Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thinking through a Conundrum

Sometimes a very bad week is followed by an even worse week, and so it has been with me.

I want to preface my comments by saying that I generally believe I have a good relationship with my students. That said, they are pre-pubescent and neo-pubescent kids, and that moment in life comes with some emotional implications. One of those implications is the tendency to either love or hate, with very little in between. Another is the burning need for vengeance when faced with a firm ‘no.’ It’s a little like dealing with short borderline personality disorder sufferers with poor hygiene. Last Friday I gave unofficial, but still complete, progress reports to 75% of my students. The news was disappointing to many of them, and in at least one case I moved firmly into the hate column. (I guess I ruined Christmas by telling his parents his grade.)

I must also tell you that, up until quite recently, I maintained two Facebook pages: One for my personal use, and one teacher page for the kids to ‘friend’ me and send me bad videos made by ugly people who can’t sing. (Yeah, I am getting old. So?) In the past few weeks, I added a batch of kids who ‘friended’ me, and I also added my school photo to the profile, where once there had only been a cartoon drawn by a previous student.

You likely know where this is going by now. Friday I gave out progress reports, and Saturday afternoon one of my students copied my school photo, created a Facebook page with my photo and in my name, and began adding pornographic pictures and status updates to match. They indicated that I am a teacher, and in which town on the profile, but listed my education as “Slut University.” I won’t get into specifics, but they had clear, if inelegant, theories as to why a male teacher and I are friends. Based on these theories, I can conclude that the designer of the page likes him significantly better than me and that said designer has some very fucked up views of what is sexy. By Monday, the majority of the children in the school had seen it. I noticed an odd uptick in the number of boys who mentioned my Facebook page before and during first period, but since I had just added a bunch of kids as friends to the legit teacher page, I didn’t think of it much.

Then between first and second period, two of my girls pulled me aside and told me they needed to talk to me. We went into the hallway for a moment, and they pulled out their smart phones and showed me the page. My head was spinning. All I could think was that I now had to tell a friend who has always been hyper-vigilant about his online persona that he was collateral damage in an attack on me. I was not looking forward to that. I thanked them sincerely for showing me the page, probably three times, and then we went back to class. The students in the class asked me “Are you OK?” the moment I walked in, and I’m not sure if that’s because what I was feeling was showing or because they knew what my two brave girls were about to show me. I assured them I was fine, and the period progressed as normally as is possible when the teacher is thinking about everything but the lesson. Not least among my thoughts was that I had just said goodbye and happy retirement to the therapist I engaged to get me through my first year without mom, and wondered if I could convince her to put off that retirement for a little while. There was also the concern that I would see news vans pulling up to the school before I could get in touch with my principal.

There was some searching involved, but I finally found the principal in conversation with my friend. I notified him that I needed to speak with him ASAP, and then nodded at friend and said “you too.” I insisted on a private space to have this conversation that everyone in the school except the adults knew about anyway, then sat in my principal’s office and described what had happened. My Principal was OK about it. He started to advise me to go through the district’s people to deal with it right then, but as he was looking for the number remembered that the district has a history of victim-blaming with bullying even when children are involved, and they have no legal requirement to try to protect a teacher. So, they would likely comb through my emails and online activities and see if I sent any personal emails or checked my bank balance online while at work, so they could have reason to reprimand me or get rid of me if this became embarrassing. They would probably ask questions, trying to make my teacher Facebook page seem somehow malevolent, ask me why I let children get a copy of my school photo, start seeking out reasons why it was reasonable for the kids to assume and state outright that I was a total slut. At the very least, it would put my name ‘on a certain radar’ which would make things difficult for me. And I was upset about that assertion, but I also know it to be true. I have recently ranted about the ‘no cell phone on campus’ policy that was the district’s answer to a bullied kid taking film evidence of his bullying to the news after he couldn’t get the district to protect him. I followed his advice to try on my own first, then went off to find friend and inform him of his place in the problem. He was OK about it, too. Very supportive, though I know it pained him personally to have his name attached to anything unseemly online after a decade and change of careful monitoring to prevent just that.

And then I started to meltdown, waiting for the day to end, and I knew I had my most challenging/most in need of me at my best class coming up, and I knew that was a recipe for disaster. So, I went home to start working on the issue RIGHT AWAY. I reported the page to Facebook in the only way they have available to do that. (Seriously? No phone numbers or email?) They managed to get the site down after just a few hours. So, it was likely gone before any children came home from school.

And then this bizarre emotional state of alternating numbness and intense hurt took over. This has been exacerbated by being met at many turns with boys telling me that they saw my page or ‘friended’ me on Facebook, because seeing a teacher humiliated is funny, sex is funny, and this teacher was humiliated publicly with sex, so that’s just hilarious. To them. I see it somewhat differently. When I am being generous, I comfort myself with knowing that the boys who say these things are not my own students, usually. But then I remind myself that one of my students clearly did this, so my boys probably aren’t asking because they know I have their parent’s phone number. Many of my girls have been caring, but then several other girls were listed as friends on the fake site. So, this is a clear indication of where I stand with the kids, and that is not where I thought I stood at all. Not even close.

And then there’s the problem that always comes up when a teacher wants to complain about the treatment she receives at the hands of her kids. What did the teacher do to deserve this? Why don’t the kids respect her/him? Why hasn’t the teacher connected better with her students? And it’s that, more than the sex thing, which haunts me when I tell someone about this, or want to. In my mind I wonder what judgments they are making about me as a teacher and person. I alluded to bi-partisan support for the notion that teachers ain’t shit in my previous post, and in situations like this that idea radiates off people.

I stumbled through the past two days, barely, wondering why my kids supported this page, why they thought it was so funny, and why the hell my administrators weren’t trying to figure out who did this. They tell me it’s because it didn’t happen at school, but I know that there are loopholes that allow the inclusion of cyber-attacks in our code of conduct.

I want to defend myself somehow, and consider filing a criminal complaint since the school won’t help me. Yes, against a child. But then, I know that the district and the news people and everyone, every time, assumes the teacher did something to provoke an attack like this. And I just don’t know if I have the emotional, physical and financial strength to defend myself. Yes, against a child.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, what torture, Heo. I'm so sorry you're having to go through this.

My instinct would be to muscle through this with your chin up and head held high. These are middle-schoolers, with poor judgment and mercurial feelings; a kid who friended that page in an effort to be cool may have regretted it soon after. I don't think it's a good test for how they feel about you.

It sounds like you acted completely appropriately. Esp. with the page taken down, I think this was just a flash in the pan. It's probably best to let them think you are unfazed.

Does your school have an Employee Assistance Program? If so, you might want to take advantage of it, just to work through this mess.