Don’t post profanity on a blog or any other social media website, especially if you’re a teacher in a public school. That advice shouldn’t sound outlandish to anyone, but it would apparently be news to Natalie Munroe, a currently-suspended teacher in Pennsylvania’s Central Bucks School District. According to yesterday’s Montgomery Media article, “Teacher blog controversy has some local school districts reassessing policies:”

In the sometimes profanity-laced blog, which has since been taken down, Munroe writes, “My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”

In her live interview yesterday for Good Morning America on ABC, Natalie claimed she never expected her blog would be available for “mass-consumption” and she never imagined others would see it besides her friend who initially encouraged her to start blogging about teaching. She also claimed the statements she made on the blog, like “There’s no other way to say this. I hate your kid” were ‘caricatures’ and not about specific children. Natalie is a parent herself with one child currently, and is expecting the birth of her second child soon. She didn’t have a very cogent response to Robin Roberts’ question, “How would reading those things make you feel as a parent?”

Steve Rovner, Natalie’s attorney, stated in the interview:

There’s no Internet policy at her school district. She was free to write and she was free to express herself; it was like a personal diary. She didn’t do anything wrong – some people don’t like what they have to write, but she’s being censored for what she wrote. Until the school district decides what to do with her, her life is in limbo.

The video on ABC News which auto-played following this one about Natalie Munroe was, “Teacher Suspended for Locking Student in Cage.” As a professional educator, it’s more than a little depressing to see mainstream media outlets focusing on these outlier, worst examples of teacher professionalism. In an era when the profession of teaching itself is under assault from various fronts, I believe it’s incumbent upon us as professional educators to take a more proactive role in telling the GOOD stories of learning and positive impact which are happening in our schools every day. That’s part of my motivation to continue facilitating Storychaser projects. Mainstream media loves a scandal, but we shouldn’t allow scandals like these to color and define public perceptions about education, about teachers, and about our profession.

Teaching IS hard work, and the students as well a situations in which many teachers work ARE challenging beyond the imagination of many others in different settings. Unfortunately, the hateful and profane ways in which Natalie Munroe chose to express her frustrations about her students were not constructive. We DO need to assist, rather than attack, teachers in our classrooms who face not only academic challenges but also the frequently overwhelming challenges of generational poverty. The frustrated, anguished voice of Natalie is not an anomaly in many of our schools. Her choice to verbally lash out directly against students, however, is not defensible.

Natalie Munroe, like many younger students who we often hear berated in the media for their lack of thoughtful judgement and responsible choices, made a bad decision to post her private thoughts on a PUBLIC blog about her students, her school leaders and her teaching situation. Did she have a right to share those things under the 1st amendment of the US Constitution? Yes she did. Will her decision to share those ideas publicly have negative consequences for her as an educational professional, and possibly more broadly for the education profession as citizens around the country shake their heads and say things like, “There’s just another example of why our schools are broke and teachers are bad?” Sadly, I think this answer is likely to be YES.

Karen Montgomery and I spent an hour and a half in January sharing ideas with educators in Amarillo, Texas, about the need for social media guidelines in schools. Our slides are available as a public Google presentation.

If we work together with others in our communities, “good” CAN come from conversations over the Natalie Munroe blogging situation. One example is included in the Montgomery Media article previously cited, about Springfield (Montco) schools in Pennsylvania.

“To be honest, we can’t say, ‘Don’t be on Facebook,’” Springfield Township School District Technology Director Kristin Swanson said Wednesday. “What we’re trying to communicate with teachers is what they do affects their image as an educator.” Swanson has been working with a group of teachers since December to revise the district’s employee technology acceptable use policy to address social media. The revised wording, which Swanson plans to present to the school board’s next policy committee meeting, includes the following: “The School District encourages teachers to hone their digital presence. Teachers must model appropriate and creative digital citizenship as they navigate ever-changing digital landscapes. Experimentation, evaluation, and synthesis in these environments are expected … Make an online presence for yourself using social media that showcases your teaching craft,” the proposed revision continues. “You can do this in many ways. Be creative and be aware that your image on social media affects your school career whether you use it for personal or professional reasons.” “We don’t want to hold teachers back, but at the same time we want them to be responsible and they have echoed back with nothing but responsible behavior,” Swanson said.

