Throw Back: Free Teach — I mean Speech

(From my former blog Pleading For Sanity. Originally published on this date in 2011. Enjoy.)

 Free Teach — I mean Speech.

Though I complain about it frequently, there are some things I really enjoy about my job. One of the most enjoyable aspects, fortunately, is my colleagues: they are bright, kind, funny,. considerate, and extraordinarily dedicated — generally far more than am I. The work can be hard to handle, but my fellow teachers almost always make it easier to go on to the next class, the next day, the next school year.

But then I looked online, and I found out that I work with some pretty awful people.

At least, if you listen to my students. And if you can decipher their spelling. (Honestly, as an English teacher, I think the harshest criticism here is the critics’ own inability to spell, punctuate, and capitalize. I’m trying to keep this anonymous, but I must note that of the 35 teachers rated on this one site, eight of the names were misspelled. One person’s first and last names were misspelled — and in another instance, the name “Chris” was rendered as “Crise.” Maybe it’s petty of me, but if you’re going to boo me, at least spell my name right.)

According to the website RateMyTeacher.com, I work with someone who “looks like a petafile.” I’m assuming that’s bad. I’m sure, for the most part, that these other comments are bad. They are copy-pasted verbatim, other than where I took out names and specifics to protect the innocent.

he talks way to much and he is really controling some times and if hes wrong allways look he gives you a glare

[HE] IS A COMPLETE **** AND SHOULD BE FIRED

he is a **** man **** and needs to be fired

he is a **** but he knows what hes talking about [Blogger’s note: Hey! A compliment!]

you are by far the WORST teacher i have ever been tought by. Do you even know, NOT one SINGLE STUDENT likes you!?

satan, should leave school

very rude, not helpful, and makes it over-all pretty scary to learn.

He is by far the worst teacher I have ever encountered. He doesn’t care about his students or his class. His lessons are unplanned, unoraganized and unclear. My advice stay away

You are a mess, the [classroom] is a mess, your teaching is a mess; You put [sub-group of student population] on a golden pedastal and you forget the rest of your students. I dont give a s**t about your problems, you whine constantly-

You need to get your s**t together.

Your alright sometimes. But personally I think your a fool. And I had one of your T.A’s tell me that you would talk s**t about the students behind their back. Also stop complaining. NO ONE likes that.

very easy but you are a disorganized mess

But none of that compares to the bile that students reserve for administrators. To wit:

he grabed my a** in the hall and told me not to tell anyone and then he took a picture of me and hung it on his wall? [Blogger’s Note: Why the question mark? Was this person not sure whether it was the wall or the ceiling?]

he touched me in inappropriate places 😦 now i am scard for life… [B.N.: So you can handle “inappropriate” but “scarred” (Scared?) is beyond you.]

That Stupid B**** Kicked Me in the Gut and Called me a F****** N*****! Racisty Piece of S***!

get a life you **** stop telling little girls and boys what to do oh i forgot it makes you happy you ****

he is a creeper that takes it in the **** [B.N.: I have to wonder about that extra star.]

no one loves him, pedo, should jump in a meat grinder, stabs puppies for pleasure, reincarnation of **** [B.N.: Again, four stars? Reincarnation of what, exactly? Stan?]

useless piece of crap

he is a peice of s**t

he like to get kids in trouble for no dam reason at all and he picks on colored people cuz he thinks hes all that powerful when he is NOT!!!!!!

he is a prick and thinks he is soo badass wen hes not… no one at this skool likes him

hes a dillweed, i can give him a popularity(2)becouse i like to make fun of that tool, and i do…. [B.N.: Please note that this comment came with a popularity rating of one.]

he is the biggest tool i have ever met

Wow. We’re pretty bad. And, of course, this is only what was posted online on one site; set against what is written in notes or on desks or bathroom walls, and what I overhear in conversation, it is nothing at all. And just imagine if I could look at a student’s personal blog or MySpace page or Facebook status. I have been told directly that my fellow teachers are vile subhuman scum (Though not in those words — there’s generally a lot more “sucks” and different versions of “asshole.”) more times than I can count; I’ve read essays expounding on the general incompetence of the staff, the administration, and everything to do with the school; what must these students say when they don’t think we’re listening, when they don’t believe there’s any chance the teachers will find out?

And yet, whatever the students may say, it doesn’t really matter. I know why students say they hate me, hate my class, why they think I’m a jerk or that I’m racist or that I never taught them anything: it’s because I’m a teacher, and they are teenagers. If I taught elementary school, they’d make up a poem about me that would most likely describe me as having poopy pants, and if I taught middle school, they’d — well, honestly, I don’t think middle school children do much other than flirt awkwardly and loathe themselves; they probably barely even notice their teachers.

But otherwise, this is all stuff that teachers need to brush off. Of course students hate us: we make them do homework. We make them show up on time and sit quietly. We give them failing grades. We are the establishment, we are the Man. On a personal level, there are, quite naturally, personality conflicts, as well as personality disorders, that create bad feelings — and, of course, not all teachers are very nice. To some extent, they should hate us; and even when it is unjustified, we have to remember that these are teenagers. Children, effectively, especially in this modern era of crystallized and socially acceptable immaturity, when grown men and women are admired and even feted for their childish antics and attitudes — Kanye West, for instance, or the cast of the Jersey Shore. Kids say things they don’t mean, and they say things they don’t really understand the implications of, and they try to do it in the worst, most offensive, most shocking way possible, in order to garner attention, in order to create a response, in order to prove their rebelliousness and independence and general badassery. As a teacher, I know this, and I don’t take their criticisms very seriously. Well, I do, because I am insecure and harshly self-critical, but I can usually talk myself out of it once I’m in a better mood.

But apparently, in this country, in this free, democratic country, that magnanimity and understanding only goes one way. Students are free to criticize teachers, even to accuse teachers online of sexual misdeeds of any stripe (I did not include the very worst comments about one of my coworkers, even though I’m sure the teacher in question would not be very hurt by the utterly absurd accusations, because some things simply should not be repeated, just for the sake of making a point.), anything they wish, because they are children. But should a teacher say anything negative about students, even non-specific comments made on a personal blog, then the wrath of the almighty descends. And by “almighty,” I mean the judgmental, Puritanical, tyrannical, almighty public opinion.

Natalie Munroe was suspended in Pennsylvania for calling her students “lazy, unmotivated whiners,” among other things. Another teacher (Also in Pennsylvania) was suspended for a picture that was posted online of her and a male stripper at a bachelorette party. She wasn’t naked, she wasn’t dancing, it wasn’t at school or during work hours — it was a private bachelorette party, she was in the frame when someone took a photo of the stripper, and this photo was posted online, by someone other than the teacher, who was then suspended. A teacher in England was suspended when another teacher complained about the Facebook comment: ‘By the way, (class) 8G1 are just as bad as 8G2.’ A middle school science teacher was suspended for this:

Hussain wrote on the social-networking site that it was a “hate crime” that students anonymously left a Bible on her desk, and she told how she “was able to shame her kids” over the incident. Her Facebook page included comments from friends about “ignorant southern rednecks,” and one commenter suggested Hussain retaliate by bringing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster to class with a swastika drawn on the NASCAR driver’s forehead.

It’s only a guess, but: want to bet those students thought (or knew) she was a Muslim — her name is Hussain, after all — and therefore either a terrorist or Hell-bound?

And another, for this:

The suspension occurred after a Charlotte television news station did a search on the social networking site for people who identified themselves as staff members of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The unidentified teacher, who teaches at Thomasboro Elementary School, which has 94 percent of its students in the free lunch program, wrote in her Facebook page, “I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”

Four other teachers in the district are also being disciplined for statements and photos posted to their Facebook pages.

Citation

What bothers me about this story — actually, about all of these stories — is how we react to the teachers. We think they have done something wrong. The Charlotte story goes on to quote an online comment that said this: “The teacher probably didn’t understand the privacy settings on her Facebook account. Information you post can be either publicly viewable or something that is just seen by your friends. She probably thought what she was posting was private, but left the default settings on to let everyone see your profile,” commented BluNews. “A lot of people unknowingly do this. That said, the teacher messed up and certainly diminished her ability to teach her kids. I’m not sure if firing her is the right thing to do, but she should be disciplined. Also, I doubt this is the last time we’ll hear about something like this. School systems should set policy on issues like this and warn teachers that negative postings about their jobs could lead to disciplinary actions.” (Emphasis added) Ibid.

When the story broke over the Pennsylvania teacher’s blog, a number of people pointed it out to me; one even brought me the clipping from the Oregonian. One of them sent me a link to the story in an e-mail and added the comment, “I wonder where the First Amendment comes down on this.” That gave me pause for a moment.

