Thursday, February 17, 2011

I give Natalie Monroe her 15 minutes of fame

Recently a Pennsylvania teacher was suspended when remarks she had made about students in her blog became public.

(Links to video and article)

Modeling ethical behaviour and attitudes to our students is one of a teacher's greatest responsibilities. Teachers who aren't sure where the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable public comment lies without having it written up as a school board guideline ought to do some serious soul-searching. On a personal level, all we need to do is ask ourselves who could be hurt if the information in our blogs became widely public. Professionally, we have a duty of confidentiality to the young people in our care -- no matter how challenging their behaviour or less-than-respectful their attirutes are. Any communication which breaches either of those trusts is unacceptable whether teachers feel their comments are justified or not.

Ms. Monroe still insists that she did nothing wrong. As my students often did when I caught them saying something hurtful, in her most recent blog post of Feb. 12 she tries to pass her comments off as a 'joke." She also paints herself as mystified by the tempest her "casual blog" has caused and as misunderstood because "the crazies" (students and parents probably aided by the press) who "tracked her down" tried to make her look bad by focusing public attention on the negative stuff she posted. She implies that if we knew the whole story and read all her posts, we'd see her as the proud and dedicated teacher she really is -- one who soldiers on in her teaching work like a salmon swimming upstream against the flow of "more and more, students [who are] are coming in less willing to work, to think, to cooperate." But if Ms. Monroe stands by her words, why has she deleted her blog's archives?

Despite her assertions to the contrary, she seems now to be in damage control mode. In her ABC interview (scroll to bottom), she said she started the blog at a friend's suggestion as a way for them to keep up better.

Good one, Ms. Monroe. When in trouble, blame a friend for getting you into it!!! Have you never heard of email? She is now claiming that the students alluded to in her blog were "caricatures of students she'd had over the years" (from the ABC interview) and that she "kept things as anonymous as possible" (from Feb. 12 blog). Read this blog passage from Jan. 29, 2010 (with bold/red emphasis added by me), and judge for yourself.
"After showing them how to set up their answer sheets, I said to the class, "And I would remind you of our honor day activities and the honor pledge. We didn't just do that for fun. Remember what we talked about. And if you were planning on doing anything untoward--[and I looked RIGHT at the girl in the pink and the kids around her]-- DON'T. [She averted her eyes immediately!] Because I WILL give you a zero, and I WILL call your parents, and I WILL talk to your other teachers about you. And I won't trust you anymore. And it's awfully early in the semester to lose my trust. So, even if you may have been tempted because you perhaps didn't prepare enough or are worried because it's the first quiz, DON'T cheat." While quizzing, I stood behind the pink-shirted gal and her area for a good 4 minutes ...".
Ms. Monroe is not the 'Julian Assange' (Wikileaks founder) of the educational blogging community. She is simply a jaded teacher who felt was pushed too far and blurted out a lot of stuff that she should have kept to herself or dealt with on a one-to-one basis with parents and administrators. I think her frustration turned into a sort of arrogance. In the blog posts I read, she seems to be looking down on her students and even her colleagues from her own little acre of moral high ground.

Although I'm guessing that her lawyer would have her deny this, I suspect Ms. Monroe hoped her writing would resonate with some readers somewhere. She said in the ABC interview that she was just blogging "for fun, anonymously, for her [7] friends," but it would only have taken a few clicks of the mouse for her to change the settings and permissions and ensure that her blog, which she claims was "not [meant] for mass consumption," remained truly private and restricted to only readers she chose. Whether Ms. Monroe wanted to reach other like-minded educators (which has now happened because she's up to over 400 followers from 7) or touch the heart of an uncaring public, clearly she needed something to change.

However, as the old adage goes, you have to be careful about what you wish for. Unfortunately this teacher's stinging words have not softened the attitudes of the people she most wanted to reach. Those students and parents will be very unlikely to show more respect to their teachers in future. The cause of hard-pressed educators has not been well served. Ms. Monroe herself may find it impossible to connect positively with any students (if she keeps her job at all or can get another after the furor and court cases have gone away). As tough as kids today seem, they still value trust relationships with their teachers and betrayal of this trust creates a wound which is almost impossible to heal.

When it comes right down to it, Ms.Monroe was supposed to be the adult, but she acted out -- just like the worst of her students -- and got caught. Her blogging was not honorable. Let me quote from her Jan. 29, 2010 , blog again -- here she's writing about taking the school's honor pledge seriously:

"So I designed an entire block's worth of activities .... I figured that if I spent 90 minutes on this topic up front on the second day of class, that they'd realize how important it is. We talk about honor and what it means. We talk about why we sign our names to documents and how on a contract, the signature is legally binding. We discuss reputations, how easy it is to go from a good to bad reputation (and how difficult to go from bad to good), and how much nobody wants a bad reputation. We talk about trust and the value of a good name. ... Honor isn't stuff to me. Honor is a driving force. Honesty, integrity, and one's good name aren't things that happen to you, but things that one earns and should value and aspire to and wish to keep."
Ms. Monroe -- I'm with your kids on this one. If you can "give myself a free pass of conscience" (Feb. 12) when you feel justified, how can you blame your kids when they do the same? After all, they learned it from their teacher. Before you set foot in a classroom again, I suggest you let your defenses down and reread some of those deleted blog entries and the students' comments. Use your English teacher skills to delve beneath the cuss words and ask yourself what they might have been feeling that would have caused them to lash back so harshly. As you wrote on Feb. 12:
"The truth hurts sometimes. Maybe instead of getting pissed off at the person pointing out the behavior, people need to examine their behavior and make a change. Better to know now before the Ghost of Christmas Future shows up."

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