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We talked about this, you know? Four classes, four discussions.

Four times I told them a student in Washington had been suspended for 40 days and invited speculation into his crime. He stabbed somebody? He hit a teacher? He sold drugs?

Four times through that video, which was pretty cruel in some places and probably didn’t do enough justice to the utter lameness of the teacher in others. Four times I told the class, look, you’re going to find this funny but this isn’t like the other times we play videos in class. Four times I told them I wanted their thoughts on What All This Means.

  1. They thought it was cruel.
  2. They thought it was funny.
  3. They thought it was kinda amateurishly shot and edited.  (That’s my kids!)
  4. They tossed out similarly unflattering references to some of my co-workers, references which I quickly quelled ’cause, if they’re making those references to other teachers in my class, lord knows what they’re saying about me in other classes.
  5. One student called the suspension un-American.
  6. (Seriously, gotta watch out ’cause that karmic wheel whips back pretty fast.)

I tried to be all Christian Long and let them drive the discussion, but, y’know, I really wanted a piece of it.

  1. I referenced some of Scott’s legal commentary and thought (but didn’t mention to them) how cool it is that this here edublog’sphere comprises lawyer-teachers, novelist-teachers, coder-teachers, and other sorts who make this place richer and make me sound smarter than I am.
  2. I made a somewhat suspect analogy to a pizzeria that cleans itself only once a week, whose employees are overbearing and rude and make lousy pizza. And we compared our options as customers at such a pizza place to our options as students in such a classroom.
  3. I told them that their cameraphones gave them power they didn’t have even a couple of years ago and that with that power came a responsibility to be fair and accurate with any record they make.
  4. We all agreed that cheap-shotting Ms. Mong with the “Ms. New Booty” sequence was unfair and undermined the kid’s credibility.
  5. I shared my conviction that the teacher-student relationship invites abuse on a daily, momentary basis. They have to be there. I have a drawer full of referrals.
  6. Discreet student filmmaking, RateMyTeachers.com, letters to the school board, anything, I encouraged it, however small. The playing field still tilts on a 75° axis in favor of teachers, good and lame alike.

This is an exciting time to be alive, I told them, and hoped we could make the best of it together.

[Via Scott]

13 Responses to “It’s happening in Kent.”

  1. on 31 May 2007 at 10:53 pmH.

    A teacher I had a chance to observe at DCP today dealt quite deftly with a case of students criticizing another teacher. She asked the students to explain what ‘constructive criticism’ was, and from the responses it seemed clear that the kids had been guided down this track before. Soon they were restating their dissatisfaction in terms such as “Ms. X was not explaining such and such a concept in a way that we understood” instead of the original “Ms. X class sucked”. That’s some alternative to awkward silence when students criticize a teacher – it was a civil discussion that did not invalidate the kids’ concerns, but did not let them tear the teacher down either.

