SmackDown: Should Teachers Be Allowed to Blog About Their Students?

Filed under: Opinions

Act up in class, read about it in tomorrow's teacher blog. Illustration by Dori Hartley

Blogging About Your Students Is Not a Fireable Offense

by Amy Hatch

After venting about her students online, a teacher could be expelled from her job.

Natalie Munroe was escorted out of Central Bucks East High School last week after some students discovered what Munroe thought was a private blog.

The teacher says she never thought to protect her website with a password -- after all, her only readers were friends and family, and the majority of her posts dealt with her private life. But a brief series of personal essays on the state of education and her high school English students set the suburban Philadelphia school abuzz last week.

In her posts, Munroe frequently used profanity and suggested that some of her students dressed like street-walkers, over-estimated their intellectual prowess, and called them "rat-like" and "rude, lazy, disengaged whiners."

Now, Munroe is in danger of being fired for publishing her opinions online, reports, despite the fact that her lawyer, Steve Rovner, tells the news organization the Central Bucks school district does not have an "Internet policy."

Firing Munroe would be wrong, plain and simple.

Was what she did naive? Yes. The Internet is a public forum, after all. Was it indiscreet? Perhaps. But was it against the law? No.

What Munroe did, in fact, was her fundamental right as a United States citizen. She exercised her First Amendment right to express any opinion, no matter how unpopular, unpleasant or vile.

The Internet has opened a whole new frontier when it comes to the public expression of our opinions. Self-publishing has given rise to a whole new generation of voices, voices that otherwise may have never been heard. Voices that would have been otherwise disenfranchised. Voices that brought into the sunlight issues that were previously buried in the dark.

Take Heather Armstrong, another blogger who was fired for sharing her opinions about her employer on her uber-popular blog "Dooce."

Armstrong also used her blog as a forum to write about her private battle with depression, which landed her in the hospital for several days when her daughter was just an infant. Her willingness to open up about that experience helped raise the profile of clinical and post-partum depression, especially among the population that often experiences it -- mothers.

As a parent, I completely understand the instinct toward outrage. Would I be furious if a teacher insulted my child in a public online forum? You bet your bippy I would.

But as a journalist who makes her living from writing online, I shudder at the thought that Munroe might be terminated from her job for expressing her personal opinions on her personal blog.

And, let's be frank: Our educational system really is in crisis. Why is it so terrible that someone who sees it from the trenches should share her concerns and questions, profanity and acerbic commentary aside?

If Munroe is fired, a dangerous precedent will be set. The Internet is a powerful medium, one that certainly has its dark corners, but also one that has the potential to create conversations about subjects that affect us in the most fundamental ways.

Silencing those voices? Now, that would be worthy of expulsion.

A Lesson for Blogging Teachers: Actions Have Consequences

by Jessica Samakow

We see it again and again. An Internet scandal erupts and it's always the same defense: "I didn't think anyone would see it."

From teen sexters to Congressmen posting their pictures on Craigslist, the guilty parties all play the victim, acting surprised when their dirty laundry is aired across the Web.

Now, high school teacher Natalie Munroe could lose her job for negatively blogging about her students. Following the pattern of those under fire before her, she says "her blog was never meant to be widely read," USA Today reports.

OK, so maybe she didn't intend for her students to discover her blog, but that's simply not a viable defense. If something is posted on the Web, someone will find it.

High school teachers and counselors often remind teens how powerful the Internet is, noting that colleges now evaluate not only formal applications, but a student's online presence, as well. The general rule they tell teens: Don't post anything on the Internet you wouldn't want the world to see or read.

And, now that a Google search can be performed from your cell phone and Facebook is so easily accessible, this advice is both crucial and obvious. So, then, if teens are expected to take certain precautions on the Web, why shouldn't their teachers be held to the same standard?

This isn't a matter of free speech. True, we can say what we want in this country, but that doesn't mean we don't have to face consequences. A teen who rants on Facebook about how many shots of tequila she consumed last Saturday night deserves to get busted by her parents. An employee who tweets about his evil dictator of a boss will likely get reprimanded, if not fired.

And a teacher who blogs that her students "dress like streetwalkers" and have an "unrealistically high perception of (their) own ability level" should be penalized, as well.

Students tend to be intrigued with the lives of their teachers outside of school. Running into a teacher at the movie theater is like an out-of-body experience; shouldn't they be at home grading papers?!

Today's teachers probably felt the same way when they were in high school, but, instead of chance run-ins at the grocery store, students can just go to Google to learn more about their educators.

Munroe argues that her blog was not "stumbled upon" by students; it was "dug up." How it was discovered, however, is irrelevant. What matters is that it was found.

Look, I get that a frustrated teacher might turn to writing as an outlet to complain about her bratty high school students. But why not keep a journal? Or privately e-mail her closest friends? Posting it on a live blog, even with minimal subscribers, is just foolish.

In a recent post, Monroe defends her actions: "Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, I didn't -- and don't -- feel negatively toward all students. As I mentioned in another blog that nobody chooses to talk about, there were delightful students in school, too."

And while the so-called "delightful" students may appreciate her remarks, that doesn't make up for what was said about the not-so-delightful ones. I don't classify myself as being overly sensitive, but I would feel extremely uncomfortable being in a classroom and knowing my teacher pegged me as "rat-like" or "frightfully dim."

The students who were called these names deserve better.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.