When I woke up Wednesday morning and went to work, I certainly couldn't have foreseen what my day--and, in turn, the rest of my life--would be like from that point.
My alarm rang as normal and I hit snooze as normal. I dressed; ate breakfast (the most important meal of the day!); chatted with a friend during my drive to work; performed my requisite morning duty as lunch-room monitor whereby I'm supposed to "check for sticky fingers"--the thieving kind, not the danish-eating kind--in the food purchase area and make sure kids clean up after themselves in the dining area; and headed up to the planning center to start the day. All as normal.
But then a colleague pulled me aside to tell me that students had somehow found my blog and were all abuzz and up in arms about how I'd cursed and said negative things about students in it. The colleague wanted me to know in case it became a bigger deal.
I didn't realize, however, that it already WAS a big deal.
Within the hour, I was in a meeting with the principal who had a pile of my blogs printed out and sitting before him. Within the next 15 minutes, I was gathering my bags from my office and being escorted from the building.
I realize that maybe this escort out is standard protocol when someone is suspended from her duties, but I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from remarking to the stone-faced principal, "Um, I assure you, you don't need to walk me to the door. My 8.5 month pregnant self is hardly going to freak out on my waddle out of here!" At one point, it was a Natalie sandwich--the principal, giant melon me, followed by the school security guard. Yes, I was quite the threatening figure there. I'm sure it was supposed to be a walk of shame, but I couldn't help but feel it was over-the-top ridiculous under the circumstances. Were they concerned I would cause a scene as I left? Steal some school materials? Graffiti the walls with a parting message? At worst, I may have stopped to use the bathroom--at this point, I can pretty much always pee.
But that was that. I walked out into the morning light and drove back to my house around 9am, still unaware of quite the degree to which this blog had gotten out there.
Around 2 pm, the first reporter showed up at my house. That is when I started to feel violated. We had to pull our drapes so they couldn't peer into the house. My 3-year-old daughter was confused as to the hullabaloo surrounding her. I told her people wanted to take my picture but I didn't want them to. (I didn't know until a couple of hours later that they already had my picture from the blog cache.) I was a big story on the news that night--after the butt injection situation and among some Lindsay felony-theft news. (A shout-out to Lindsay here for trying to keep me out of the limelight, but felony theft ain't what it used to be, particularly when there are more juicy local scandals around town.) Around dinnertime, the second reporter showed up. The calls trickled in most of the day. It was bizarre that I was getting this much attention over something so mundane.
See, what I'd done was written a casual blog. I talked about everything--such exciting topics as our trip to Sesame Place, my favorite (and least favorite) restaurants, my work experiences, the diaper genie. I had 9 followers--2 of whom were my husband and myself, the other 7 were friends. When I started it, my goal was to write 1-3 times a week, though I didn't usually have time to do it that much. I ended up writing 84 blogs between 8/9/09 and 11/25/10. (I remember that, at one point, my track of blogging was about equal with my gym-going, but my gym-going eventually surpassed my blog track. I went there religiously at least 3 times a week until my morning sickness started...) I slowed down at the end, writing only about 10 blogs between June and November. I was too busy with being pregnant, teaching a new curriculum, and being harassed at school to write anything between November and February.
When I wrote, I kept things as anonymous as possible; I know there are crazies out there and I didn't want anyone trying to track me down. I blogged as "Natalie M" and had no location information or email address or anything listed or accessible. Nor did I ever mention where I worked or the names of students. Yet, there's this perception that I was trying to lambaste everyone in the school without heed. That's bollocks.
What bothers me so much about this situation is that what I wrote is being taken out of context. Of my 84 blogs, 60 of them had absolutely nothing to do with school or work. Of the 24 that mentioned it, only some of them were actually focused on it--others may have mentioned it in passing, like if I was listing things that annoyed me that day and wrote without any elaboration that students were annoying that day.
In essence, people are latching onto pieces of what I wrote without A. knowing any back story, and B. knowing the whole story. The student or parents who took it upon themselves to dig up my blog--and be assured that that is what happened, as they were looking for it and didn't just stumble upon it--are the ones who started this fracas, and they also made sure that only pieces of the whole picture came to light. I'm sure the media helped with that second part, too. After all, a juicy story is more exciting to the masses.
