Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Natalie Munroe is Like Secretariat...and Why Teachers Need to Read This

Today is one of those days...I have to just sit back and watch the interwebs in wonder. It's a history-making day, I believe. Why, you ask? Read on!

Natalie Munroe, the venting teacher-blogger from Doylestown, is now telling her side of the story! On her blog, which is back in business and racking up followers with a speed I've never seen before (it's like freaking Secretariat!), she defends her infamous postings (which are no longer viewable, I think)...and she is not apologizing. 

That's okay with me, just to be clear.  I am not a member of any audience that thinks she's a bad person or bad teacher.   http://natalieshandbasket.blogspot.com  

I think Natalie Munroe is a regular person and probably a very normal teacher.

I have a ton of work to do today, but just let me quickly add some discussion points about blogging and teaching that were raised on teacher Billgx's interesting "TechIntersect" blog:  http://billgx.edublogs.org

@Billgx commented that he likes blogging teachers (he is one, by the way), but that he also counsels teachers to be careful on Facebook. Good advice. 

I wondered if, however, this was conflicting advice, in its own way.  Bill said it was, but he is just being sensible. It is better for teachers to know in advance if a rug is going to be pulled out from under them [for online presences], he wrote (paraphrase).

I understand. This is what I replied--and I am repeating it here because I think it's fodder for some potentially  interesting discussions.

“If the rug will be jerked out…” true, it is better to know that in advance! But I also wonder: would this stop if teachers spoke out more about this happening with alarming frequency, as it seems to have been, given the coverage Ms. Munroe and I have both received for blogging?

I have said before (on Twitter, I think) that I believe all teachers who have been fired for blogging (whether that’s the real reason or not) may be somehow making the world safer for others who follow in their wake. I believe we’ve taken the fall, in a way, so that others will not have to.

But at the same time, if the “knee-jerk” administrative reactions that Bill has noted just happen more and more as a result of fear-mongering, pot-stirring, gossipy press, and TEACHERS JOIN IN with criticism (instead of seizing the opportunity to rebel and be brave and speak out on behalf of others in their chosen profession), then things will get worse instead of better.

There is a revolution happening (a minor, quiet one) in teaching. We can revert to a blame-filled, hyper-conservative orthodoxy that enslaves teachers in its own way, or we can push for positive changes for society and its opinion about online forums…and in this way, be the best models for students, as well.

I believe that this is the pivotal moment when things can either get worse or get better for teachers who dare to blog, tweet or even post on Facebook.

Of course, I understand the need for online manners. I always tried to have them, but I was still attacked. Ironic!

I have asked, “Will any online presence ultimately damn a teacher?”

Only teachers can answer that question.

So what do YOU think?


  1. i think you're right. The time is now to say "enough." Trusting other teachers to dare to speak up, though? That's maybe a little bit too optimistic! I am still Anonymous, because it's all too scary right now.

  2. It IS scary...and that's because there are no rules, really. People (school admin) just make them up as they go along. That's what isn't fair. If you know the rules, you can be sure not to break them. If there are no rules, you use your own best judgment, which serves you well until someone flips out--justifiably or not.

    Until there are rules in place in ALL schools, then I think there should be a law protecting teachers from arbitrary firing for social networking gaffes, etc.

    Thanks for reading.



  3. Munroe will sue her school district, and she may very well win...not that she could realistically still teach there. At least, not comfortably. What is important to realize here is that firing teachers for blogging if there is no official policy in place that teachers are aware of is just plain illegal and immoral. What happened to you is the worst example, and you had no protection in a private school. I hope that changes, too. Private school teachers are ironically treated with even less respect. Take care!

  4. Thanks, legal friend. You are right, I am sure.



  5. "Will any online presence ultimately damn a teacher?"

    I can cite a couple of examples where the online presence of a teacher has been a path to notoriety and acclaim. There's the brilliant math teacher Dan Meyer. He has appeared on television several times thanks to his TED talk. I don't know how TED speakers are chosen, but I suspect Mr Meyer's online presence had much to do with it.

    Another example that comes to my mind is Michael Wesch, the Kansas State Anthropology professor who originally captured imaginations through his YouTube video The Machine is Us/ing Us. Dr. Wesch has been a great mentor to me.

    Being online is in fact a double-edged sword. People can know about you which means that people can know about you.

    Part of the brilliance of Wesch's video is the fact that we are indeed feeding the machine and it is becoming us. We do have some control over what is known about us online, but not all. (Think Facebook photo tagging.) I haven't closely followed everything that these two men have put online, but what I have seen is highly professional but not a great deal of the personal.

    There is definitely a risk in blogging and being online as a teacher. That risk is being a human being with imperfections in a virtual space that can be unforgiving and never forgets. But what endeavor worth pursuing is risk free?

