I am sure that by the time I am writing this, you have read about, heard about, or seen the viral video featuring Texas high school student Jeff Bliss going off on his teacher about having to complete another packet. The video is roughly a minute and a half, was recorded “undercover” by a classmate using a cell phone, and is largely out of context, although if other sources are to believed, her request for him to “quit bitching” and subsequently throwing him out of the room prompted his tirade. Her dismissive attitude comes off as a combination of her not caring about her students and her not trying to get flustered and overreact to his ranting (although maybe I’m assuming too much with the latter–I have been in situations where students are yelling at me and one of the few ways I keep myself from yelling back is to act casual).
No matter what the teacher did or what her behavior was before, during, and after the confrontation, two things are certain: she’s been placed on administrative leave and Jeff Bliss has become a folk hero. A smattering of praise via a quick check of the internet …
- “aaronburr,” commenter on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet: ”Way to go, Jeff! You’re a true American hero.”
- HumanWazHere, WaPo commenter: ”GO JEFF GO!!! We need more people like this in the USA!! I Support YOU!”
- Zak Malamed, Student Voice: ”Hey, buddy! You are quite an inspiration & great representative of the work [Student Voice] is doing.”
- Lisa Nielsen: ”I commend Jeff Bliss for standing up for himself and all the other students who deserve a beyond-the-packet education … Our children are not our future. They are the voices we need TODAY. Our job is to listen and support them. When they say they can’t learn the way we are teaching (or not teaching in this case) we must hear them and do what we can to ensure they receive the education they deserve. When we do that we will have citizens who are not just good at sitting down and filling in packets but standing up and filling our world with those who are empowered with embrace their right to change the world.”
Now, there are many more tweets, posts, and comments that are similar. Many are quite different, ranging from John Spencer’s post about how we don’t have the whole story and therefore shouldn’t rush to judgment to Teaching Underground’s post about how all this really does is perpetuate the “bad teacher” narrative to more caustic comments about how Bliss was being disrespectful (although I’d say petulant is more accurate a term).
This has resulted in the typical back-and-forth that is the high art of the Internet. Nielsen’s post is most telling. She begins by asking her audience whether Bliss was disrespectful, includes a screen capture of a tweet of how pro-student she is because in the middle of a teacher appreciation chat she said that her best teachers were students (she also follows this up with someone complimenting her) and then launches into an examination of why Bliss was not disrespectful. She attacks “They,” a popular villain (best when Lee/Kirby were writing him) and bullet points how “They” say x but truly, Bliss was right because y.
It’s typical for Nielsen and bloggers like her, who have more in common with pundits than anyone else: have a viewpoint/agenda, see something that fits; wait just long enough for it to trend; swoop in with tweets/a post/an article; get supportive comments, reposts, mentions, retweets; and put another feather in the cap. And quite frankly, it’s why I think blogging about education probably isn’t worth it anymore.
I’ve been an edublogger/teacher-blogger/whatever the current title is for seven out of the eight years I have been a teacher. I started with a site called “Stop Trying to Inspire Me” wherein I posted semi-anonymously (using my first name for the most part) and employed a voice that was snarky and often pissy (the title itself came from a complaint I often had after being forced to sit through highly overpaid PD speaker after highly overpaid PD speaker) and when I decided I wanted to both refocus my writing and have something I could attach my full name to, I started this blog. I also started tweeting and tweetchatting, thinking that as much as I like to “talk shop” and learn from my colleagues, I could learn a lot from fellow educators who weren’t simply down the hall.
Connecting was a great idea–I had some great conversations, read some great stuff, got some great ideas, and even got some traffic for my blog (not my intention, but not a bad thing either). But then I started to sour on the whole thing, rolling my eyes at people who seemed overly chipper, talked about their PLNs as if they were BFFs, posted nothing but platitudes, and seemed to be there to show off more than anything. I posted about it at the end of October and then got increasingly quiet, dropping out of tweetchats entirely and not posting anything significant for weeks on end, especially about teaching English, which is what the purpose of this blog was supposed to be.
I don’t know if it’s writer’s block, burnout, or a symptom of some sort of depression, but every post I have drafted and many I have published since I got back from winter break has been negative. Not toward students, per se, but toward other educators and other bloggers, like those I follow on Twitter and Nielsen, who seem to specialize in talking points and rhetoric to a degree that I can make a drinking game out of the number of times I see them use buzzwords or “hot” terms. And that rhetoric so dominates the conversation that I feel like it’s not worth it to try and have a rational, honest conversation, and that even if I wound up doing so, my voice wouldn’t matter.
Be the teacher on a rant and you’re told one of two things: stop complaining because you get the summers off and are overpaid, or your rant is disrespectful and you should know your place because you are obviously not putting students first. Never mind that such rants often come from a feeling of frustration FOR your students and not FROM them. People like Nielsen, Seth Godin, et al would rather trump up the “Student Voice” for their own purposes and marginalize whatever contrarian teacher voice may exist in the conversation. And this is so prevalent that it has led me to ramble on incoherently on a Sunday night about how I just don’t think I can do this anymore.
I’m probably completely off the mark here. I’m probably rambling on about things about which I have no right to because I haven’t been teaching long enough/don’t have enough followers/don’t have enough edublog awards/am too negative/seem to be too disrespectful to whomever. I’m probably just seeing end-of-the-school-year exhaustion manifest itself by projecting my frustration at something that does not directly affect me (after all, testing starts this week and then I have to see if the yearbook will sell well enough for us to not be in the red in June). But it seems that the conversation about education as it is via social media has been happening this way for years and as noble as Jeff Bliss’s champions might think his “I Am Spartacus” moment might be, it won’t really change anything except get a black mark on his history teacher’s record.