Earlier this month English teacher Natalie Munroe was suspended from her job at Central Bucks High School in Doylestown, Penn. for derogatory, “profanity-laced” comments made about students on a personal blog after it went viral.
Calling herself Natalie M., her posts read “there is less accountability on students,” yet teachers are obliged to explain every choice made in teaching style. One called students “disengaged, lazy whiners.” She also complained that they are “just generally annoying” and quoting from the musical “Bye Bye Birdie”: “Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy loafers.”
Neither the blog nor its posts identified students by name, or the name of the school.
At the time the story hit the media, the blog had seven followers. Munroe told WTXF, the FOX affiliate television station in Philadelphia she was just venting, and the blog wasn’t meant to be seen by everyone.
Yet, the principal had the 30-year-old, who was nearly full term in her second pregnancy, escorted off campus, sandwiched between himself and a security guard.
Parents, students, nor the school’s administration want her back. Munroe’s attorney said his client has a strong first amendment case and he thinks the school district left her with the impression that she would be fired.
Of the nearly 650 comments on her existing blog, many support her views, but just as many write that her actions were inappropriate for a teacher.
“China and India are producing genius…we are only getting average,” is one of the comments on her blog. “I would like to add that in China or India if a student was lazy, stupid or disrespectful they would be dismissed with no hope of return and when they got home the parents would beat the living shi# out of them.”
This now comes down to whether this is a legal issue and she can pull the free-speech card, or an ethical dilemma as to what is acceptable behavior and choice for a teacher.
Jason Shepard, a professor who teaches communication law at Cal State Fullerton said when he taught high school in New York City, he kept a journal of his experiences. Although he can relate to Munroe’s analogies, he said she may be in legal hot water.
“I really relate to many of this teacher’s comments. I wrote many of the same of things,” Shepard said. “But the fact that she chose to write about her experiences and impressions and disseminate them publicly puts her in some legal jeopardy by her employer.”
Shepard said the Supreme Court has ruled in several cases that government can punish its employees for violating work rules, including ones that prohibit them from publicly discussing workplace situations.
“In this case, she appeared to take responsible efforts to protect her privacy, her employer’s privacy, and her students’ privacy and I think this helps her case from a legal perspective,” Shepard said. “Whether I like it or not, I think the government is probably on safe ground in suspending her.”
Although I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment and free speech, I feel she made a bad choice. These comments should have stayed between Munroe and her seven friends and colleagues over coffee at Starbucks or in the teacher’s lounge.
Genelle Belmas, co-author of the college textbook “Basic Principles of Media Law” and associate professor of journalism at Cal State Fullerton, said she, too, sees two sides to the issue. She said many educators are tempted to post views such as Munroe’s. “The worst she can ethically be accused of is poor taste,” Belmas said.
“This is a hard case. On the one hand, of course, she’s got free speech rights, like any other citizen,” Belmas said. “On the other, if her district and contract are at-will employment, she could be let go for this.”
Belmas also pointed out that Munroe’s students are not elementary school children and asked should society be so protective that we can’t let them see what people think.
“We’re not talking sixth graders here— we’re talking about 17- and 18-year-olds, who will in a few years become adults and the next generation of breadwinners, policy-makers, etc.,” Belmas said. “It concerns me even in college courses the level of apathy and short-cutting I see.”
No matter what level one teaches, be it K-12 or in higher education, there will always be helicopter parents, disrespectful and apathetic students, as well as bad and unaccountable instructors. But, when a student turns 18 and becomes an adult, the responsibility is ultimately his or her own choice to be a dedicated learner or a lazy, apathetic whiner.