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On Facebook, teacher calls kids 'future criminals'

April 5, 2011 at 1:45 PM ET

The Internet /

Another week, another teacher disparaging students on Facebook.

A first-grade teacher at P.S. 21 in Paterson, N.J.  is on administrative leave with pay after posting on Facebook that the children in her class are "future criminals" and that she feels like a "warden."

Just last week, a Chicago teacher made the news for posting a photo of her 7-year-old student she snapped with her cell phone, accompanying the post with comments mocking the little girl's hair.

Neither teacher had the sense the Good Lord gave a chipmunk to lock down their Facebook privacy settings. Students, parents and school administrators could all access their insults, no problem.

As someone who's volunteered at schools, and worked with teachers in my former life as a kid's magazine editor, I’m pretty sure teaching is just about the hardest, most under-appreciated indispensable job there is. The politics alone seem soul-deadening. That anybody in our society goes into teaching voluntarily is proof there are angels among us. So while I can't begrudge anybody blowing off steam, I continued to be shocked — yet not surprised — that even a few teachers think it's cool to do it on Facebook.

Paterson parents and education advocates feel strongly, too. The New York Times reports:

Irene Sterling, president of the Paterson Education Fund, a nonprofit group that supports the local school community, said parents were angry about the teacher’s comments because anyone, including her own students, could have read the negative characterizations. She said it highlighted a lack of commitment by some teachers. “It’s horrible,” she said. “And unfortunately, I don’t think she’s the only teacher in Paterson who thinks that way.”

The Paterson district, with 28,000 students and 2,425 teachers, has long been one of New Jersey’s most troubled school systems; it was taken over by the state in 1991 because of fiscal mismanagement and poor academic performance.

In a similar episode, a high school English teacher in Doylestown, Pa., was suspended recently after she called students “disengaged, lazy whiners” on her blog.

Though the teacher declined to speak to the New York Times, her lawyer provided the following statement:

 “My feeling is that if you’re concerned about children, you’re concerned about what goes on in the classroom, not about policing your employee’s private comments to others.”

My feeling is that if you're concerned about children, you don't write your darkest thoughts about them where anybody can see — not on a chalkboard, not on Facebook.

While Paterson Board of Education President Thomas Best told the Times he found the teacher's Facebook post "disheartening and unacceptable," he added, "I've heard comments like this before. It's not on Facebook, but a lot of times the kids are referred to as 'animals.' "

Exactly: "It's not on Facebook."

Unfortunately,  Facebook has replaced fern bars as the place co-workers go to complain about work over beer and wine and a shared plate of "Death by Chocolate." And what used to stay at Bennigans now stays on the Internet.

Social media has engendered this brand of social stupidity, where we see our friends complaining about work and/or the people they work with, and we feel comfortable about doing the same.  But when you work with children, it's not the same at all. Complain about your boss or that jerk in the mail room on your Facebook account with wide-open privacy settings, and pretty much you're the only one who may get hurt. But humiliating children with no thought to who sees is just creepy.

Thankfully, bad teachers are the exception. Jezebel's Margaret Hartmann wisely observes:

Unfortunately "teacher continues to do a great job" doesn't make a good headline, so there are dozens of terrible stories for every article about a teacher who helps her students evacuate before the tsunami hit Japan. As someone whose mother is a teacher, and who knows at least half a dozen recent graduates who are desperate to find a teaching job, stories like these are particularly infuriating. It's horrible to hear about an adult disrespecting the children in her care, but it also casts a bad light on teachers, who for the most part, got into the profession because they want to help children succeed. But that's not news — that's their job, and they do it every single day.

And remember, even if you're not a jerk, lock down your Facebook privacy settings! Seriously, dang!

More on the annoying way we live now:

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Join her on a Facebook or Twitter, won't you?

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