Public Behaviour

Ten years ago I started blogging about my experiences of working as a supply teacher in the UK. I’d thought about it for a while but had remained unconvinced that this was something I should, or indeed could, do. After all, what did I have to say that was so important it needed publishing on a public platform? Who would bother to read it? Would anyone take notice? Would they care what I had to say?

At around the same time I watched a clip of a speaker at the Tory party conference, one which seemed to cause much discussion and surprising outrage. It was the speech by Katharine Birbalsingh, now the headteacher of Michaela School. At the time she was a teacher in a standard comprehensive, and life-long Labour supporter, so her appearance on stage with the Conservatives caused shock, disgust and condemnation. She lost her job as a result.

It also brought to the fore wider discussion about behaviour in schools. Not those institutions which were known to be ‘bad’, but everyday schools where the daily grind of trying to maintain order whilst at the same time attempting to instil some education into the most recalcitrant of students was never mentioned in polite society. Teachers were going into work knowing that the unsaid expectation was that they had to battle to convince the students to listen. That if those students chose not to listen, not to learn, not to behave, that the fault lay with the teacher and not with the choices made by those children.

Friends who were not teachers were shocked.

I wrote my first blog post (Freedom of speech? Not if you’re a teacher) and watched the public response to Ms Birbalsingh’s speech. It wasn’t as I had hoped, that is supportive of her courage in highlighting the issues many teachers faced. It was two years before I wrote another post, partly due to my reticence to open myself up, even anonymously, to the rage other teacher bloggers faced.

I blogged fairly regularly for a few years before stepping back again. During that time I had been encouraged to venture onto Twitter in order to engage quicker and on a more personal basis with both other teacher bloggers and those in educational research and policy. I posted my thoughts, I responded to the posts of others. I had my ideas and opinions challenged and I learnt a lot and discovered things in the world of education which I may otherwise have missed. I didn’t agree then with everything I encountered, I still don’t, but on the whole I enjoyed the exchange with others and felt I was part of an inquiring online community.

Then things started to change. Factions broke away, cliques set up and the challenging but welcoming atmosphere I had encountered at first melted away. Individuals were belittled, mocked, misquoted and misrepresented in frankly appalling ways. Then came the doxxing, the revealing of identities of previously anonymous bloggers, people who knew that their jobs were at risk if their real names became public. The accusations flew left to right, right to left. It was horrible to watch.

These weren’t the actions of disgruntled students though, these were practising teachers and educational consultants, the very people who instruct others on how to behave!

I called out one individual for their poor behaviour. In return their supporters became, in some cases, openly hostile. This wasn’t what I had joined Twitter for. I quietly walked away, leaving both Twitter and blogging alone.

The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 has brought me back to Twitter. As a supply teacher my job is to go into many different schools over the course of a week, covering a variety of classes across all the age groups as I do both primary and secondary. I made the decision not to work at the moment as deliberately coming into contact with a high number of unconnected people seems contrary to the whole idea of class or year-group ‘bubbles’. I’m fortunate that I’m in the position to have that choice, I know many people aren’t.

Jumping back into EduTwitter has been interesting. As I write, we’re awaiting a formal announcement of the winner of the US presidential elections, we’ve had a summer of protests on a range of topics and teachers and educational professionals have, quite understandably, incorporated these events into their tweets. President Trump has announced that he intends to sue areas where Republicans did not win seats, he doesn’t agree with the result and so it must be wrong, corrupt, a conspiracy. He’s smeared his opponent, announced his intention to ignore the result and generally behaved in the most appalling manner for a grown adult. His words and actions are garnering disbelief throughout the educational Twitter-sphere, why can’t he gracefully admit defeat, accept that voters may genuinely hold a different political opinion from him? That opposing voters are not bad people, that they may have a valid reason for holding their opinion – and that they have the right to not only hold these differing opinions but to voice them in public and to act upon them at the ballot box.

