I was referred to as a "teacher bully" twice in the last two weeks. Not to my face, mind you, but on Facebook, filtered through the small town grapevine and shared with me by concerned coworkers. I'm not sure if my name was mentioned directly, I'm not sure what exactly was said, and honestly, as well-meaning as I'm sure the people who told me about these instances are, I'd rather never know about it. Because both instances are things that I stand by, things that I wouldn't do differently next time. I think of myself as someone with a strong personality, and yes, a tough teacher in a lot of ways. I'm not a pushover and I have high standards. I never imagined those qualities would make me the kind of bad teacher parents love to rant about on social media.
Instance #1: A student was making racist comments in my class and I spoke both with the student at school, and his parents at conferences last fall. It obviously didn't go over well, but the student did show improvement after the tough conversation and I thought things were fine. Apparently, last week (four months later), was the time for the parent to rant about the bullying teacher at conferences. I had no idea there was an issue, and since nothing was ever said to me, and maybe this was just an instance of someone needing to complain about school with spring conferences coming up. I don't know. I do know that I won't ever apologize for confronting an issue with racism in my classroom.
Instance #2: A student wasn't taking advantage of rewrite opportunities and his grade was slipping. His homeroom teacher brought him in to talk to me about what he needed to do and a plan for when/where/how it would happen, no excuses. I told him that he'd be coming in to work in the mornings instead of playing video games on his iPad in the entryway before school until the work was complete. I said that he'd probably be miserable doing that instead of playing, and that's why it's important to stay on top of work and take advantage of opportunities right away. Apparently, that's not how it was translated at home. At home it turned into me threatening to make every day for the rest of his middle school days miserable. Instead of emailing or calling me about this, the parent first posted a horrible (so I hear) tirade on Facebook about me, then came straight to the principal the next morning. I went in to the conversation totally blindsided, and thankfully the discussion with everyone got everything cleared up about what actually happened. So everything's okay.
But not really.
Because I guarantee neither parent went back to Facebook later to clarify that it was just a misunderstanding and that they take back the nasty things they said. And I know I never received an apology or acknowledgment of poor behavior from either one. So while I'm a big girl, and I'm going to try hard not to dwell on it beyond writing this post, it still hurts.
It hurts to be attacked without warning or chance to defend yourself. It hurts to be tried by public opinion when the only information comes from a 13-year-old's point of view. Were all of us rational, completely competent beings with perfect memories when we were thirteen? Or was there maybe cause to check with teachers or adults to get all sides of the story? Or maybe, just maybe, it's okay to have an issue with a teacher or school and not blast it all over social media? Maybe before publicly calling someone a bully, people should consider how harmful that type of cyberbullying is.
I know there are plenty of teachers who wouldn't take this to heart, and I'm trying not to. I think I'm getting better as I get older at realizing that I can't let everyone's opinion of me affect my opinion of myself. And I've certainly heard enough commiserating horror stories from coworkers over the past few days to reinforce that I'm not alone in having this situation happen. I know that in a small town, anyone who interacts with the community is an easy target for public scrutiny. I know that I'm not an easy person to get along with sometimes. I know that soon the chaos of my career will make me think of this less and less.
But it does make me think about the "teacher bully" role. Are some teachers bullies? Yes. Could I be considered a bully because of my classroom management style and personality? Yes. Does this mean only the meekest, nicest of people should be allowed to teach in order to prevent damage to children? No. Because people in the "real" world complain enough about how we're not preparing kids enough for the future. And in everyone's future, at some point, he or she will have a boss or someone in a power position who is not very nice all the time, someone who calls him or her out when he or she has done something wrong. Social skills are one of the most important parts of middle school learning, and learning how to appropriately deal with someone you don't like is just as important as knowing how to get along with those you do.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.