  2. on 01 Jun 2007 at 5:46 amanon

    Interesting post. Here I am replying, and I still do not know exactly how to answer. I probably should see the video before responding (I’m at work right now, so I can’t get access to it). I think we are at a point in this society where now more than ever there is an attitude of people (kids and adults alike) where they want everything served to them on silver platters. Look at the cars and the houses millions upon millions of Americans have, but really can’t afford.
    You know, teachers are people. To use a restaurant analogy like you did, how many times have you eaten out and said afterwards, “Damn! This was such an awesome meal!!!!” or, said “What a waste of money, this meal stunk!”? Probably few and far between. Most of the time you might say at the most, “that was good” and the person you ate with might say “yeah” or simply shurg.
    You could say the same thing about haircuts, getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist, dealing with a shoe salesman at Foot Locker, etc.
    Teachers are the same way. Between being a student in K-12, going to college, going to grad school, student-teaching experiences, and being a professional educator I have encountered a whole bunch of educators. Very rarely do I encounter an educator and say, “WOW!!!!!!!”. Likewise, very rarely do I say, “damn. This teacher is the worst!”. Most do the best they can from 8AM-3PM and then go home to their own lives of family, friends, paying bills, going to church, watching TV, having a glass of wine, etc. That is what this teacher in the video (that I am now even more curious to see) does. She does not need some snot-nosed teenager simulating sex with her. Even if she struggles in the classroom (and it sounds like she does!), I doubt she hurts children, kicks puppies, and sits at home thinking of even more evil deeds.
    Did you ever see the movie “Fever Pitch” with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore? Nice movie…anyway, in one seen Red Sox fanatic x 10 Jimmy Fallon is at a restaurant with a buddy or two. They are nervously and excitedly talking about an upcoming game. He then looks over and sees a few Red Sox players at another table chatting and laughing it up. This upsets him because he feels THEY need to be all nervous and prepping for the “big game”. They then wonder to each other “is this just a job for them??”. I think to the kids in the video they feel the same way. From grades K-college, school IS your life. School runs you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They feel teachers are the same way (like when a 1st sees a teacher at a restuarant walking out of the bathroom, “oh my god, Ms. Smith pees!!!!). I think it takes Educators until the age of about 30 the realize the same thing that Jimmy Fallon realized in that movie scene.
    Let’s go back to that restaurant analogy. For some reason I love to read the weekly restaurant reviews in my local Sunday paper. I say that because I have two very young children at home and eating out usually consists of either Qdoba or (REALLY FANCY!!!!) Bertucci’s. I also don’t have money burning a hole in my pocket right now. But getting back to the point,…in the restaurant review he often points out mistakes the place makes. He always says, “the server did not know what kind of wine would go best with my salmon” or “The kitchen put too much sauce on my lobster ravioli”. He never says, “BOB Q. SERVER SUCKS AS A WAITER” and then post videos of him on YouTube.

  3. on 01 Jun 2007 at 7:11 amTodd

    I wonder if there’s room for these kinds of videos to be used in teacher preparation classes, not as warnings but more as video resources of what teachers should never do in the classroom.

  4. on 01 Jun 2007 at 8:03 amJen

    As a parent when trying situations arise, I found it helps to think if this were being videotaped, what would I want to look like/act like/say? I did this even before the great and powerful youtube, since my oldest is 16.

    I think it would be great (as a future teacher) to be taped ALL the time. I’d love to be able to go back to the tape (not that anyone has enough time to do this a whole lot) — I’d also love to have it to show parents as needed. But, I can always act like I’m being taped and put on the best performance I can. I also promise to shower and not be as messy at school as I am at home. ;-D

  5. on 01 Jun 2007 at 8:15 amdan

    Interesting comments, coming from all over the place.

    H, that’s a good tack for a teacher to take when students start trash-talking a colleague, but not good-enough. Discussing the failings of other teachers gets students’ anger off w/out any responsibility-taking or result-making. It provides this channel into which they empty their frustration, the only obligation of which is that the frustration be “constructive.”

    They head back to their class, back to the offending teacher, stronger than before, more united in their offense, not less, because of the constructively critical teacher’s involvement. If the offending teacher is struggling, banging her head against the boards trying to figure things out, that involvement is taking her miles backward.

    Maybe you get them to confront the teacher or, probably better, type an anonymous letter transcribing all the constructive criticism discussed, but entertaining student negativity without redirecting it somewhere positive (simultaneously boosting your cred with your students) makes me feel slimy.

    anon, I’m 100% unsure how to answer your comment. Proceeding tentatively: I guess I agree that teachers rarely sort themselves into Exceptional and Terrible categories. However, the real offense here isn’t mediocrity, it’s the lack of ambition to improve oneself. And we’re not talking Herculean improvements that cut out leisure time either.

    I guess where I dispute the hair stylist, shoe salesman, dentist analogy is that the expected outcome of their jobs is so vastly different from ours. So your beehive haircut is off center, your shoes don’t fit, or you’ve still got some plaque left on that molar. When teachers are inadequate, lives get appreciably worse.

