Monday, January 26, 2015

Rising Above, Part 2

This is the second post in a six-part series  on general education issues.  I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion after a screening of the film Rise Above the Mark, and these posts will continue that conversation.  This space will not be used for a review or critique of the film, parts of which I agreed with and parts of which I did not.  The film and the discussion it has inspired have, however, brought key education issues into a broader forum, and it is these that I will address in this series.

What challenge is created by the perception of teachers derived from traditional and social media?

More than twenty years ago a now iconic cartoon first appeared in The New Yorker.  It featured two canines talking to each other, with one sitting poised at a computer.  The dog with his paws on the keyboard looked at his friend sitting on the floor and said, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

The fact is, of course, that no one knows you're a dog in the op-ed section of the newspaper either, or on bathroom stalls where vandals write their messages.  Since at least the graffiti artists of Pompeii, we have enjoyed being able to speak our minds without anyone knowing who it was doing the speaking.  With the rise of social media, screen names, and profile pics, we have created a dense hedge of protection behind which to hide as we lob the grenades of our pique and rage at those we want desperately to know our thoughts without knowing who thought them.

Enter the current educational melee.  As with much else in our isonected society, where we can remain isolated in our anonymity even as we connect with anyone in any place at any time, we have eschewed civil discourse for the rant and the screed.  "If those teachers over at that school had to work a real job like the rest of us, they wouldn't complain so much.  After all, they get three months PAID vacation during the summer on MY dime!  Signed, A Concerned Taxpayer."

Is it likely that the person who tweets or posts on Facebook or emails the editor such a statement would talk like that when conversing with my friend Julie, who teaches French next door to me, when she has run into the grocery store to pick up some extra milk?  I doubt it.  We talk tough when no one knows who is talking, but in person?  That is a different story.  Even when mainstream media outlets bash teachers, as in the case of the notorious cover of Time magazine, you have to ask whether anyone would have designed that cover who was thinking of a relative, friend, or neighbor who was an actual teacher.

So what is a teacher to do with perception of teachers created through the media?  Ignore it.  Be aware of it, but disregard it.  Seriously, do you really care what people say who lack the spine to sign their names?  Does it even matter people say when they clearly do not know what they are talking about?  Teachers already have an audience for their work whose opinions are true worth, but more on that in a moment.

Ignoring the nonsense does not mean sticking one's head in a hole.  Traditional and social media are wonderful outlets for sharing with the world the great things happening in actual classrooms.  Post pictures of an amazing student project.  Tweet the profound insight a child expressed.  Tell your side of the story, which is, quite simply the only side with up-to-the-minute experience of what is actually taking place in American education.

And just who is your proper audience, the only one that capable of offering the kind of thoughts on your job that are worth considering?  The answer runs from 2:04-2:19, fifteen seconds that will lay to rest all the noisy nonsense about teachers.

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