    In the physical world, we can offend but over time bad memories tend to fade. That fact is changing by the way, and this is the point that knee-jerk administrators are missing. People no longer have a choice about participation in cyberspace. Sooner or later, especially if there is controversy, it will wind up online.

    If you don't believe me, and can spare ten minutes, have a look at my YouTube in the Classroom video. Most every day teachers are recorded in class without their knowledge and put online.

    I think the only acceptable response to the world in which we now live is to become the very best person you are capable of becoming. To be human, to be genuine and honest, to be forgiving, to be thick-skinned, and to be ethical. Anything less is bound to catch up with you. And even this doesn't guarantee there won't be bumps in the road.

    Sometimes I am amazed at our intolerance of other people's imperfections. Look at how Christina Aguilerra was excoriated for flubbing one line of the Star Spangled Banner. How many people can actually sing that song anyway?

    You are correct. We are in a time of great change and revolution. It's a sad, unfair truth that people do get hurt in revolutions.

    For teachers to be advised to stay off of social networks and blogs is in my estimation short-sighted, simply because it doesn't solve the problem. It just ignores it hoping the problem will go away. It won't. Teachers will continue to make mistakes as all humans do, and these teachers will find themselves at the center of attention in online forums, whether or not they've been participating online. I think at that point it would be better for them to understand the medium that is being used against them, don't you agree? If teachers stay away from blogs, they won't even know how to use the only tool at their disposal that offers a chance of their side being heard.

  6. I like the points that you make. There is definitely an argument to be made (and this is precisely WHY I had a blog; I was told to blog as a model for helping other teachers reflect on teaching and share ideas, and I was making a concerted effort to improve teaching across the board!) for teachers being online as responsible models.

    The problem is, even when we believe we are wholly responsible, ethical, above fault, etc., there are still people who will attack us simply for having a voice and ideas.

    That's where the "Revolution" I am talking about comes up. We have to stand up and say no more or else people (teachers) will grow increasingly paranoid, closed-lipped, and robotic--in sheer terror of losing their jobs by trying to be better teachers!

    Note the self-defeating aspect of all of this. It doesn't even make sense.

    Administrators have a choice to make at this pivotal point in the "cyber-Revolution."

    That choice is: leave teachers alone to improve their practice and share ideas, if they so choose, and STAND BY THEM if/when they are unjustly attacked--or else just become blanket dictators and shut down the system completely. If the system is shut down, TELL the teachers so that they don't risk their jobs by trying to become better teachers! (Irony!!)

    We wouldn't stand for the latter, probably, so it behooves teachers to DEMAND the former. Why aren't teachers demanding it? I am not teaching, so I will take the risk of speaking up for teachers now...I have nothing to lose.

    I am speaking out this week (to the detriment of my health and mental peace) because I am sick and tired of people rushing to judgment.

    All the "lumping in" I've endured of my story w/Natalie Munroe's has me, frankly, livid. If people drop my name along with hers, then the assumption is that I insulted my students with profane and humiliating epithets--which I most certainly did NOT do.

    The more my name comes up online and in the press, the more people just believe this, and the less likely I am to find work. That is not even remotely fair, and I will fight back against it.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas, @Billgx. Food for thought...and now I am thinking: we have teachers attending EdTech workshops, but the people who really need to be there are Administrators and parents!



  7. The difference between Munroe's story comments and yours is that no one has to stretch the truth or believe any lies told by certain people motivated by their own harsh politics when it comes to Munroe. You either think she was within her rights and had a point, or you think she was sort of mean and made a mistake.

    But with you, people were all over the place, They had and have no idea what happened, because they just believed the op-ed lies or other lies spread by ass-covering school administrators or the baddies behind the scenes. You got the short end of the stick, for sure. You couldn't even stand up for yourself without getting more slander and hatred coming at you!

    That is what is wrong with this picture. In your case, it was not about free speech at all, it was about people harassing you for not being a Republican. They don't want their kids harassed because they are Republicans? What the hell?? It's not like you ever did that. People are crazy and stupid. They react too fast and don't think things through.

    I hope you get some justice out of this, finally. I have always been rooting for you. You are such an amazing person and teacher!

  8. Thanks, ND alum. Without a political or money machine behind the scenes in Munroe's case, she will have it much, much easier. That's for dang sure.



  9. Tech was once trumpeted as liberation about 15 short years ago . . "Anyone can publish -- Start Me Up"

    Was fun while it lasted . . we're going backwards faster then ever now and at this rate we'll all be burned at the stake with the social media titans encouraging the technologically ignorant to use it for the exact opposite of what our brighter minds originally envisioned.

    A sad state of affairs.