Natalie Munroe, a high school English teacher in the suburbs of Philadelphia, might lose her job over a diatribe she posted on her personal blog in which she described her students as “rude, lazy, disengaged whiners.”
She says she likes being a teacher and likes some of her students. “But the fact remains that every year, more and more, students are coming in less willing to work, to think, to cooperate. These are the students I was complaining about in my blog. The same way millions of Americans go home at the end of the day and complain about select coworkers or clients or other jerks they had to deal with, I came home and complained on my blog about those I had to deal with.”
She only used her first name on the blog, never identified students or the name of her school, and mostly wrote about the mundane, ordinary events of her life. The post that caused the stir is more than a year old.
A few observations about this story, all of which are relevant to communication:
We’re in new territory when it comes to the rights of people to engage in social media outside of work. Many companies have adopted social media policies, some of which are fairly restrictive when it comes to what employees can do with social media on their own time. Companies are afraid that employees’ words and online social behavior will reflect poorly on the company, at the least, and compromise proprietary information, at the worst.
Future court cases will decide how far employers can go in controlling employees’ social media activities. But I believe the school system has a weak case against Mrs. Munroe. She went to great lengths to hide her identity and that of her employer. She didn’t seek an audience of millions; until one of those whiney students brought the blog post to the school system’s attention, it sat in relative obscurity.
It’s not much different from an accountant going to his neighborhood pub and complaining loudly about his boss and co-workers, except that someone turned Mrs. Munroe’s complaints into national news.
Employees certainly must take more care in the social media age so that they don’t cross the line dividing freedom of speech from libel and slander. It will be interesting to see how this case turns out and what it means for other employers’ social media policies.
Another observation is that I tend to agree with Mrs. Munroe’s assessment of a great many students today. This is the entitlement generation; many young people feel the world owes them something because they’re special, and that they are somehow exempt from needing a good attitude, strong work ethic and basic manners. I’ve seen it in the kids who interact with my own son (and also in my son, an occasional condition that I quickly correct) and I’ve seen it in some of the college students I’ve taught over the years.
Early in my career, I didn’t always have the best attitude. My boss took me aside one day and pointed out that my body language and words sometimes sent the message that I was “closed” to the ideas and thoughts of others. That’s when I realized that I am responsible for how I carry myself. We’re always communicating something about ourselves — and about how we view others — not only in the words we speak, but in our attitudes and body language, too. Today’s students will be more successful if they learn this truth and act on it.
And finally, I feel compelled to point out something that Mrs. Munroe should address. One report quoted some of her blog post. In it, Mrs. Munroe — an English literature major and a high school English teacher — misspells at least two words (belligerent and adage). An English teacher should know how to spell these words or should have a dictionary handy when she’s writing.
Perhaps that’s the greater cause for her dismissal.