The Case of Natalie M.

There is a point in any discussion where everything has been said, but everybody hasn’t yet had a chance to say it. I think that applies to the case of Natalie M, the teacher blogger who got caught complaining about her students on line.

Since I haven’t yet said it, I will proceed, and I will be brief.

First, I am certain that her blog was cherry-picked for negative comments. That is to be expected: people pay attention to bad news. Nobody will remember all the nice things you say and do if you do one really stupid, bad thing.

Second, I believe she has a right to state her opinion. Everyone does. There are consequences, however, and it does not appear as if that possibility occurred to her. She used a public forum and made unprofessional remarks. If she does not lose her job, she has certainly lost her credibility. Teachers are not held to a higher standard than other professionals. I would not go to a doctor who complained online that all his patients were fat, lazy slobs.

Currently teachers are the scapegoats of education. No matter how unmotivated and ill-mannered our students are, we will be blamed for their failure. This isn’t fair, but it’s the reality for now. The truth about our schools needs to be told, but it must be spoken persuasively if we want to bring about change.

Natalie M sees herself as some sort of hero, a person who is not afraid to speak the truth  about our schools. I believe she has hurt our cause, not helped it. Her unprofessional words make us all look bad. Any of us who speaks out now will be tossed in the same pile — another angry teacher who hates students. It will be assumed that many of us have secret contempt for children, even if we don’t blog about it. Negative comments made to students will be scrutinized. Will I be able to have frank discussion with a student about a failing grade or bad behavior, or will my criticism be seen as insulting and abusive?

There are, as she says, serious problems with the education system in this country. But rather than “opening the door” for serious conversation, she has reinforced the public’s suspicions of teachers. The truth needs to be told, and teachers are the insiders who can describe not only the problems, but potential solutions. I wonder, though, who’s going to listen to us?

Algebra, Pigs and Freedom

Accountability sounds like a good idea. If it’s my job to teach children, and I fail to do that, I am responsible.

But teaching and learning are not the same thing.

I am more than willing to be held accountable for whether I prepare lessons, show up for class, and work with students to help them understand and use the information and skills I am teaching them.

But am I responsible for what students learn?

Are parents responsible for their children’s success in life? If my sixteen-year-old son hangs out with the wrong crowd and gets in trouble, or my fifteen-year-old daughter gets pregnant, what is my job as a parent? What should I have done differently? Am I a bad parent?

Because I talk with parents of children like this a lot, I would say that parents have a lot of responsibility, but at some point their control over their child ends. I have seen good, concerned, caring parents despair over their son’s or daughter’s refusal to do homework, their truancy, their inability to resist peer-pressure. I don’t know how to assign blame for a child’s failure, but I’m sure it’s not just one person’s fault. It’s not as simple as taking away the cell phone or banning rap music.

And teachers – are they responsible for their students’ success? If a student will not do any work, sleeps during class, cuts class, disrupts class, responds to no motivational strategies, what is my job as a teacher? What should I do differently?

I am a parent of a hundred kids – for fifty minutes a day. More

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