Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, December 12, 2014

Please Stop Shaming Your Students

Ever teacher I know tells funny student stories.

When I taught in Brooklyn, it was a release, a form of gallows humor to share with other teachers the frustrations and fears we had for our students. In NC, I noticed that the storytelling was less about this-funny-thing and more along along the lines of this-stupid-person. And every year, at the end of the semester I find that that's my problem.

It's the end of the semester, so there are lots of reflections on students' final papers, final essays, and final performances. Twitter is awash with funny quotes under #grading. These don't identify the student, and usually quote things from not using apostrophes correctly to the difference between were and where. Just as often these posts are about the teacher/instructor/professor more than the student. As teachers, I think these end of semester posts help us not feel so alone. To know that everyone goes through these things. But there is also an invisible line. And when people cross that line the tone changes to something darker. To something that seems to show people who don't like their students very much, or think teaching is beneath them, or who have privilege issues, or socio-economic bias against their students.

And that disturbs me. It disturbs me even more in new teachers because I think it sets a bad precedent about how you view and interact with your students.

I don't think you should hold conversations on social media about failing students.
It's one thing to post something about reading the syllabus. Or a student asking if a 74.5 is passing (when a 75 is a passing grade). Or emailing during finals week asking about extra credit opportunities. These tend to be generic, non-specific, and apply to everyone. And they're funny.
Or to share (verbally, in person) stories about a student- because in a lot of ways anecdotes are how new teachers learn. But sharing shaming stories in a public space has the potential to cross a line. And here's the thing- why do you feel the need to do this? Or rather, ask yourself this, are you sharing a common issue- students giving up at the end of semester, not reading directions, making silly (often funny) mistakes or does the tone of your story or post reveal that you  view your students as somehow beneath you? Less than? Do you tell the story to somehow say how important YOU are?
Because that's a problem.
I don't think you should make fun of students on scholarship.
I understand that at some schools there are scholarships and financial aid situations that teachers may see as problematic. But making fun of student performance because they're on scholarship or receiving financial aid shows your privilege and bias. I was on scholarship. I received financial aid. I am what most people would call low class, poor. And I would have been horrified if a teacher/instructor/professor had  critiqued my performance or me by these criteria. If you're a white teacher, who obviously comes from privilege then you doing this is worse.
I don't think you should make assumptions about students who fail your class, or pass judgement.
Students fail. Students who did great all semester sometimes just give up by the time they reach the final paper. These are sad things, disappointing things. But there are also lots of reasons for these types of endings in a class. Some underclassmen become overwhelmed. Some have family issues. Some just don't get it done. The thing is, most of the time, we don't know why these things happen. And making assumptions or judgments about WHY this happened or worse, WHAT you think it reveals about a student is awful. Our job is never to judge students. Evaluate based on content certainly. Judge them? Never.

 Think about this- what if you were a student and your professor posted something on social media that quoted your work. There's a whole Tumblr dedicated to this:
And some of these are funny, or remind us of things we've read or experienced in our classes. But this is what I want you to think about- what if you were this student. What if you discovered your work was publicly made fun of? How would you feel? How would this impact how you felt as a student? About your education? About teachers?

Some people say that the difference is one of public versus private. Did you post this on Facebook to private friends or in a private group or on Twitter for all the world? And to a certain extent, that is true. But more so it has to do with intent and tone.

Here's an example- as part of my end of semester reflection my students  created memes for the class. They're hysterical, and deal with all the things we as teachers and instructors point out. But it's not me making fun of them, it's them commenting on the class. I can share these, show them to other teachers, share with future classes (which my students know I'll do because I tell them) so they know what to expect from the class. But there's no shaming involved. There's no judgment.

Everyone gets frustrated, and frustration needs to be vented. Getting other people's feedback on how to deal with something is also helpful. But I think there needs to be a little more thought put into things. I've started to write something and then thought about it and deleted it. I think we all need to take a minute more before we post things. Because the simple fact is that social media has ensured that the line between public and private life is disappearing. And our students do follow us. And it is a public space.

And I think there's a very simple guideline to use- if you were a student, and you read that post by one of your professors, what would you think?
In addition, what about these questions?
  • Does what you've written reflect privilege or class bias?
  • Does what you've written have a purpose other than shaming someone?
  • Does what you've written only work to make you look better? 
 I've been chastised for often reverting back to calling students kids, a habit of years of teaching high school. And I never mean it in a condescending way. But at 38, teaching 18 year old freshmen, they do seem like kids. And kids/young adults/college underclassmen are impressionable. And impacted by what you say. And I think it's our responsibility to keep that in mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment