Column – Teacher’s comments against students not without provocation

February 21, 2011 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

Last week, the Associated Press did a story on Natalie Munroe, a high school English teacher from Philadelphia who has been suspended without pay for complaining about her students on her personal blog.

Well, OK, maybe “complaining” is putting it lightly. While the original blog is gone, many of the entries have been cached online (what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet). In some of the entries, she calls certain, anonymous students things like “rat-like.” On her student evaluations, she says she wishes she could write things such as, “I hear the trash company is hiring.”

Harsh? A little. Immature things for an adult in a position of authority to say? Absolutely.

But at the same time, I feel like she’s saying things that need to be said.

In one oft-quoted entry, Munroe wrote, “My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”

Forget about her high school students. That description fits a lot of students I’ve seen here at Texas Tech.

That, in my opinion, is a big problem.

It’s no secret that the American education system is struggling, and a lot of blame is being thrown around as to the cause. Obviously there’s no one explanation. The education budget sucks, classrooms are too crowded, et cetera et cetera. But it’s hard to help children learn when they’re so unwilling.

Munroe has a new blog online, at NatalieMunroe.com no less, where she writes, “the fact remains that every year, more and more students are coming in less willing to work, to think, to cooperate.”

As I said, this is something I’ve seen on our own college campus, where one would like to assume students would be more willing to learn.

Obviously that isn’t the case. Students still complain about having “too much work” (when in actuality they are working very little) or having tests that are too hard. Often they complain about having to go to class at all.

Who or what is at fault for this obnoxiously lazy, entitled attitude? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a parenting issue (and I’m not a parent, so I wouldn’t feel qualified to talk about that anyway), an issue with our society in general or what.

Maybe the method of learning is to blame. Maybe our culture has changed so much that we need to go back to square one in order to find out how best to teach the students of tomorrow.

In any case, I’m not sure Munroe deserves much more than a slap on the wrist. As she and her lawyer are quick to tell people, the original blog was written anonymously (though, to be fair, a picture of her was allegedly on it). She never mentioned what school she worked for or what students she was blowing off steam about. She was found out anyway, of course, but I assume it wasn’t a simple matter.

Honestly, she was doing what millions of other people worldwide, both young and old, are doing on the Internet. Just look at fmylife.com, NotAlwaysRight.com or sites like them and you’ll find hundreds of stories from people complaining about other people. Sometimes it’s students complaining about teachers. Sometimes it’s employees complaining about bosses or customers. Sometimes it’s customers complaining about employees.

It’s human nature to vent. It’s natural to come home from school or work and rant about how horrible your day was to anybody that will listen. Trust me, my fiancée does it all the time.

Do we need to be careful about ranting in a public space, such as the Internet? Absolutely. That should go without saying, and Munroe should have been more careful than she was. But I feel as if she was just exercising her First Amendment right to free speech in this case.

Furthermore, I worry the school board Munroe works for will try to bury her as part of an effort to hide a greater problem. Munroe’s comments, while not as mature as they could have been, highlight a very big problem in our schools today. I hope the people in charge don’t merely shoot the messenger.

But there’s one lesson everybody should learn from Munroe: Be very careful what you say online.

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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