Smile, teachers: you may be on YouTube

From Canada comes the story of an angry teacher’s classroom rant being filmed surreptitiously by students and then posted to the internet video site, YouTube.

As the story points out, this is far from the only case of its kind. A search for ‘angry teacher’ on YouTube today produces 93 other examples, a number that is bound to grow. Comparisons with cases like that of comedian Michael Richards’ racist tirade or with the latest incident of police brutality being videotaped are inevitable.

In the Canadian story, the teacher’s union representative has leapt to the teacher’s defense in a strikingly sweeping way. “The teacher will be the master of his class — a closed class and confidential,” he says. “Master” is of course the 19th-century word for teacher (the term survives residually in the principals of private schools being called ‘Headmaster’). But I worry about its implications. If teachers are masters, what does that make students? Servants? Slaves? Do teachers have the right to do or say anything they please inside their ‘closed’ and ‘confidential’ classrooms? Surely not.

In Canada the school’s response has been to ban all personal electronic devices from the classroom—to which I say, “Good Luck!”

Wouldn’t it be easier to ban angry rants by teachers (along with racist tirades and police brutality, if possible)? Why in the 21st century does anyone still believe that teachers have a right to speak to students in ways they would never speak to anyone else? Teachers who think that such an approach is not only justified but effective would do well to read Alfie Kohn’s book, Beyond Discipline.

Or we could all just decide that it’s a good idea to treat everyone with respect and courtesy. As my mother used to say when I was going out for the evening, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want broadcast on television”.

Much less on YouTube, eh?

It was good advice then, and it’s even better advice today.

UPDATE 13 January 2007

Slashdot today has a piece retailing a Wall Street Journal article about people’s misdeeds being posted on the internet. The discussion is worth a look. One reader’s take:

“You don’t see a problem? The problem is How long does someone have to be ashamed for, and in front of how many people? You put something on the internet and potentially it’s there forever and can be seen by millions, like with Star Wars Kid. I believe forgiveness is necessary in society – being allowed to learn from your mistakes and move on to become a better person – but we seem to have a culture where nobody forgives and nobody is allowed to forget.”

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5 thoughts on “Smile, teachers: you may be on YouTube”

  1. I saw something about this yesterday on ABC World New Tonight. There are a couple of students in Texas somewhere who were suspended for intentionally provoking their teacher and video taping it.

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  2. Yes, the students in the incident in Canada were suspended as well, for the same reason. But why would students do such a thing? And why would a teacher be provoked to an angry outburst? Clearly the atmosphere in the class could not have been healthy to begin with.

    If you look at some of the videos on YouTube, it’s clear that in many cases the classrooms are toxic. Teachers are sometimes put into very difficult or impossible situations whose root causes are beyond their control. And teachers are rarely taught how to respond to such situations positively. So things just go from bad to worse.

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  3. Little brother with his cell phone is watching everything you do no matter who you are or where you are. Do you like that? Maybe not if you find yourself on youtube some day.

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  4. First, it is easier to train teachers to act professionally than it is to train students to behave with scruples, especially when behavior is not enforced in the home. I agree that teachers should be professional and not “yell”, but tell me WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE RECORDED?

    I am going to quote an excellent reply that a person made on another site in reference to this:

    I believe this is the issue:
    1) Its illegal for them to use electronic recording devices without the instructors’ permission.
    2) It is illegal to record anyone’s voice without notifying them.
    3) It is illegal to post images of students for the public to see without the parent’s permission.
    What ESTA was pointing out was that a group of students were coordinating in a class to get a teacher to blow up, specifically to film it.

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  5. Christi: All good points.

    My question is, how do schools and teachers get into situations where students are so alienated that they would do something truly malicious against a teacher (as opposed to thoughtless adolescent hijinks)?

    I have seen far too many teachers over the years who treat students as adversaries, or who think they have the right to speak to students in ways they would never speak to anyone else.

    How often has a student arrived late and been greeted with some kind of sarcastic, critical put-down by the teacher? And why is it OK to speak this way to students, when any teacher who arrived late to a faculty meeting and was greeted the same way by the principal would be outraged? Why the double standard?

    Simple application of The Golden Rule by teachers would do wonders in creating the kind of classroom atmosphere where the kind of malicious incidents you describe just wouldn’t happen.

    Unfortunately this is one more area where schools of education do an abysmal job of preparing teachers.

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