My wife, a biology teacher, gets crazy in the biology classroom. She is famous for her interpretive dance renditions of numerous cellular processes. The students in the first class of the day reportedly stare in disbelief and roll their eyes, but the students in the other classes throughout the day seem to love it. Several of her students have taken to filming her pedagogical paroxysms, and you know that some day, Amanda will be a YouTube Star.
But this brings up the interesting and difficult mixture of students, personal technology in the classrooms, teachers, schools, school administrators and policy.
Some students behave poorly:
Tech-savvy teenagers are increasingly paying a heavy price – including criminal arrest – for parodying their teachers on the Internet.
Tired of fat jokes and false accusations of teacher-lounge partying or worse, teachers and principals are fighting back against digital ridicule and slander by their students – often with civil lawsuits and long-term suspensions or permanent expulsions.
A National School Boards Association (NSBA) study says that as many as one-third of American teens regularly post inappropriate language or manipulated images on the Web. Most online pranks deride other students. But a NSBA November 2006 survey reported 26 percent of teachers and principals being targeted.
But at the same time, I’m sure that some schools, teachers, and administrators overreact or act poorly themselves.
Amanda and I were talking about this the other day. She was contemplating what her policy in the classroom should be. Technically, students are not allowed to take out their cell phones in class (the phones typically have the video cameras built into them). But she has frequently granted permission to students to film her routines. What is really happening, we figure, is that the students are accidentally taking notes! The key here is that they learn about the cellular processes, and the whole point of her creative renditions of lysosomic lysing, flailing flagellum locomotion and silly cilia is to burn the images and concepts into the students minds forever. If, at the same time, she becomes part of the ever growing montage of reification of teachers in whatever parody the students think up, then, well, whatever. The students learn stuff. Teachers pay a price, in a number of ways, and this is not such a big deal.
However, she is also careful to make sure that the students understand that the cameras come out only when they are allowed, and that the specific policy in each classroom they enter is likely to be different. She is not giving permission to the students for anything that applies in other classrooms. Still, you know that it won’t be long before some student says “Yeah, but Mrs. Laden says it’s OK if I ….” and the terrible fight breaks out later that day in the teacher’s lounge.
One important details is this: Are teachers, in the classroom, technically, legally, “private” or “public” persons. If they are public, their filming or photographing and subsequent humiliation at the hands of tech-savvy teenagers is tough luck and legal. If they are private persons, the situation is different. according to the piece in the Christian Science Monitor that I quoted above:
… teachers can be particularly vulnerable to online attacks,… because they are in positions of authority. Legally, they are not usually considered public persons, however, and are thus not fair game under US libel laws, says Regina Bartholomew, the general counsel for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
Still, in many cases, “the damage is already done by the time the teacher hears about it,” says Eddie Davis, president of the North Carolina teachers’ association.
In the so-called “Teacher Sux” case in Pennsylvania, for example, a high school student put up a website about a teacher with threats and comments such as “she shows off her fat … legs.”
The lawsuit against the student said that after viewing the web page, the teacher felt unable “to go out of the house and mingle with crowds.”
Right. Or, one can simply ignore the chaff. Besides, Amanda has nice legs.
The following videos have nothing to do with anyone I know or am married to: