" . . . when you teach kids, you have a moral obligation to work to see the best in them . . ."

CJ Westerberg, February 20, 2011 8:49 PM

teacher.nataliemonroe.chris lehmann.jpg

Editor's Note:  If you have missed the ever-growing Natalie Monroe-Bloggate story, which is essentially about a teacher who blogged about her attitudes toward her students - which were remarkably disdainful  - while she allegedly thought they were anonymous, generalized, and private.  Must- see video below ABC with Robin Roberts & Natalie Monroe. 

Chris Lehmann, the principal of Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and founder of EduCon,  addresses the spectrum of the ramifications of Monroe's posting, from an educator-in-the-trenches point of view.  We absolutely admire Lehmann for his ability to zero in on larger issues, and not to shy away from subtleties in detail that are equally powerful.  The Daily Riff has featured Lehmann in high-profile posts, including High School Stinks, one of the best education/ videos via TEDx.  We have also featured another viral TED video from one of Lehmann's colleagues, Diana Laufenberg, How to Learn.  Lehmann, and this post, can be found at Practical Theory.

If you want a taste of the quotes from the Natalie Monroe blogs, here are two:  "there is no other way to say this, but I hate your kid";  "Although academically okay, your child has no other redeeming qualities"
. . . - C.J. Westerberg   

A Open Letter to Natalie Monroe

by Chris Lehmann

Dear Ms. Monroe,

I read the two blog posts where you spoke about what you are now calling Bloggate. And
I am concerned. I'm concerned that you are missing the point of why people are angry. And please be aware, I'm writing this letter as a teacher, a principal and a parent.

Teaching is a tough career. It demands the best of you every day. And it takes an incredible amount out of you every day. And the dark days are bad. There are days when the kids frustrate you. There are days when the work frustrates you. And there are days when the combination of the two are almost overwhelming.

But when you teach, you work in the public trust. And you have a responsibility to that.

And when you teach kids, you have a moral obligation to work to see the best in them.
The kids will see themselves by what is reflected in your eyes.

You see... you don't teach English. You teach kids. Flawed, messed-up, never perfect, wonderful, amazing kids.

Every child you denigrated has something wonderful about them, even when you didn't see it.

Every child you insulted has worked hard at something, even if it wasn't on the assignment
you wanted them to work hard on.

Every child you mocked has aspirations, even if they don't match up with the ones you want them to have.

Perhaps parents did go looking for your blog... have you stopped to consider why they may have?

Perhaps a parent was frustrated hearing her child come home every day talking about the English class where the teacher made it clear that she didn't like many of the kids - and trust me, the kids knew. There's no way what you wrote didn't come out in the classroom. No one
is that good an actor, and teenagers are better at sussing that out than most people give
them credit for.

You were unkind. More to the point, you were cruel.

You were cruel to the children that parents have entrusted to your care.

And there is no excuse for that.

And now, you are trying to argue that your act of public cruelty was somehow justified... somehow part of some larger dialogue about what is wrong with "kids today." And you
don't seem to want to own that your actions have now contributed to the larger anti-teacher rhetoric that is out there today. But you must understand... nothing can possibly justify
writing those things on a publicly accessible blog. How should your principal respond when
a parent calls and says, "I don't want my child in class with someone who writes that?"
How is a child supposed to sit in your classroom when s/he will be wondering, "What
does Ms. Monroe really think of me?" And - to be completely blunt - why should students respect what you do in class when you have shown them such incredible disrespect.

We had a situation at SLA where a student wrote a teacher an email that was a frustrated
and snarky email. The teacher, in a very human moment, responded sarcastically via email.
It was understandable from a human moment, but it was not the way we can respond as teachers - because we're the adults.

High school kids say and do really frustrating things. They are kids. It's almost their job.
They are learning how to navigate that space between being really kids and being adult.
They try on adult responses. They switch back to childish responses. And through it all,
they are learning from how the adults in their lives respond to their actions.

What I told that teacher then - and what I say to you now - is that once you abdicated
your responsibility as the adult, you were in the wrong. What a parent has every right to
say is, "I understand that my child may have done something wrong, but now I want to talk about the behavior of the teacher." Because, after all, we are the adults.

Whatever frustration, grief, anger you may have over the behavior of your students... you
gave up the moral high ground to speak with authority about that when you wrote publicly
in a manner that was profoundly disrespect of and demeaning to those who are in your

And finally, there was something else that really bothered me about your most recent two
blog posts.

You never said you were sorry.

You hurt kids. There are students who are angry and hurt that a teacher would write those things about them. You hurt kids' feelings... you wrote mean and cruel things about the
children in your care. You may say it was not meant to be public, but you wrote mean and
cruel things about the children you teach on a public blog. And those words were found, and kids were hurt by your actions.

And you never said you were sorry.

I hope that you do some serious soul-searching over the coming days. I hope you ask
yourself why you teach. I would urge you to consider that your job is not to teach English,
but to teach children English... and you need to keep those kids in your class at the top
of your mind. And you need to ask yourself if you can find it in your heart to care about
them, to listen to them, to want to know their dreams and aspirations, even when they
do not line up with your own. If you can, then you need to start with what Randy Pausch
defined as a real apology. To make a real apology, you must say - and mean - the following:

What I did was wrong.

I'm sorry that I hurt you.

How do I make it better?

Finally, I would hope that you ask yourself why you are teaching. If the answer is because
you loved being an English major, I'd encourage you to find another career.

You must teach because you want to help students achieve their dreams. You must teach because you care almost as much as much about the children in your class as you do about your own children. And you must approach the job with the humility to know that what you are trying to do - to help children grow up wisely and well in an ever-more-complex world - will tax you to the limits of your being. It should - it will - demand the best of you. If you can engage in that reflection... you will understand why you must apologize deeply and profoundly to your students... because you would never want another person to hurt your students as I imagine you have hurt them. You are going to have to listen to them when they tell you how your
words made them feel. And you are going to have to be open to feeling that hurt with them.
This isn't the time for, "Yes, but..." It is the time to listen deeply, with an open mind and an
open heart, so that you can grow... so that you might return to the classroom in a fashion
that allows all members of that community to learn.

Chris Lehmann


Video Below:  Interview w/ABC's Robin Roberts & Natalie Monroe
(A full one-minute commercial before viewing - ARGH)

Ask a student, how does your teacher learn?

Two Schools, which one builds the better bully?

What teachers can learn from students:  don't underestimate our abilities

  • Kathleen

    Thank you, Chris Lehmann. Your letter is one of most beautiful statements about teaching that I have ever read.

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