Teacher’s Blog Post Shows We’re in New Territory

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.


6 Responses

  1. Good post. Things at work CAN be terribly frustrating, especially for teachers. I hope that this teacher can concentrate on the kids who give her some joy during the school day. “Accentuating the positive” does wonders for one’s attitude. I do NOT think she should have been suspended.

  2. Underneath the teacher’s frustration about students is another story about the hypocrisy of school being something for the public good, but how the public is never to know too much about what goes on there.

  3. I agree with pretty much all your opinions in this post Robert.

    It will be extremely interesting to see how such cases play out in the courts as more and more people do more and more interacting in various social media environments, and particularly as more organizations choose themselves to take advantage of the opportunities offered and participate on behalf of the business on such sites.

    I believe as organizations increase their online participation activities – and they will, because there’s a solid business opportunity there! – it will become proportionally more difficult to justify restricting or penalizing their employees from doing the same, especially when, as you note, the employees take pains to NOT call out their employers’ or co-workers’ bad behaviour.

    Just one thing though, about your thump to Mrs. Munroe’s misspellings, I have learned myself in writing my own blog, that no matter how careful I think I’m being, and despite using the proofreading function on every post, the occassional typo still gets through to my everlasting chagrin . . . you know Robert, kind of like “. . . an accountant going to his neighborhood pup. . .” Just sayin’! 😉

    • It’s inevitable that something like that would happen, isn’t it, Kristen? Typo noted and corrected. And touche’.

      However, I stand by my thump to her misspellings. If it was a one-time, isolated incident, I wouldn’t have said a thing. But as a parent who sees this kind of thing day-in and day-out, I’m going to continue calling out teachers who use poor grammar and misspell words in their correspondence. Maybe we should give Mrs. Munroe a pass on her personal blog this one time, but I’m tired of the low standards to which we hold our teachers.

      If they’re going to penalize my son for his misspellings (as they should), then I’m going to penalize them for theirs. And, yes, I’m one of THOSE parents who marks up teacher’s misspellings in red ink and sends them back.

  4. Robert – let me just say that when it comes to any communications from teachers to parents, I 100% agree with you! If they are going to correct your child’s spelling [which as you note, they should] they had best ensure that they are using proper and correct grammar and spelling themselves so they have the moral ground to stand on and the respect of the students that has to be earned, IMHO.

    I do tend to cut people a bit of slack on personal blogs, simply because – unless the person in question is famous and has thousands of readers – a personal blog is like a letter or an email and more personal to me. Since I wouldn’t necessarily mark up an email a friend or colleague sent me and return it, I extend the same courtesy to a personal blog.

    In any other type of written communication, however, I am solidly behind you Robert – do it right, or don’t do it . . . well at least, don’t send it to ME unless you want it back red-lined!

  5. Concerning the statement “This is the entitlement generation,” I see that truism bandied about so often, but never with any real evidence. As a 55-year-old father of four, I understand that young people can be frustrating. But I also know that with age comes a tendency to shout “Get off my grass, you dang kids!”

    Certainly there are other possible explanations for a lack of motivation in students. For example, a factory-model school, designed to turn out workers and consumers, may have been applicable to a 20th-century industrial society. But kids today grow up knowing that they’re being sold to every moment of their lives, and that while employers expect loyalty, it’s seldom repaid. Given that, it’s only natural that young people are skeptical even about the applicability of what they’re taught in school.

    On the other hand, evidence is building daily that presenting students with real tasks and letting them discover and learn within that context engages even the most skeptical. If you’re not familiar with the 21st Century Skills movement or project-based learning, I highly recommend checking them out.

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