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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

63. A Teacher's Reflective Journal

El Blog de Steve is a blog by an American teacher that I came across on a blogspot forum. I've included the link in case you want to read Steve's blog in full. Steve writes of two instances of teachers finding themselves in hot water. One teacher was stood down because she refused to remove a sticker from her bumper bar. The blog reads:

“Have you drugged your kid today”–a reference to Ritalin and similar drugs used to calm kids down due to ADD and ADHD. This particular bumper sticker upset some parents, and the school administration (it is a public school) asked her either remove that sticker or not park in the school parking lot. She refused to do either, and she got fired.

The other item concerned a teacher whose blog comments concerned how poorly behaved her students were. She too was discipline.

Here's the link:

The situations got me thinking, so I wrote back to Steve:

Like you I’m a teacher and blogger – though I’m not as prolific as you. I try to manage a blog a week – but I don’t always manage it. I’m a full time at English teacher at an Asutralian secondary school, and 2011 has been a terrific year for me.

The bumper sticker story reminds me of my youthful days as a teacher. In 1970 the rear window of my Ford Anglia displayed a small sticker: Stop the Vietnam War Now. I was attending a meeting at an inner city school in Melbourne (capital of Victoria in the south of Australia) and was ordered by the school’s principal to “remove that car with the offensive sticker” from the car park.The politics of teaching are invariably complex. In Australia government school teachers are employed by a central authority. There are school councils, but they do not have the power to “hire and fire”.

The expression of opinion – especially if it is on a controversial topic – can be tricky. I recall the case of a young feminist teacher, working in the government system, who rang a shock jock from a school phone to express the opinion – on air – that the age of sexual consent should be lowered to 12. The radio commentator heard the school bell ring, realised that he had a great potential “story” and tracked the teacher down. She was suspended from teaching, and spent years hidden away in a clerical job in the Education Department.

She was fortunate not to be sacked; you can imagine the kind of campaign that was waged by the radio station, and the kind of red-neck opinions that emerged.“Do we want people like this teaching our children?”

In such ways do bureaucracies silence dissident voices. Or the voices of those who are brave or stupid or idealistic or naive enough to think that ‘freedom of speech’ extends to teachers. I love teaching; this is my 47th year in the game. I love writing about teaching on my blog, and enjoy the conversations that some of my blogs contribute to. But I am very wary when writing about colleagues, or my school, or my students.

During the Second World war, the British had a slogan that illustrated their extreme caution: “Loose lips sink ships”. Current affairs radio is NOT the place to air controversial opinions about sex if you are identifiable as a teacher. Unless, of course, you are willing to accept the tsunami of conservative wrath that your comments will almost certainly unleash.

There’s a great line that occurs in Peter Weir’s film WITNESS (starring Harrison Ford, who plays the part of police officer John Book. Book is a good guy, in hiding from the bad guys – cops who have gone off the rails). The line is spoken by the old patriarch in the Amish village where Book has been cared for. The old man says: “Book – you be careful out there, among them English.”

It’s advice from which we could all benefit: Be careful what you say; be careful among ‘them English’.

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