In the now-infamous blog that is circulating across the nation, one of the oft-quoted lines is: "I'm being a renegade right now, living on the edge and, um, blogging AT work. However, as I'm blogging about work stuff, I give myself a free pass of conscience." At least one newspaper reports that the timestamp on the post was 9:01 am on a Thursday. What was conspicuously cut out of the story--and what nobody seems to feel like focusing on or even acknowledging--is the paragraph that followed it and said, "For the record, my computer froze and had to be shut down at work; when I rebooted, I didn't bother signing back on to finish this as other things to do came up. At present, then, I'm not being a renegade at all, as I'm writing this at my kitchen table." I actually wrote and posted that blog from home after 7pm. My archived blog time log records the time the post actually went live.
Furthermore, regarding my discussion of comments I'd like to make on report cards, those, too, are somewhat misunderstood. At report card time, we are obliged to add a comment to supplement and/or expand on the letter grades. We are strongly encouraged to use the "canned comments" option, which have a limited number of comments from which teachers may choose to explain students. However, much like options on those magazine quizzes where you sit there scratching your head and mumbling, "Well, I'm a little bit A, but somewhat D, too... um, I wonder what I should pick," some of the options don't work for some of the kids. Some of the students don't fit within the canned comments. And none of them allow teachers to truly reflect any sort of behavior or academic deficiency in any truly negative way. Examples of canned comments are: "cooperative in class," "achieving at ability level," "needs to complete homework," "needs to increase study time," "doesn't take advantage of second chance learning." So I took the opportunity for myself and the possible amusement of my friends--since I was content and expected for everything to stay low-key with only my 7 pals reading my ramblings--to list those real behaviors that exist but that you just aren't allowed to write. (Parents don't want to hear the truth; administrators don't want us to share the truth.) But regardless, they weren't comments meant to fit all students, and nor were they even for every student I wrote "cooperative in class" about--I was just being pithy when I made that joke.
Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, I didn't--and don't--feel negatively toward all students. As I mentioned in another blog that nobody chooses to talk about, there were delightful students in school, too. I fondly discussed some wonderful students who shined in the school's Jazz and Poetry Festival, and I even said that I was proud to be part of the school at events like that.
But the fact remains that every year, more and more, students are coming in less willing to work, to think, to cooperate. These are the students I was complaining about in my blog. The same way millions of Americans go home at the end of the day and complain about select coworkers or clients or other jerks they had to deal with, I came home and complained on my blog about those I had to deal with.
When my boss makes a general comment about something at a faculty meeting that is pointed at certain individuals but not all of us, I don't sit there and think, "I can't believe he said that about me!" I know if it's directed at me or not. I ask myself, "Are these things that I do? No? Then it must be for someone else." I think that most people are probably the same way. In fact, if people have a lack of self-perception, I'd bet they'd err on the side of thinking things are NOT being directed at them. S0 if these students or their parents (again, one of either group who felt the need to dig up year-old blog postings) see my comments and identify themselves or their kids with things they read, that, to me, indicates a problem within themselves. It feels like they're projecting their personal issues onto me. The truth hurts sometimes. Maybe instead of getting pissed off at the person pointing out the behavior, people need to examine their behavior and make a change. Better to know now before the Ghost of Christmas Future shows up.
In reading some of the posts my most angry objectors have written, I've read that I must not have been doing a good job because I couldn't possibly separate my feelings for some of the students from my work. Someone said I must be doing the minimum. That is absolutely not the case. If you read my blogs, you'd have read account after account of the preparatory work I did for lessons. You'd have read about the new lessons and units I'd created to help my students achieve success. I was not shirking my duties in or out of the classroom, regardless of the frustration I felt as a result of the disrespect and disengagement I was living through so often in the classroom. I am a professional and take pride in my work. I am perfectly capable of separating my personal feelings about some of the people I have to work with from the work I accomplish. In that way, I'm also like millions of people around the world; at some point, we all have to work with someone we don't like. But we do it anyway, get the job done, and move along. That's how life works. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous.
As I went to bed Wednesday night, things were about 100% the opposite of 'normal.' As I fell asleep, I couldn't help feeling how surreal the day had been. While I never in a million years would have guessed that this many people would ever see my words, and I didn't even intend them to, I stand by what I wrote and think it's good that people are aware now. There are serious problems with our education system today--with the way that schools and school districts and students and parents take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villanize them and blame them for everything--and those need to be brought to light. If this 'scandal' opens the door for that conversation, so be it.
Let that conversation begin. Stay tuned here.