Teachers Gone Wild

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:

[source of quotes]

See also Teachers Under Fire

Comments

  1. #1 Michael Clarkson
    February 26, 2008

    While I was at UNC I once saw Charlie Carter perform an interpretive dance based on the cycling of ATPases (myosin, the F1F0 ATPase, etc.). No copies on YouTube, but somebody must have recorded it at some point. I think he also performed it at a meeting of the crystallographic society.

  2. #2 Thinker
    February 27, 2008

    I had a teacher in organic chemistry who taught us about the different modes of nucleophilic substitution by “acting” the molecule. It was great: despite not working within that field at all, I still remember all the basic concepts, simply by visualizing his acting.

  3. #3 Samantha Vimes
    February 29, 2008

    What do they think kids talk about? A pretty large percentage of school talk is dissing on teachers, sometimes for very good reason, as in teenaged girls warning other girls which teachers are making them feel sexually harassed. Other times for very silly, stupid reasons, such as having an accent or dressing funny.
    Teachers are in a position of authority over students, and students *need* leeway to question authority. They can get in trouble for misbehaving in class, or for talking back to their parents– if we don’t want a generation of authoritarians ready to support fascism, we *must* allow children an outlet to express some rebellion.

    It’s different if there are real violations of privacy. No following the teacher home and posting her address on line; no up-skirt cell phone photos. Threats are bad, too. But comments about fat legs are a part of life.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    February 29, 2008

    Samantha,

    I see your point, and I do think that school-related folk, especially admins, tend to overreact, in many many ways. On the other hand, while rude comments are part of life, the rudness only has utility to the adult if s/he has learned what polite is.

  5. #5 ice9
    March 1, 2008

    We’d talk about it in the teacher’s lounge…if we HAD a teacher’s lounge. For most of us, teaching carries the assumption of a higher threshhold of nearly every nuance of civilized life, including the requirement that we pee only when bells ring. My experience is that students respect hard work, thoughtful teaching, mastery of subject matter, fairness, and commitment. When teachers are abused on YouTube or Facebook, they usually earned it. (Kids can be crazy and cruel too, but they are rare exceptions.) Doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but it’s only the most recent version of the same treatment teacher have received for ever.

    I heard this one from a respected veteran teacher. One day early in her first year, she went into the girls’ room and found a pithy obscene grafitto featuring her name. Shocked and dismayed, she staggered into the lounge and told one of the veterans smoking there. The woman beamed, and said “congratulations!”
    It’s still true. If they take the time to abuse you, they love you, and most teachers understand that. The greatest shame is if they ignore you.

    Ice
    (I teach with your wife. They do not ignore her.)

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    March 2, 2008

    Ice,

    Nice story (I was only joking about the lounge … my daughter’s grade school had one, but that is the only one I’ve ever seen that was not on a TV show)

    But, we know teaching can be tough. For instance, where did Ice1 through Ice8 end up?

    Every day I check YouTube for Amanda’s Lysosome Dance. Every day I am disappointed.

    G

  7. #7 Amanda
    March 2, 2008

    Hi Ice9,
    I’d love to find out who’s reading my husband’s blog… Why don’t you say hello on Monday!
    Amanda

  8. #8 jose
    March 5, 2008

    Interesting post. Unfortunately, I always find myself doing something silly in front of a camera like rapping or dancing, so here’s hoping I don’t show up on YouTube. I try to search myself daily to make sure I don’t get caught up in that madness. In any case, I think in many ways, it’s a good thing to have *some* videotaping of teachers doing silly things only because it makes us multi-dimensional, and possibly a profession people might want to come back into again. Then again, with the salary scales and decreasing benefits, I understand the reluctance.

    Good post.

  9. #9 Mister Teacher
    March 5, 2008

    I like your interpretation video of the “freeing the frogs” scene from E.T. :)

  10. #10 Pat
    March 8, 2008

    Sometimes it is good for students to see teachers act a little silly even if they are trying to impart knowledge. Why is it wrong to let students know you are human and can even be fun? I’m looking for your wife’s video too.

  11. #11 joemac53
    March 8, 2008

    Physics teachers can be even weirder than chem or bio teachers. I hope I’m not on YouTube. On the other hand, the students like the calculus poems and songs, since they believe no one is weird enough to write and sing them.

    And then there is the baseball team character who does his impersonation of the head coach on the bus, while we (the coaches) all sit there and laugh until we run out of breath.

  12. #12 anon
    March 14, 2008

    If I may put in my two cents here- it would be nice if administrators put half the effort into dealing with kid bullying as they do teacher bullying. It makes me mad that the kids who dissed the teachers online got suspended/expelled where I am from, but the kids who do it to other kids are not. I would love to hear from anyone who might know why this is the way it is….