Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Words Create Realities, Part 2: The Frustrated Educator

This past week I was forwarded a link to an Associated Press news story that appeared on MSNBC.com, and of course it caught my attention. I’m a teacher, therefore I’m interested in any headline that reads, “Teacher strikes nerve with ‘lazy whiners’ blog”.

Here’s the link, if you’d like to read this for yourself.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41618492/ns/us_news-life/?gt1=43001

The upshot: Pennsylvania high school English teacher Natalie Munroe published, on her blog, what amounted to a diatribe about current high school English-class students not being, um, shall we say, overly committed to their education. It wasn’t subtle; for an English teacher, it wasn’t especially well-written.

 

My reactions came in this order:

[1] Did she have to publish this RIGHT NOW? Teachers’ unions are under fire in Wisconsin and other places; and in any case, educators are regularly pressed to defend every last thing they do. They’re the second most regulated profession (in terms of professional development and licensing, etc.) in America, behind only medical doctors. No need to create more opportunities for people to dump on the teachers.

[2] Did she consider your audience? Did she know that former students would be reading her work? Did she consider that someone might know very well about whom she was writing – her current students! – and might possibly pass the word on to them? Could make it just that much harder to command their respect in class, couldn’t it.

[3] When she signed up for a blog, was she under the misapprehension that only she would be reading it, so therefore it could be just like a private, secret diary? Well, no. In this case, Ms. Munroe started the blog “for friends and family.” Does she know how the modern Internet works?

[5] Did she consider that perhaps as educators, whether or not we’re under fire or whatever, we have extra responsibility to express ourselves without undue use of profanity? To keep it clean, where possible?


When I signed up for the chance to Make A Blog!, I pretty soon realized that it wasn’t just going to be my Facebook friends reading this. My Facebook friends, and those who aren’t on Facebook (there are some) know me, know what I mean by certain kinds of “verbal shorthand”, and have a pretty good idea of when I’m serious and when I’m just pokin’ fun. But as for the whole world of readers upon the Internet? I can’t be as certain about all that. So after the furious blast of writing (or the blast of furious writing), there’s a whole lot of editing, thinking and restraint that goes into publishing something, because quite honestly, if I want to get flamed, I want it to be for a durn good reason.

And this may not have been it.

 

OR . . . maybe this was it, in fact. There is in fact a time and place to get in someone’s face and point a finger at their nose and say, “listen up, buster.” I can’t takes no more, and all that.

I fight hard to remember what school was like when I was a student, and whether there were students whom I could describe as “rude, disengaged, lazy whiners”, “unmotivated”, “out of control”, who “curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”

If I think about it long enough, yeah, I can remember all of that. It’s not new. “What’s the matter with kids today?” Nothing that wasn’t, before. Today’s entertainment industry tends to amplify such behaviors, if not actively promote them, but I can think of specific individuals with whom I went to school who fit those descriptions to a T – in the late 1970s. (I hate it that this counts as “long ago”, but that’s a topic for another post entirely.)

And even at the time, I would have happily called them out. I remember sitting in a Social Studies class, feeling really awful for the teacher who was earnestly trying to deal with the yahoos sitting in the back row, and thinking toward those kids, “You’re ruining my class!!”

Every teacher has students like this. And every teacher, throughout history, has had them. I can imagine Socrates wondering, “do I have to DRINK the hemlock to get their attention?”

In my years of teaching, statistically, it would have been unlikely for every single one of my students to have been a completely motivated, enthusiastic, articulate soul every day, all the time. There are days when I suspect that by teaching music, I give myself a better chance to work with the relatively more-motivated kids in the world than if I were teaching one of those completely important MCAS-test subjects. Y’know, math and English and such. I’ve often said, “there’s no guarantee that 100% of math students are desperate to get in the door of the classroom and Do Some Math!” and that’s no knock on math teachers. I just feel pretty lucky when I get in front of an ensemble that just likes doing what they’re doing. It does make a teaching day better, I’ll admit.

The toughest afternoons for teachers come after a day that seems full of students who are rude, or worse, full of students we can’t seem to get a rise out of, no matter what we do.


But again, this comes back to “Words Create Realities”. Just as much as I suggest to my middle-school charges that a really important thing to develop is an internal “should I say it?” filter, I try to apply that filter to myself. And when someone out there doesn’t apply it, I default to “oh, Lord, did you have to do that?”

On the other hand! This teacher in Pennsylvania might be right. We can point to lots more “duties” that teachers have nowadays that used to rightly be taken care of by parents … e.g., parenting! … and lots more challenges. We can affix responsibility to a lot of people.

But even while we’re inspired to express thoughts which might very well be perfectly valid and correct, we’ve got to remember: as teachers, we’re always on stage. Even while standing in line at the supermarket not far from where we teach, talking to no one but ourselves, we’re always being listened to, and evaluated, and judged. Fairly or unfairly, it’s still true. So we owe it to ourselves and our colleagues to think hard before we write.

All of our colleagues will be seen in the light that we cast onto them. We ought to make sure that our public expressions generate more light than heat.

 

Postscript: One of Ms. Munroe’s former students is quoted in the article: “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything. … It’s a teacher’s job, however, to give students the motivation to learn.”

I more than partly disagree with the young man. Teachers have to bring their “A” game all the time, and when they don’t, even the slightly perceptive students know that they aren’t. But teaching is a two-way street. Teachers bring their enthusiasm for and knowledge of a subject, but responsibility does fall on students to dredge up at least a little effort; otherwise, they deserve the “F” they get. It has been suggested that the analogous phrase “I sold them the car; they just didn’t buy it” describes a teacher excuse for why learning didn’t take place. But are the students active thinkers, or are they just placeholders?

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February 19, 2011 - Posted by | blogging, education, Internet, news, social media, writing | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Interesting thoughts, Rob. I think the only thing that I would add is that I recall, as a student, being completely exhausted at times, and really not wanting to be in class, even in a subject that I loved, yet if the teacher came in truly excited about whatever we were going to do that day, it was possible to turn my mood around. Not always, but sometimes. So I would say that while teachers are definitely not entirely responsible for the student’s “motivation to learn”, I think they can greatly affect it.

    Additionally, a few moms and I were talking about the issue of respect in the schools, and how poorly children behave today because of the lack of parenting. I am appalled at what I see around me with the peers of my children, and I even found out that there is an elementary school here in CA where the kids call the teachers by their first names!! Talk about a lack of respect! That disturbs me greatly, and I’m sure it will for a long time to come.

    Comment by Sara | February 19, 2011 | Reply


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