An Apple or a Rotten Tomato for the Teacher?
We are both named Natalie. We both work in high schools. We both teach English. We both blog. But that is where the similarities end.
Last week, a story broke about this other Natalie, a 30-year-old teacher in a suburban Philadelphia school, who was suspended with pay for writing insulting posts about students, parents, and other teachers.
As a teacher, administrator, and blogger, this story piqued my interest, and for the last few days I’ve been wavering on my stance: Should a teacher be fired because of what she writes or posts on a blog, Facebook, or Twitter?
While Natalie Munroe, the teacher in Bucks County, PA, didn’t use her full name on her blog and didn’t name students in her blog posts, students in the high school still managed to find her blog* and deduce she was the author. The students brought the blog to the attention of school administrators and Munroe was swiftly suspended. (On a lighter note, maybe her charges are brighter than she gave them credit for and have wildly lucrative careers as detectives ahead of them!)
In one post she detailed some comments she’d like to add to report cards:
- “I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son.”
- “I hear the trash company is hiring.”
- “Nowhere near as good as her sibling. Are you sure they’re related?”
While her blog, NataliesHandBasket.blogspot.com, covered other topics, about one-third of the posts were about her job and the “disengaged, lazy whiners” she was attempting to teach. Munroe spoke to the Associated Press last Tuesday and countered that she did write some positive things about her students but conceded to also writing negatively about her students “out of frustration”. Munroe has lawyered up as the school indicated the very pregnant Munroe will likely lose her job.
Wading through several articles on Munroe’s case, I didn’t see any mention of www.ratemyteachers.com, a website that was developed several years ago for students to anonymously rate teachers on ease of grading, amount of homework, and other criteria, while providing space for comments. When this website first came online in the early 2000s, it wasn’t quite as glossy and sanitized as it is today, and many students used it as a forum to openly malign and lambaste teachers without censure. Teachers really had no recourse–their names and schools were posted, along with their rating average and a happy or sad face emoticon. I didn’t find any articles about teachers suing the website or students being reprimanded for their comments.
I’m really struggling with this whole issue because while I can empathize with Munroe’s frustrations as a teacher, I’m first and foremost an advocate for students. Teenagers can be a tough crowd, but through the years I’ve found most are just looking for someone to listen to them or validate their feelings.
On a personal level, I avoid talking about my students and job on my blog or Twitter. I don’t have Facebook for a few reasons, my profession being the top one. If I have a bad day at work, I might vent to my husband or a close friend who works as a teacher in another district, but I generally try to let things go. Like I say to my students when trying to give them perspective: Will this problem still bother me in a week? A month? A year? Five years?
Yes, some teenagers can be entitled and rude but so were some of the adults I worked with in Corporate America. None of my colleagues at my old job ever made me laugh as much as my students, and none of my achievements at my old job made me feel as good as I do when graduates come back to visit with tales of success in college and beyond.
When my students clamor to tell me that the characters on 90210 were talking about The Importance of Being Earnest last week, or when I see their knowing smiles and hear their laughs at Elizabeth Eulberg’s references to The Canterbury Tales and Great Expectations while we’re reading her new book Prom and Prejudice in class, or when students begged me to take them to see Sean “Puffy” Combs play Walter Lee Younger in the Broadway reprisal of A Raisin in the Sun a few years back, I know they are listening and taking something away from my classes.
But back to the salient point: Should Natalie Munroe (or any teacher) be able to write about her job, students, and work-related frustrations on her blog?
Constitutionally, yes, I think she has the right to say what she wants so long as she doesn’t name specific students or the school but should be cognizant that she runs the risk of being ‘outed’.
Personally, morally, and from a common sense angle, I think people in general–professionals in any field specifically–should take care not to use the internet or any social media as a platform to say things he or she wouldn’t be comfortable saying in a crowded auditorium filled with family, friends, and all of the people he or she is writing or complaining about.
*While it was widely reported by the media outlets that Munroe’s blog was taken down, it seems that in the last few days she purchased a new domain, www.nataliemunroe.com, and is back online blogging.