It seems that there are new stories every day about teachers making bad choices. This morning, while Stu and I finished packing for our upcoming trip to Orlando with students for the Florida Scholastic Press Association convention, I heard a news story about a teacher who had been filmed in class screaming at a student and was being fired. Captain Jeffrey Daughtry, a math teacher at a Sarasota military academy, was filmed for 18 seconds berating a student, shouting “Open your mouth again and you will die.” This story comes only a few days after a Polk County teacher was arrested and subsequently fired for having sex with a student, and the Pasco county PLACE supervisor who was found in possession of thousands of images of child pornography. Ugh.
It makes me so angry when teachers, or, at least, the very narrow population of *really* bad teachers, make us all look bad with their actions. The thought of one of my peers taking advantage of her position of authority over a student makes me feel ill. But sitting in the car with the two students I was charged with driving to Orlando, listening to them complain about their teachers, I realized that it’s not just the *really* bad teachers that are making teachers look bad. It’s the teachers who don’t care, who don’t do the work necessary to be good at the job, who are impatient, who are rude, who are lazy. I spent a lot of the trip trying to shed some light on how teachers think. I told these girls that there are plenty of kids who don’t like me, and plenty of days when I don’t feel like working as hard as is necessary, and I’m not always very nice to kids. I was attempting to explain away some of the complaints that they have about teachers. But I know that I beat myself up over these infractions. I strive to be better, to write better lessons, to grade student work more quickly, to be kind even when a kid has made me crazy. The worst damage to my profession doesn’t come from the few serious offenders, but the more pervasive threat of teachers who can’t be bothered.
On the other hand, in this age of very prevalent social media, teachers often find themselves as digital stars. Daughtry, a veteran, was fired for a rant that was captured on video, but claims that those 18 seconds don’t represent who he is. I have to confess that I’m not proud of every 18 seconds that happen in my classroom. Anything, taken out of context, might be construed as inappropriate, offensive, even damaging to a student’s self-esteem. We’re encouraged to allow our students to use their cell phones and other technology in the classroom, but those same cell phones are used to capture moments that we don’t necessarily plan or approve. Also, we’re human. Kids are human. By nature of our humanity, we are regularly in conflict with one another. Can you remember how you treated your parents growing up? Can you remember a time when your parents lashed out at you? Yeah, that happens in the classroom. Teachers see our students at least one hour every day for more than 180 school days. It is inevitable that teachers will come into conflict with their students. That’s good teaching. If we allowed students to do whatever they want, our classrooms would be chaos. But in order to maintain control, we must exert authority, authority that is occasionally frustrating to students.
I’m not condoning nor condemning Daughtry’s rant. I just know that if I were in the same situation, I would hope for a certain amount of grace before administration and the community judged my behavior. I also hope that I have earned enough respect from my students that they refrain from filming me, even in my silly, goofy, and awkward moments when it is most tempting.