It’s into this mix that an established educational blogger has written a post which has caused a storm amongst those on Twitter. It really shouldn’t be such a divisive post. It discusses what should happen to students who commit sexual assaults in school – should they be excluded or is the act of excluding always wrong, even in these circumstances. I won’t discuss the ins and outs of that here, it’s the response to this post by those on Twitter which has left me astounded.

From this rather benign beginning, the blogger has been tarred as both a racist and a misogynist, via a rather circuitous route. Those who have disagreed with this view have been labelled as ‘hateful’.

The individual I called out for doxxing back in 2013 has not only been embroiled in this melee, but has also repeated the action again, this time with regard to another blogger. When I pointed this out I was called ‘pathetic’, a ‘nasty gossip’ and, essentially, a liar. I was also blocked by a number of their coterie on Twitter. Highlighting the hypocrisy of accusing someone of behaviour which you then go on to do yourself is, apparently, wrong. Pointing out verifiable fact, and indeed prior admission of wrong-doing by an individual, is now considered beyond the pale. Of course this is only true if you are on the ‘wrong’ side of the debate. Where have we heard that argument before?

Blog posts and tweets are being judged not on the veracity of their content, but on the tribal affiliations of the author. This is ridiculous. These are public Tweets, anyone can read them. Throughout this pandemic teachers have been subject to criticism by the press and public alike, accused of being lazy and work-shy despite the fact that schools have remained open throughout and teachers have continued to teach. We are already under the microscope. To state, on a public site, that the people with whom one disagrees are liars, cheats, racists and misogynists, without any proof at all, hardly does our profession any favours. Is this stabby nit-picking really the face we are happy to present to the world? When journalists, parents and students can all read and see the bickering and infighting, how professional do you really think we appear?

To further rally the troops on your side, to put out a call to arms to block and discredit, does you no favours whatsoever. Preventing the individual with whom you disagree from having a means of reply because you have blocked them whilst at the same time continuing to talk about them, only serves to highlight just how low you can sink. We may not always agree, but preventing the other side from being heard at all is hardly a means to a constructive discourse.

Now healthy disagreement I can agree with, I think it adds to our awareness and it broadens our knowledge. But backstabbing and bitching I do not admire. I admonish students when they behave in such a way, I tend to expect more of adults.

For those adults to be, as I mentioned before, practising teachers and educational consultants I find both astonishing and worrying. People charged with bringing out the best in young people are actively promoting actions and behaviours which they censure in schools.

So I’ll continue to call out hypocrisy where I see it. I care little if someone thinks I am wrong to do so and subsequently blocks me rather than engage any further. The loss is theirs, not mine.

Because frankly, if you’re exhibiting the kind of behaviour you decry in Trump, you seriously need to rethink your choices.

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2 Responses to Public Behaviour

  1. Can you please tell me what the post was on Twitter? I’m interested in this as a teacher friend has had an autistic student feel teacher’s breasts. Apparently it’s ok because the student is austistic and doesn’t know better. Funny how this behaviour only manifests with female teachers not male ones.

    • Firstly, sorry to hear this has happened to you. From the sound of it neither you nor your friend really believe that this student is doing this unknowingly. She needs to approach her union and ask for their advice. Sketch out what exactly concerns her with regard to the response from the school, and find out what options the union suggest.

      At a minimum consider does the student have agency – are they able to comprehend right from wrong, do they understand that some things are inappropriate, are they physical with other members of staff, does this happen only with female members of staff, do they understand the physical differences between men & women, do they understand people can feel uncomfortable when they are touched etc.

      The next thing to consider is the level of the behaviour – is it something that, were it to occur in a supermarket, would be likely reported to the police or some other authority?

      Finally, what exchanges has your friend had with the school – original report of unacceptable behaviour, school reply, friend’s response to that etc.

      If the school is adamant that female staff have to accept that a student is going to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, you have to wonder what they would do if the recipient was another student.

      Finally remember that the school has a duty of care to its staff. They need to listen to your friend’s concerns and act upon them. Sexual assault is never ok.

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