    YouTube should have been a final resort here — after confronting the teacher, talking to parents, talking to the administration, cc’ing a note to the superintendent, etc. — but I think it’s high time for the work environment to become hostile to the contentedly mediocre teacher.

    Todd, your question’s going to become less theoretical as more of these videos crop up.

  6. on 01 Jun 2007 at 11:42 amH.

    Actually, the case I was referring to was not one of ‘trash-talking’ at all; and it doesn’t fit your scenario. It was about a teacher subbing outside her field on very short notice, and the regular teacher explaining to the kids that that was a very nice thing to do. I should have anticipated this interpretation, though – and now I wish I could delete my comment.

  7. on 01 Jun 2007 at 1:22 pmdan

    Hm. Yeah, with a sub out of her field that makes a good deal more sense. Pretty sure I’ve never been that evenhanded with a lousy substitute. Thanks for the addendum.

  8. on 01 Jun 2007 at 6:07 pmRich

    OK, I know I’m heading off on a tangent, but I have to admit — I check ratemyteachers.com about once a year and am always wondering if I’ll show up (and I’m not listed there at this point, possibly an asset to being at a fairly small school). But who could argue with these words: “This man is a freaking genius. Some day I aspire to he half the mathematical mind of Mr. Meyer.” So you’ve won over at least one fan/student, Dan! Either that or someone wants half of your brain, which would probably really cut back on your blogging ability.

  9. on 01 Jun 2007 at 6:21 pmdan

    Just one of many reasons to take all this student activism with a grain of salt.

  10. on 03 Jun 2007 at 9:06 americ

    thats some nice ratemyteachers ratings – congrats man!

  11. on 03 Jun 2007 at 10:04 pmdan

    Yo eric, man, you’re my 1,000th comment. Sure I can find some sort of prize for you in these couch cushions here.

  12. on 05 Jun 2007 at 10:57 pmmrc

    My take: It’s easy for kids to get caught up in their emotional response to bad teaching, especially when delivered by adults they can’t relate to at all. It makes them do stupid things behind the teacher’s back and make fun. This is no different than what we did in high school in response to the same circumstances. Making fun of teachers is universal and timeless, but making videos is new. There’s a much larger potential audience now, and that makes a big difference.

    (I’m going somewhere non-obvious with this… wait for it.)

    The bigger the audience, the tighter your argument has to be. Someone out there is going to disagree with your position and try to poke holes in it. So all the stuff about hygiene, the booty stuff, the bunny ears, all that undermines the case. Which, judging from the “organization” section of the video and her interactions with students, is a pretty good case against her professional abilities. But I suspect that they could have done much better. I mean, I still wish I had my high school chemistry teacher on video when he said that a gram was more than an ounce. Even kids that didn’t smoke weed were busting up. The point is, those are the moments you gotta grab if you’re really trying to expose a bad teacher. Now I don’t support that route, but if you (as a student) going into battle at least come well-equipped.

    Otherwise, it’s just cheap entertainment at the expense of your school’s opportunities at self-improvement. The reason to make a video about a teacher (other than adoration, of course) is to expose them to the world. There ought to be a point to that action, beyond just shouting across the internets that you don’t like the teacher or find her gross. I’d like to see what happens when a responsibly-made student video shows up and exposes a really bad teacher. Then we’d have two examples to hold up next to each other and discuss why one is effective and the other one just generates lawsuits over suspensions.

  13. on 06 Jun 2007 at 4:52 pmdan

    It’s kind of inevitable, though, isn’t it? This good video you’re talking about. At this point, there isn’t any bar for student cinematic activism so any video is gonna be novel enough to pass muster.

    At a certain point, though, this’ll happen more and more and, as is, everyone’s tendency, someone will ask themselves, how can we improve this? That’s gonna be a fun day for hardworking teachers everywhere.