Natalie Munroe, you’re killing me…

I’m sure it comes off as a broken record, but I’m a free speech kind of guy. That being said, Natalie Munroe, what in the world were you thinking?? There is such a thing as tact (and I’ll freely admit that I haven’t always exercised a tremendous display of this – cue laughter from some colleagues).

Natalie Munroe is the teacher who was suspended with pay for recently being discovered as the creator of a blog that was critical of students and parents in the Central Bucks East School District. She never referred to students by name and never identified herself beyond Natalie M. (although she did post a picture of herself on the site as well). The title of her site is/was “Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket? and while she shut it down, the cached version of her response can be found here.

I don’t doubt that anybody in the field of education has had their fair share of students and parents and co-workers who have caused all kinds of frustration. Heck, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any field that doesn’t have these frustrations. But to post in your blog the types of things that Munroe did concerning her students and parents? Well, that’s just stupid. Yeah, you might get a chuckle out of these things, but c’mon, putting these things out there was idiotic.

This might not seem to be as easy as some would make it out to be. Yes, there are elements of the First Amendment at play here, but teachers also have things known as morality clauses in our contracts. Defining morality is a slippery slope, but I can understand those who say she’s violated her contract by doing what she’s done.

Munroe has said that she did this to share her frustrations with her family and friends. If this were truly the case, then she should have locked this down as much as absolutely possible and made it accessible to only these people. I get it, I’ve certainly vented at times – a lot, at times. But again, this just isn’t something that should be made public – and if she didn’t understand just how public this would go before, well, I’d guess she completely understands it at this point. To think that anything you post on the internet at this point is completely private is unbelievably naive.

I do believe that as teachers, we also have to take responsibility in trying to alter the objectionable behaviors. I’m not saying this to excuse the behaviors – but there are times that we need to look at ourselves as well. Have I set up a classroom environment that enables this type of behavior? Am I properly structuring my lessons in a manner that engages the students who are causing the problems? Am I seeking the advice of others? Have I contacted the parents in the attempt to get some help from home with these issues? Without being in her shoes (actually, in her classroom), it’s difficult to truly get a feel for the entire issue.

There is one thing that I do believe Ms. Munroe has nailed: “There are serious problems with our education system today,” she wrote. “If this ‘scandal’ opens the door for that conversation, so be it.” She doesn’t want to be the martyr and she shouldn’t be – but if this gets people talking – and working to improve the situation – then so be it.  If nothing else, perhaps this will truly get the conversation going even more.

For the record, I can understand the “lazy” and “loafers” sentiment. But I see this all around me, every single day in more than just students – and I am absolutely certain that I was looked at in this same light by my dad and his dad. This tends to be the way of the world. These weren’t the truly objectionable comments, though. And if you stuck with just the mainstream media this week, then perhaps this was all you thought she had said.

As a person who works with students by teaching a Mass Media class, I think it’s been interesting to see just how the media has been handling this “case.” Overwhelmingly, I think the media has been too soft on Munroe – the vast majority of the stories I’ve read have stopped short of printing the truly objectionable pieces (note: this has changed as the story has progressed). I always thought the idea was to present the whole story and allowing the reader to determine an opinion. Call me old-fashioned, I guess.

It’s an interesting topic, to say the least. In this day and age of teacher bashing, while Munroe may have had the right to say what she did, she didn’t exercise proper caution, digital literacy and tact in doing so. The conversation that truly needs to happen, in my opinion, is one in which we are able to get everybody back on the same page concerning what we need to see happening in our educational system.

We need for everybody to get on board and realizae that we can’t truly be successful if we aren’t working toward the same goal – which must be increased student achievement. This means we need to establish high expectations and standards out of all of us – administrators, teachers, students and parents. We need community support; we need school board members who drive their decisions based upon what’s best for all students, not an agenda they had to get them elected; we need a long term goal.

I know that I’m getting off the topic of Natalie Munroe now, but we need the space race, so to speak. We need a sense of urgency. So what should that goal be? For my money, I think it should be a race to find the cure for cancer, but that’s another topic and another post.

Natalie Munroe, I’m pretty certain that you didn’t mean to call this attention to yourself, but it’s there. Your 15 minutes have started. Now do something with it. And if you don’t then all that you’re doing is enabling students and parents to come up with their own assessment of your abilities.

Some links if you’d like to read more:

Time Magazine: How one teacher’s angry blog sparked a viral debate about the modern classroom

AOL News: This article has the more objectionable comments that Munroe made in it

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First Amendment Week…

Each of my Mass Media students received one of these this week...

In case you didn’t know, this past Wednesday – December 15th – was the anniversary of the ratification of the  Bill of Rights. As a teacher of Mass Media and Communications and the Adviser of the school newspaper, I tremendously fortunate to work with a great group of students – each of whom brings some interesting insights into most topics. I have no problems saying that we have a group of students who are all over the spectrum – in every which imaginable way – and I love this aspect.

As a group, we took a look at this article, written by Howard Troxler in 2006 for the St. Petersburg Times, in which we are informed that 22% of Americans can name all five family members of The Simpsons yet less than 1% of this same group can name all five of the freedoms guaranteed to us in the First Amendment. After having the students list as many of the family members first, then listing the five freedoms, I’d say that we were about their awareness was roughly even between the two of them – and the two that I figured that they’d have problems with (assembly and petition) were the ones they had problems with. From here, they created a foldable – something that was new to me – and to them. The first side had each member of the Simpsons’ family and the freedom associated with them was on the back of this. After opening the foldable up, one could see their visual representation of what that freedom meant to them. Here is an example:

Sample Simpsons' foldable

I was really pleased to see the responses that I got — and full disclosure: I wasn’t smart enough to come up with this part on my own – I got the lesson from Tiffany Baricko, who had it listed on the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ High School Journalism Lesson Plan Archives (specifically, found here).

From here, we discussed everything they brought into this and then decided to created a “wordle” concerning the First Amendment and what it means to them in particular.  This provided them the opportunity to again demonstrate what part of the Amendment means the most to them – for most it was speech, for a few it was the press, and for others it was the freedom of religion. Again, I was pleased with the outcome – to some, these might not seem like much, but I’m telling you, they really took pride in these. They took big time ownership in this project.

Some sample “wordles,” and one that veered a little from the wordle example, but gets to the point nonetheless…

My sample wordle...

Sample Wordle 1

Sample Wordle 2

And another take - love this...

We spoke of freedoms and what it means to appreciate these. We spoke of WikiLeaks and censorship and standing up for differing opinions. Every one of my seniors who is 18 volunteered that they’re registered to vote and can’t wait to do so. One spoke of her experience of voting this past November – and they were enthralled.

Thanks to Facebook and a friend of mine posting this video, we looked at The Clash’s Know Your Rights. For some, this was their first exposure to punk music. We listened to the song and I’m not so sure they would have really gotten it if it were not for the sheet I gave them with the lyrics. It generated conversation on what our rights look like to somebody who’s not a United States’ Citizen. We spoke of why punk music even came about. Some clean cut kids were exposed to some gritty, grimy stuff – and appreciated their message. As I said on Twitter and Facebook, I have a feeling that The Clash was being downloaded that night.

And you know what? I doubt that one single part of this will show up on a standardized test.