A Cautionary Tale

This story landed in my inbox shortly after it broke last week, and I've been sitting on it since then.  I suppose it's time to end my silence.

In a way, there's not much to say about it.  A teacher starts a personal blog, in which she lambasts her students in vindictive and vulgar terms.  A student discovers it.  Word spreads.  She is suspended for her actions, which she defends.  Public outcry is divided between supporters who believe kids really are as awful as she says, and a seething mob of parents demanding her head on a platter.  Much like any other celebrity scandal, minus the celebrity.

In another way, there's a lot to say -- perhaps more than can ever be said.  From the beginning, I've felt nothing but sadness about the whole situation, starting with the fact that, as a teacher, she is probably preaching the digital responsibility she's failed to model by including her name and location on the vitriolic posts that will most likely get her fired.  This is ironic, yes, but also (more so) sad.  Sad for her, and for her students.

It's sad that, although she obviously enjoys some aspects of her job (in one post, she congratulates herself for "kicking ass" by successfully instructing both gifted and remedial students in the same day) she has failed in many ways: to motivate them, to inspire them, to take charge of them.  Doing so is, undoubtedly, extraordinarily difficult.  Many days I fail at all three, myself.  It's sad that this failure made her angry at their indifference instead of determined to break through it.

Most sad of all were the comments left on her blog in the few hours between the students' discovery of it and her removal of the posts from the Web.  They displayed even more anger and vulgarity, denouncing her in crude terms, saying all kinds of nasty things about her and generally behaving like children. Which they are, still. Their words are reminiscent of preschool huffiness: "That's not FAIR!" and "You're not my FRIEND anymore!" with slightly different words.  Yet she is an adult, and she started this battle -- not directly, but deliberately, and it's sad that she felt she had no other option than to shout her anger at the world.

One comment stuck out to me above all the others: a student who said he had not hated the teacher "like all the rest" until he read what she had written.  His tone was so obviously injured that it struck a nerve.  Just like the first time we see a teacher outside of school and realize with shock that she is an actual person with a life and a family and feelings, he realized that teachers could be cruel, and that they didn't always act in the student's best interest.  They are, at the core, embarrassingly human.  And while I know it's best that he learn this now, the loss of innocence is still a loss, and it breaks my heart.

It may seem naive to hope for some good yet out of this awful situation, but that's where I am.  It doesn't look promising: probably a protracted legal battle will ensue, followed by an out-of-court settlement and / or a book deal.  The teacher has continued to post on a new website, saying things that are actually quite lucid and laudable (this post, demanding that teachers receive more public credibility, is a good example) but they still don't erase the insults she spewed at the world when she thought no one was listening.  Then again, I suppose it's possible that she hoped they were.

Now might be a good time to remind you of my privacy policy, and to share something I read on Dooce back when I first started blogging: when you write about someone on the Internet, you must be certain that your subject will one day read what you have written, and that that day will be sooner than you think.  It's true that I haven't directly told anyone at school about my blog, and for various reasons I'd be fine if it stayed that way (I'd hate to think that people would filter what they said to me for fear I might blog about it, for example.)  But if I were "outed" tomorrow, I'd be okay with that.  What I've said here is my own experience, for better or for worse; I've tried to be fair and positive about my thoughts and actions, and I think I've done that.  God forgive me if the truth is otherwise.