But then I realized. There’s no question where the First Amendment comes down on this. A teacher has the right to say whatever the hell he or she wants to, so long as it does not defame or slander, or violate privacy rights, or cause direct harm, as would a bomb threat or the classic crowded theater shout of “Fire!” No matter what you think of a teacher who says,

“I hear the trash company is hiring.”

“I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son.”

“Rude, beligerent [sic], argumentative f**k.”

“Just as bad as his sibling. Don’t you know how to raise kids?”

“Asked too many questions and took too long to ask them. The bell means it’s time to leave!”

“Nowhere near as good as her sibling. Are you sure they’re related?”

“Shy isn’t cute in 11th grade; it’s annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it.”

“Too smart for her own good and refuses to play the school ‘game’ such that she’ll never live up to her true potential here.”

“Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)”

[These are comments that Ms. Munroe wished were available for attaching to report cards. I should also note that she included in her blog the line, “I’m being a renegade right now, living on the edge and, um, blogging AT work. However, as I’m blogging about work stuff, I give myself a free pass of conscience.” Misuse of school resources might be part of the reason for her suspension, and I can’t really argue with that.]

no matter what you think of that person as a teacher, she has the right to say all of that and more. She is an American citizen, and she has the right to free speech. The criticisms I see, the justifications for trying to remove this woman’s right to speak her mind freely, often run along the lines of, “But what kind of teacher can she be if she thinks these terrible things about students?”

Allow me to respond to that with quotes, from students, lifted again from RateMyTeacher.com, about another teacher who posted similar general criticisms, and blogs laced with FAR more profanity than Ms. Munroe’s (But who fortunately was not suspended for it.).

He is a very kind teacher with an interesting spin on things that made English class quite enjoyable.

He doesn’t need this s**t to know he’s the **** best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

Great teacher. Always ready to help and is very considerate in his assinments

IS FREAKING AWESOME !!!! the coolest and best teacher in the school!

You are awesome as a teacher and you get the job done even when some of the students are being abnoxious and ignoring you completely.

great teacher one of my favorites

cool guy and good teacher

Best teacher in the world! 🙂

Great teacher! He’s really interesting and he cares about reading and english. He expects his students to be mature and that’s nice because most teachers even in high school treat us like little kids.

You see, my fellow Americans, that’s the point of freedom of speech. We are complicated, multi-dimensional creatures; no one thing we say, anywhere, ever, for any reason, can be presumed to sum up one’s entire person, or even to represent a definite and unalloyed aspect of that person — we teachers complain about our students, but there are also students we love, who make our day, who make classes better. Sometimes it’s the same student. It is unfair to assume that someone is fully represented by words she uses, especially when those words are taken out of context. It is thus unfair, unreasonable, and unjust to punish that person for those words — unless there is direct harm done or a specific law broken, as with slander, breach of confidentiality, and so forth. We have, and need, the right to express our opinions, to state our true feelings, even if those feelings hurt someone’s else’s feelings, even if our true feelings are mean, or profane, or politically incorrect in any way. There is no question what our right to free speech entails; we have the right to free speech. That’s it. Here, look at the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

No law abridging the freedom of speech. In any way. Which implies that no government institution should take action against an employee for exercising the right to free speech, as that employee’s freedom of speech is thus abridged. When you take that away, you take away the foundation of democracy. What’s next — should we ban peaceful protests asking for redress of grievances? You know, like people are saying about the pro-union demonstrations in Wisconsin right now? Anyone else feel like we’re on a slippery slope here?

The freedom of speech is essential to democracy, because it is essential to society, to individuals’ sanity and to the necessary goal of educating and informing all people. We must be able to speak our minds, and to tell what we think and what we know to anyone who will listen. That should include online speech, and it should include teachers. It is a sad thing when Americans question whether or not teachers, public employees entrusted with the edification of future citizens of our democracy, have the same rights as everyone else — including, of course, those future citizens themselves. And worse than sad, it is absolutely frightening in its implications. How much are we willing to lose in order to protect our children from — what, exactly? From being insulted in a place and a way that they would most likely never have seen, had this kerfuffle never happened? From hearing what someone actually thinks about them, which might even lead to a certain amount of shame — and then to self-improvement? From the tit for their tat? Who do we think we are helping?

What are we helping them to become?

I can’t believe that kid misspelled “assignments.” That one’s going on the next vocab list.

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