I couldn’t sleep the other night and found myself doing what any reasonable person would do: I turned to Twitter. There was the usual: President Trump had insulted someone again, Congress was arguing amongst themselves, women’s rights were being trampled upon in new and horrifying ways. I kept scrolling, though, and didn’t engage.
And then I stumbled upon something that caused me to pause. I wish I could remember the exact phrasing, but it was the middle of the night after all. In short, an educator stated that he was tired of seeing teachers on Twitter and Facebook sharing quotes or personal stories about the importance of connecting with students.
His reasoning was that this should not be up for discussion: Shouldn’t we inherently know this? Others chimed in on the thread in agreement, often sharing that this is a reason that they stop participating in EduTwitter or in Facebook groups. It is all just too lovey-dovey and we have more important things to talk about.
Interesting, I thought to myself. There is a lot of truth to this. Are we dumbing down our expectations of teachers when we talk about what should be common sense? Why in the world are you a teacher if you can’t be nice to kids? Why don’t we just expect teachers to do the right thing? I could see where these people were coming from, but it felt personal to me because I’m one of those teachers who post with passion about the importance of connections and caring for our students. I’ve even written about it and recorded a podcast.
Eventually, I decided to roll over and go back to sleep.
The next day I still couldn’t get this Twitter thread out of my head. I found myself going through obsessive metacognition about my social media habits of the past few months and wondered, Is that what others think about my posts? This had clearly struck a nerve.
And then, as if through some serendipitous form of divine intervention, a news story about a teacher completely humiliating a student came across my news feed. At Bailly Preparatory Academy in Gary, Indiana, an 11-year-old boy with autism was awarded “Most Annoying Boy” by his special education teacher. The person who is supposed to have specialized and foundational knowledge of working with some of our most vulnerable students humiliated him in front of his entire school and family.
Minutes later, I stumbled upon another article. A high school English teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, directly tweeted at President Trump requesting his assistance in removing “illegals” from her school. Not only that, but she stated that a “Hispanic assistant principal…protects certain students from criminal prosecution.” When questioned about this, she assured everyone that she thought they were private tweets, not public. As if that makes it completely different.
These stories reminded me of others from the past calendar year alone: Teachers in Idaho who dressed up as Mexicans and a border wall for Halloween and then shared the pictures on the school’s public Facebook page; a teacher in New York who made Black students act as slaves in a mock auction during a lesson on slavery; a teacher in Palatine, Illinois, who threw a cell phone at a student’s face during an argument. Or my own student who told me that a teacher had once told her to “go stand outside in the hallway with a bunch of rocks because that’s about how smart you are.”
And then there are the vilest stories of all: teachers who rape, assault or enter into sexual relationships with students. A teacher in Alabama was arrested in April for having sex with a student; a teacher in Arizona was recently arrested for having sex with a 13-year-old student; and, unfortunately, closer to home for me, a teacher from my own school is in jail and facing multiple charges, one of which is the rape of a child under 14.
I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but let’s be real here: It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The reason I write with such passion and such frequency about connecting with students and showing them love and support is not so that we can journal about our feelings and run in a field of daisies together. It’s because I recognize that without a foundation of trust, without appropriate relationships, without compassion, we have nothing. Content is nothing in the absence of a meaningful connection. Or said more poetically by Fred Rogers: “The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that’s what heaven is.”
So clearly we do need to do this. We do need to talk relationships. We do need to talk compassion. We do need to remember the power that we have when we interact with students. That power has the potential to change the entire trajectory of a young person’s life, for good or bad. We cannot forget that. I hope you’ll join me.
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