Image courtesy of Ben Dalton

I have mentioned in previous posts that I have only two rules in my classroom: have fun and respect one another. At the beginning of each term, I have my students work out what that means based on various topics including cell phone use in the classroom, attendance, and cultures. From that, we build a code of classroom conduct that each of us, including myself, need to follow. It works well and it tells my students I respect them as a person and I hope that they would do the same for me.

A week ago, I came across this news article of a teacher in Mexico who confronted her students about some nasty things that had been tweeted about the teacher by one of the students. I won’t get into details, but the teacher used the classroom to address the issue in a very direct way. The comments on the CNN news article show a number of people in support of the teacher saying, “She is the authority in her classroom,” and “Humiliation is needed in schools, much more of it”. The whole event, from student to teacher to administration to the general public’s reaction has made me feel sad. I don’t think the issue here is ‘putting someone in their place’. I think the real issue is how we view one another as human beings.

After reading the article and watching the video, I started to think about each person or group of people affected by this event and I started to see how complex this issue is and how difficult it is to ‘place blame’ (not that I think we should). I decided to break it down in a sort of chronological order as things progressed.

The student who tweeted: All I know from the video was that the student was ‘upset’. I don’t know what precipitated that, but for this student, she chose to use Twitter as her means of venting her frustration. It seems to me that this lesson on the proper use of social media was too little, too late. Students at this age are not necessarily putting all of the pieces together regarding action and consequences. I definitely don’t condone what she did, but I remember at that age having a difficult time knowing what to do with all of the changes that were happening in my life and struggling to find healthy ways of dealing with them. Those of us who interact with the students on a daily basis (teachers, parents, friends) need to be more proactive in guiding the young person through this amazing, yet incredibly difficult time in their life. They will continue to make mistakes, but hopefully we can help minimize the damage before it happens.

The re-tweeter: Many of the things I mentioned above would also be true for this young man, but there are some differences as well. In this case, the student who re-tweeted the nasty message was likely showing support for his classmate. This is a time in life when acceptance from peers is vital and young people are willing to do things that they normally wouldn’t do if they thought through things carefully. In this case, it wasn’t so much about the teacher as it was about the young woman. It doesn’t make his action any more acceptable, but it shows how important it is for us to be able to separate the meaning from the action when we feel like we have been wronged. Address the real issue, not the symptom.

The teacher: I feel for this woman. She likely puts her heart and energy into her job with probably little in terms of compensation or recognition. This is true for so many primary and secondary school teachers. Many times, the only feedback these individuals get is negative. The students are unhappy about something, the parents are unhappy because their child is unhappy, the administration is putting pressure on them to do better or risk losing their job. So, when something like this happens, it can be devastating. Her intentions of correcting the real problem of respect is admirable, but her methods are what is in question.

The other day, I could feel myself getting upset that a group of students were continually being late. Why? Is it really something to get angry about? Not really. In this situation, I was able to take time to calm down and address the real issue by sitting down with the students individually, without drawing attention to them with the rest of the class. That worked. I can say that this hasn’t always been the case. Actually, I could see myself in this same situation not being as calm as this woman from the start. She was able to hold herself together for a while before finally getting upset. I am only guessing here, but I feel like she never really wanted to get upset in front of the whole class, but her emotions got the best of her.

For myself, I would hope that I would have spoken to each of the students involved separately and addressed it outside of the group. The video feels like a public ‘shaming’ and little bit like getting revenge. I don’t think the teacher meant it consciously, but that is what ended up happening. As for expecting your students to respect you just because of your position, I believe that we earn our respect from those we deal with and shouldn’t expect it automatically. I feel it only breeds future problems and teaches others to hold on to power due to your position in life.

The students in the classroom: You can see this group slowly become more and more uncomfortable throughout the video. By the end of the video, you can almost read their minds, “I will never let my teacher know how I really feel.” A classroom needs to be a safe place to make mistakes and to share how you feel. I suspect that this teacher wouldn’t have many discipline issues after this (if she wasn’t suspended), but the real problems are still there, building up under the surface.

The general public: As I mentioned at the beginning, the general public seems to support the actions of the teacher. I understand why that is given the current state of the world, but is this the right thing to be doing? From what I am reading in regards to tweets and comments about this video is that people want ‘justice’, that is, they want revenge. What if it was them making the mistake? Wouldn’t they want someone to listen instead of condemn? I feel like people want teachers to be authoritarians, telling students what to do and how to do it. Is that what we really want? Isn’t that what has caused us to take so long to deal with issues such as racism and tolerance? I want my students to challenge me, make me think about things. If they are doing it to hurt me, that is one thing, but if they are doing it because this is what they believe, that is a much more acceptable, even admirable thing.

In somewhat of a defence of this public reaction, some of the people are supporting the teacher because they feel that teachers are not treated well by others. I applaud that, but still struggle with their reasoning. Teachers need to be seen for who they are, not what they achieve. We want people of good character in the classroom, guiding our students through this time.

The parents of the students involved: While we don’t hear about them in this article, we can deduce that they weren’t too happy about what the teacher did. I get that. They want what’ s best for their child and are willing to support them. The sad thing is that some parents never address the real issues. They are willing to point the finger at someone else and rarely take the time to see how they may have missed the mark. Parenting is tough. I understand that some parents will do whatever it takes to keep their child happy. The problem is that by failing to take on some of the difficult issues head on, such as this student tweeting nasty messages about her teacher, they are doing more harm then good. Some parents see school as taking over their responsibilities as a parent. School was never meant to do that. Parents need to be actively involved in their child’s life. That isn’t always easy, especially for parents who are struggling to make ends meet, but it is a part of showing your child you love them and you care about them. Even if it means you have to deal with difficult issues head on.

The administration who suspended her and the students: This is a thankless job. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If they hadn’t reacted the way they did, the parents and the public would have had them fired. I think the administration did the right thing here. I know I am in the minority, but I actually don’t think the teacher was in the right to do this. There needs to be a cooling down time before putting this group back together. I think this is an issue that needs someone to sit down with everyone involved to work things out.

After saying all of that, there are some administrators who suspend teachers because they are trying to save themselves. They need to address the real issues regardless of the pressure by the public. That may mean that they get raked over the coals in the mean time, but it is what is best of both the teacher and the student. Don’t even get my started about pandering to others due to funding.

To sum everything up, I feel like there were very few in this whole incident who were in the clear. After saying that, I understand why everyone did what they did. It doesn’t completely justify their actions, but it shows how there is usually a lot more to a story than what we see on the surface. By taking time to reflect on the actions and what precipitated them, we can start to address what is really wrong, instead of dealing with the symptoms.

Also, I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t think that I am perfect and would have dealt with things properly. I screw up all of the time. Call me selfish, but I wrote this so that others might be more patient with me when I do something I shouldn’t have.

I would love to hear from you. What is your opinion about what happened here?

2 thoughts on “Understanding

  1. Fascinating. I completely understand the impulse the teacher had to stand up for herself, but I tend to think it was a knee-jerk reaction. Felt good and justified, but whether it was really the most sensitive way to handle the situation is another matter…

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