A Teachable Moment: Why Dissing Students on Your Blog Isn’t a Good Idea

In at least one case, it looks like the teacher is the one getting the tough lesson.

Natalie Munroe (seen at right), a teacher in a school in suburban Philadelphia, was suspended last week when her students (and subsequently her principal) found her blog. Of course, this was no ordinary blog:

“My students are out of control,” Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. “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.”

Munroe did not use her full name or identify her students or school in the blog, which she started in August 2009 for friends and family. Last week, she said, students brought it to the attention of the school, which suspended her with pay.

As many in HR know, suspended with pay is only a step or two away from termination. What happened here and what’s the lesson?

A blog that is mostly innocuous

I was able to pull up Munroe’s original blog via Google cache (available as of this writing) and most of the 80 plus posts she did. Her blog now has a single post about her suspension and the resulting fracas.

As I went through about half of the posts and glanced through the content, most of it was pretty tame and, with all due respect to Munroe, fairly boring. I imagine it would be interesting consumption for somebody who knows her, but it definitely wasn’t intended for that wide of an audience. Talking about the new Olive Garden in the neighborhood, celebrity gossip, and pregnancy probably isn’t in my target demographic anyway.

But, there are some things that definitely relate to work. Here’s one quote from June 2010:

3 of those are half days (2 days of finals and graduation day); 1 of them is a full day without students (thanks a lot to central admin for making us go in when the students are done the preceding Friday. ASSHOLES.)

Or this from September 2009:

My colleagues didn’t seem refreshed in the least. The way they were acting, one would think we were returning from a weekend off instead of a summer. They were even complaining about the same stuff they’d been complaining about back in June! It was disheartening to hear.

And this from October 2009:

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My students were particularly hateful this week, annoying me with their attitudes, their sense of entitlement, and their know-it-all behaviors. They gave attitude at everything, complained to guidance about their papers (like, I’m sorry, but what is guidance going to do?), had their parents write emails about their papers, whined about assignments…. everything. It was disgusting and unacceptable and made me irate and frustrated.

But I had to search for this stuff through several pages of ordinary posts. Make the judgement yourself, but most of what I found wasn’t related to work at all.

Does any of that matter?

This is why I dislike blanket social media policies. Now if this were a blog completely devoted to mocking underachieving students, that might be one thing (I’m still not sure where I would stand on that). But looking at the content of Munroe’s blog, it just seems pretty minor as is.

The whole reason any of this gets national attention is because a few students and parents wanted to highlight the fact that their teacher thought they were insufferable at times and posted about it occasionally (along with items about Sandra Bullock or the Food Network)? Many of the teachers I know have had similar frustrations and it seems like posting about them appropriately (without identifying your students or yourself) should be an option.

Should Munroe have thought more about posting about work? Certainly. I think anyone who writes about work without the explicit blessing of their employer should be thoughtful about what they post. Still, I think the punishment should fit the crime, and in this case, the infraction seems minor but the punishment seems major.

The PR aspect matters, too

The other problem is that this case now has a microscope on it and any of the related actions are going to be magnified. If the school district feels pressured to act one way or another because of the spotlight and example it could set, that could lead to some unintended consequences. Similarly, if Munroe does lose her job due to her blog, it will be interesting to see if the PR boost could help launch her own blog, or, another career (similar to dooce.com even though the author there warns to not blog about work unless you have permission).

What do you think about this case? How should the school district react?

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10 Comments on “A Teachable Moment: Why Dissing Students on Your Blog Isn’t a Good Idea

  1. Lance, I have not read about this but I wondered did the original reporting say how the students and/or parents found out about the blog? Did the teacher tell them? Also, was this a public or private school. I wonder how the answers to those questions might affect the final outcome.

  2. hi Lance,

    You make some valid points. BUT, I am concerned that while we strain at the gnats of this issue we might choke on the camel.

    The bigger issue here IMHO is that the label placed on the students (lazy whiners, etc.) is probably more accurate than inaccurate.

    I think we should focus our energies on turning those under-achievers around instead of stoning the teacher who just happened to tell the truth?

    1. That’s a big issue for certain but not one I would be crazy about addressing here. I don’t think it is a question of her speaking the truth or not but what is and isn’t acceptable chatter about your workplace online. That’s a big enough area with enough traps to ensnarl us in days of conversation, especially with the settlement of the recent Facebook case.

      In many of these instances, the things that people are saying are absolutely true. What can and can’t an employer control, especially when you’re away from work, is the more compelling workplace and legal question to me.

  3. Like it or not, venting about work via social media channels makes your private opinions public and those who choose to vent publically should expect there to be consequences. This teacher probably wouldn’t have stood on a soap box outside of her school to tell the world what she thinks about her co-workers and students, but that’s what she did virtually via her blog. As a former high school teacher, I can empathize with her frustration, but her behavior was unprofessional. Teaching adolescents is tough, but part of teaching is modeling the characteristics of mutual respect and self-control we want them to exhibit as adults. While I don’t think she should be fired for this, disciplinary action is appropriate.

    1. Consequences for a blog that spent more time on the food network than work? I agree with the gist of what you’re saying but not the rigid enforcement. She didn’t name names and she didn’t name herself and she didn’t write about school most of the time. At some point, we have to be less robotic about application of policy and start looking at context and intent.

  4. I’m curious why no one is mentioning her free speech rights. She mentions no names anywhere, so isn’t it a violation of her free speech rights to suspend her? Okay, I agree that it’s unprofessional and demonstrates poor judgment to criticize anyone from work in a public forum, but suspension? Really? Were the students who cursed at her suspended, too, or did their parents defend them? This teacher is clearly very frustrated, and probably understandably so, but the First Amendment guarantees her right to unabridged freedom of speech. Unless it’s slander or hate speech, it’s protected speech.

    1. Free speech issues are largely ignored in most of these stories because they’re generally not at issue. Since this is a school, it could be slightly different but even accepted government employee policies routinely restrict some speech.

  5. I’m trying to think how I would respond if an HR blogger was blasting his/her employees with similar language. I would really question whether they should be working in HR if they hated the employees so much.

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