20 February 2011

Freedom of speech and other misunderstandings

Last week, I ran across a news story of Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in a suburb of Philadelphia, who had a blog, on which she occasionally (around 25 % of her posts) ranted a bit about her students. And by "a bit" I mean she called them "rude disengaged, lazy whiners," and "utterly loathsome" among other things. She's been suspended with pay: her lawyer states he'll be filing a lawsuit soon, as it's a first amendment issue.

As a teacher (albeit for a college) with a blog, I also sometimes write about work. Some of my students are occasionally rude, or disengaged, or lazy, or whiners, and sometimes all at once, though I try hard not to write about them (unless they cheat. Plagiarists are the bane of my existence, though I will always protect their anonymity). I understand her frustration, and I'm sure it's magnified a hundredfold within the high school setting. To her credit, she didn't mention her students by name, nor did she use her own last name or the name of her school. She claims the blog was for herself, her husband, and seven friends, which is all well and good, but that's what phone calls are made for: blogs are public, usually, and so bloggers should always be mindful not to say anything here that they wouldn't want announced from the stage of the auditorium (actually, someone once told me that about e-mails. It's even more true for blogs, though, I'd say). Still, her feelings are certainly valid, and she has a right to express them.

But if she was V's teacher, I would have been crushed to read her words. Even if she insisted V was not one of the "rude disengaged," for me it would be heartbreaking to know that someone charged with my daughter's education was so clearly burned out, so obviously angry.

Now, Ms. Monroe points out that her writing has been taken out of context (she's removed all of the earlier blogposts, so I can't see them IN context), and that she did say positive things. Though I never saw the blog in its original form, I believe her. And I fiercely defend her first amendment rights. But I also defend the school's right to put a teacher on probation, and, after careful consideration, perhaps terminate her contract.  Even as I type that sentence, though, I cringe, because I know of many teachers who certainly said worse things about my generation, but because it was pre-internet it stayed within the bar or home or gymnasium where it was uttered. And I have said things to my colleagues, angry and exhausted things, that I would be embarrassed to have the public know about. And I certainly don't want MY contract terminated.

But I didn't put those things on a blog for the whole wide world (or my husband and seven friends) to see.

I know this is all still relatively new territory. I know the internet is complex and distracting and marvelous all at once. And I know teaching as a profession is hard, hard work, but also full of incredible rewards. Perhaps, as Ms. Monroe herself has suggested, this controversy will lead us to more honest discussions about education in the 21st century.

Truthfully, students today don't engage in the same way my friends and I did when I was in college.  I'm not sure how to best address the issues we all face in the classroom today, but I'm pretty sure railing against parents and students is not going to solve things. And though she claims her blog was only for venting purposes, and that she has not dwelled on these issues, I hope Ms. Monroe's time out of the classroom helps her to refocus, and remember the non-loathsome parts of the job, if only in case she ever ends up in front of a classroom that includes V. Because my daughter (and yours) deserves better.


ilene said...

I agree. Even "innocent" personal posts on FB about teachers who are grouchy all day, or glad the weekends coming cause the kids are making them cranky, etc has been called to attention even to PreK teachers.I mean egads, some of them are "friends" with students parents on FB! Glad to say I & your sister were not one of the guilty. Tactful & sometimes discreet venting is more appropriate.

Jennifer said...

I know. Facebook is especially dangerous, too! Though as a parent of one of your higher maintenence students (I imagine), I think I owe you several drinks.

ilene said...

LOL I think I'd like to have a couple of drinks with you regardless of V being in my class :)