-absorbed and entitled, how exactly is their response proving her wrong?
About a year and a half ago, a report was released which studied 30,000 American teens and found that a third of teens are thieves, two thirds are cheaters, and about 80% lie to their parents. Fully 93%, however, said that they are proud of their good character. Wow.
As I pondered this news yesterday, I caught yet another student cheating in one of my own classes. Right after a quiz, I saw that a girl had something written on her hand. When I asked her what it was, she tried to erase it, but it was in pen. Inspecting her hand, I saw answers to two of the quiz questions, even including the numbers of the questions that the answers were for. She admitted that a friend from an earlier class gave her those answers. Her mother agreed that detention was necessary–thank goodness the evidence was indisputable.
By the way, kids, here’s a tip: don’t write answers on your hand if you sit in the front of the room, right next to the teacher.
Incidentally, even with those two answers, she would have failed the test, anyway.
Uh oh. Could this story offend anyone? Might anyone think that a relevant, tasteful, anonymous true story has no place in the public realm? Should I start updating my resumé?
This reminds me of one incident several years ago, where a class discussion about future plans prompted one girl, who has long since graduated, to express a wish to work in medicine. I asked about her math and science classes and grades, both of which she said were average. I said that she would need to get better grades in harder classes to get into medical school.
Her father went through the roof. He made sure to cause grief for me and my superiors because, as he put it, I was ruining his little girl’s dream.
On the contrary, I was the one helping her make that dream a reality. What was he doing that was constructive? Like too many parents, perhaps he was more concerned with his immediate ease and popularity than with long term results.
I hope that girl did achieve her goal. I don’t think she would have, at the rate she was going, but for her sake, I hope I’m wrong. It would be wonderful if she succeeds, but I’m not in the habit of pacifying feelings by denying reality. That does far more harm, ultimately, than a little truth does today.
Oops. I did it again. Should I clean out my desk by the end of the day?
Obviously, this Pennsylvania story resonates with me. After all, in the week before this news broke, I wrote an apologia for discouraged teachers (it means that we do care), and a satire about the bad attitudes of some parents and students (it means that I have high standards). I think that such writings are a worthwhile expression, and foster positive conversation about important topics. But what if someone chooses to be offended? As in all areas of our society now, whoever feels insulted is automatically holy, right?
As I noted here three years ago, the Sword of Damocles hangs over teachers by a very slender thread.
It’s also especially ironic that this furor about a teacher who dares to question the perfection of her students is erupting just weeks after the furor over a memoir which lauds the effective harshness of Chinese mothers:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.
Just last week, as our family was out running errands, one of my own preschoolers took a piece of candy from next to a cash register and put it in his pocket. When we found it on him later, we marched him back to the store, made him confess and apologize, and had him pay for the candy out of the allowance he’d earned doing chores. Such actions aren’t really strict–they’re just the basic obligation. How sad that so many of us don’t bother to even shoot that high. But I do believe in doing things right, and the best I can.
Should I, or any teacher, expect less in our classrooms?