A lot has been said in the news of late about bullying in school. It is an issue that as an educator and parent of two daughters that never seems to be far from my mind. I work at a school where bullying is a problem, but I don't want to paint a picture that it is a major problem or what we spend a majority of our time handing out discipline for, because we don't.
Students have conflicts, and students have mean, spiteful, and downright awful things said about and to them. When they come to our office we try to find a solution to the problem, most successfully by getting our guidance counselors involved and having the students go through a mediation process, and on occasion when necessary we utilized punitive discipline measures if the counseling approach does not work. For more overt or physical bullying we go right to punitive discipline with the student, but most of what we deal with is drama and name calling.
Lately, we have been dealing more and more with Cyber-bullying. This is not an earth shattering revelation, or even something unique to our school, although it definitely is a by-product of our technological age in which things that were previously often said only in private, and suddenly made them very public. Things that are said now have a much broader and quicker reach than they did when I was in high school. The hurtful comments, or embarrassing moments that used to quickly fade into the background, are now posted, liked, tweeted, re-tweeted, and made into viral videos for all to see again and again.
I am not technophobic, or someone who sees technology as the end our civilization as we know it. As I told our school newspaper when I was interviewed by them for an article on technology, it is neither good nor bad-how we use it can be either good or bad. It is however, something that we need to educate ourselves and our students about. This is a about a teachable moment and learning that has taken place within me.
Today, while in a meeting at our corporation office, I received a google chat message from our building secretary who stated that a teacher had contacted her about a student who had something inappropriate on their computer and that it was about me. When our meeting had finished, I went to the teachers room, and was shown a fake twitter account that was sending out tweets as me.
It was something that eventually was bound to happen to one of the administrators in our building, and so it did not shock me. Nor did the language that the student was using in sending out their posts. It was vulgar, crass, and did not require much wit or thought to create. I was mildly offended that faux me wasn't very witty or insightful.
What really upset me though, was not what was being said, but rather the students who had followed faux me, and those that had favorited or re-tweeted some of the statements faux me was making. It was not the students that I expected to see doing this. The students who were deciding to follow faux me, largely were "good students". They were some of our athletes, better students, students that I thought I had a good working relationship with. They largely were not the students I see and work with on a regular basis, who I would not be surprised would vent about me in this way.
Even with all of this, the learning for me was yet to come. As the day went I on, and I doggedly tried to track down who had set up this account, I missed the bigger picture. The issue was not what was being said, or how it might damage my professional life. It was not the horror in my mind that these are things that students thought I would think or say. It was not the frustration of the process in contacting twitter to have the account removed. Rather it was walking down the hallway at the end of the day, feeling like everyone was watching me, and that certain groups of students when I walked by were speaking about me, laughing about this, and gossiping about what was going on. That was the hardest part of the day, and that was where the learning occurred.
It suddenly became very real, I now better understood what the students that come in to my office and say that people were talking about them felt like. Even if the majority of students were not talking about this, and in reality a majority probably did not know it even exists, it still felt as if all eyes were on me and people were talking about me as I walked by. I felt uncomfortable, I felt like I didn't want to be there, I felt that I wanted to go back to my office, shut the door, and stay there until the building was empty.
I am an adult, who is secure in who I am as a person. Imagine being a self-conscious teenager and having to experience this on a daily basis? Maybe it is time to look closer at how we are teaching students to relate to each other and the broader impact their actions now have in our digital, connected world? Maybe we need to think before we tweet, and be willing to stand up when others put people down, rather than passively encouraging that behavior through the seemingly insignificant actions of favoriting, liking, or re-tweeting? Maybe as a nation we need to return the idea of "civility" to civil discourse?