These words from Kristin Swanson are reasoned, balanced, and wise. Hopefully ideas like HERS can be amplified over the din of anger fomented by the irresponsible blogging of Natalie Munroe. Karen and I created the Facebook Group, “Social Media Guidelines for Educators” for the explicit purpose of sharing best-practice examples and ideas like these.

As a final note, old posts on Natalie Munroe’s blog have been taken down, and a lone post from February 12, 2011, remains public. The site is natalieshandbasket.blogspot.com. As of this writing, at least one cached version of an older blog post is still available via Google’s caching feature. Cached versions include her post from Thursday, January 21, 2010, titled, “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

That blog post does NOT reflect the perspective, attitude, and disposition of an adult who should be an educator in the classroom of any school in the world. The words are hateful and profane. The comments there, which include some from Munroe’s former students, reflect the anger and hurt which her virtual words wrought.

Never forget how powerful words can be. Like many people today (including myself at times) Natalie Munroe did not appear to “think carefully before she posted.” This should serve as a warning to us all, regardless of our age or context.

Instead of lamenting the advent of blogging and social media, Central Bucks School District leaders and parents should instead THANK Blogger.com and the transparency it affords in situations like these. It’s unfortunate the case of Natalie Munroe has become a national conversation, but it’s wonderful her attitudes and self-professed beliefs about the children (at least some of them) entrusted to her care have been digitally and publicly archived for all to see. This type of documentation is not always available when the professionalism of educators and other public servants is called into question. Hopefully district officials will be able to constructively utilize it to take appropriate action, and Natalie can find a new career in which she’ll be able to discover joy as well as personal fulfillment. Education and classroom teaching was apparently not her calling.

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On this day..

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  • http://twitter.com/micwalker Michael Walker

    What bugged me about this story was this comment that she posted Saturday on her new blog:
    “The student or parents who took it upon themselves to dig up my blog–and be assured that that is what happened, as they were looking for it and didn’t just stumble upon it–are the ones who started this fracas, and they also made sure that only pieces of the whole picture came to light.”

    She posted something on a public blog. She is the one who “started this fracas.”
    It is important that we understand and teach others that what is posted on social media sites is public, and care should be taken to be appropriate. This was a great teachable moment, unfortunately, I don’t think she has learned the lesson yet.

    Thanks for sharing your Social Media Guidelines, Wes. As always, much appreciated.

  • http://www.dbarker.edublogs.org Danika Barker

    Does it really have to be so complicated? Bad behaviour is bad behaviour whether in the “real world” or online. Never assume it’s private. You can’t take it back. Don’t be stupid. The end.

  • Mrsfitzsocialstudies

    What confuses me is that the teacher had no idea that everything posted online is public?! The fact that she was saying very inappropriate and hurtful comments about her students is appalling. We all get frustrated sometimes. However, venting about it online is not the way to blow off steam. I agree with social media policies. However, I feel that some people need to be educated about the proper use and dangers of the Internet.

  • Ginny

    Wes, This is a great topic. I think educators still do not realize that whatever they put online can come back to harm them. We need to filter ourselves before we get in trouble. Thanks for putting this out there. Ginny

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LT5OD75IKAJJ6DTS4HQYWD4U2I Trinzach_Jmigiel

    Though I agree Natalie Munroe’s comments did reflect poorly on educators as a whole, I’m not convinced that some of her thoughts were completely false. As a high school educator of 9 years, I, too, often find student behavior disagreeable. However, I’m perplexed by the trend toward lengthening the school day. Kids, teens especially, already don’t spend enough time with their parents, so let’s make the school day longer? It is illogical to me. More family involvement is a natural remedy to adolescent misbehavior.

    Also, are we going to forgo sports altogether? Such outlets are critical elements in positive self-esteem development. Sports provide our youth with healthy, creative, outlets. The after school obligations for sports currently take the students well into the evening hours leaving little time for homework/study time. Extending the school day will have the reverse effect it is meant to achieve.

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