Anonymous world

IMG_20160327_182013If you’re looking for a nice and neat lesson idea, I strongly recommend that you go to a different blog today. Because this is definitely not the type of post you’re looking for. Warning! This post might even turn out a little depressing in the end.

A couple of weeks ago, a secondary school English teacher collapsed after one of her lessons and she was taken to hospital, where she eventually died. This happened after she had been consistently bullied by a group of her teenage students.

Not only was she threatened physically and mentally for several months, but all the bullying was recorded on mobile phones and the videos were uploaded on YouTube for everybody to watch. Of course, I’ve never seen them and I’m never going to, but based on what I’ve heard from friends and read in the papers, they must be horrific.

As Tesal K. Sangma points out in his recent post,

Another thing I’ve often come across anywhere I go is the law that protects students – physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. No one ever talks about protecting the teacher. If students can be bullied, teachers can be bullied too.

The above case is on the severe side of the bullying spectrum. But I believe there are other, ‘softer’ ways of bullying. I’ve deliberately put softer in inverted commas because 1) softer can’t possibly collocate with bullying and 2) because even though they may appear softer or harmless to some, they can be equally devastating in the end.

I was shocked when I first discovered that there is an option that allows anonymous posting on Facebook. For example, and this is quite popular in the Czech Republic these days, a student sets up a Facebook group where other students (or basically anybody) can post virtually anything totally anonymously.

So these days, most secondary schools have their anonymous FB pages where the students share their ‘deepest confessions’, mostly about the teachers and administrators, of course, but also about other students and stuff.

As it’s recently become part of my newly assigned job to look into problems connected with cyberbullying, I occasionally check out some of the pages, ours included. Some of the posts are quite funny and clever, but I’m sad to say that many of them are just offensive rubbish. Also, there are posts which may seem innocent to an outsider, but which are pretty insulting if you are somehow involved, i.e if they are about you or somebody you know.

Now, lots of questions pop into my head.

  1. What does it say about the state of education? What makes our students say nasty things about us teachers/administrators anonymously? Does it mean that there is not enough space provided for them to say things out loud? Of course, if your school is not too big and you know most of the students well, you can tell who posts what. So it also makes me wonder if the students realize this and if they are fully aware of the consequences of their actions. What kind of atmosphere does it create? Hateful, negative, tense? I mean, you can feel that the tension is there, but you can’t prove it so there is no way to solve it through communication.
  2. What does it say about the legal system? Why is something like anonymous posting allowed at all? For economic reasons? For various platforms to attract more users (customers)? Because I can’t find any sensible reason for anonymous posting on social media, at least in a democratic society, and I would personally ban it out of hand. Is my reasoning totally preposterous?
  3. What does it say about our society in general? Why don’t people feel more compassion towards each other? Where does all the hate/indifference/negativity stem from? Where did we go wrong as parents and teachers?
  4. And finally, what should we do as teachers and/or parents? Monitor these things silently but stay alert all the time? Ignore them completely? And if we ignore them, will they disappear or become even worse? Should we be selective, i.e. if something appears really threatening, should we step in somehow? Or should we see these things as an inevitable aspect of our profession and believe that the kids will finally grow up and regret the nasty thing they once did? Could we possibly take them as learning opportunities?

If you happen to have answers to any of my questions, please share them with me. I’d like to know what you think.

Advertisements

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Anonymous world

  1. HL says:

    Social media is such a powerful and amazing thing, but it has that dark side where people feel they can say what they want and hide behind a fake profile or an anonymous comment (which, actually, I didn’t know about and I totally agree on your point on even allowing the option of anonymous posting. There’s just no need for it. I do wonder how long it will be before someone gets sued to be honest).
    It’s so depressing to think it can all result in an event like this.

    What can we do? I don’t have many answers, but I think all we can do is try to educate students AND parents on online behaviour and try to build a culture of awareness. I don’t think you can attempt working on one group without involving the other. If some school whassapp groups are anything to go by, the parents are in as much need of guidance as their kids! If we don’t talk about it in schools, if we don’t allow that kind of behaviour to be openly classed as ‘negative’ or ‘unacceptable’, then it will just get worse. If we do talk about it, we can hope that children’s conscience might actually come into play if the situation arises. That’s a big responsibility…

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post Hana.
    Helen

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you for your comment, Helen. I totally agree that social media is a powerful and amazing thing, but it has its dark side. What I find most frustrating is the fact that not only can anybody hide behind a fake profile, but once somebody shares an offensive comment online, it’s very difficult to get rid of it. I walked down a railway tunnel earlier today and I read the graffiti on the walls. What came to mind was that any offensive writing can be easily wiped off, but an anonymous comment on the internet can stay there forever and you can’t do much about it. In addition, negativity is infectious, so if one person says a nasty thing about someone, others will gradually join in just because the seed has been planted. And one can plant a huge amount of negativity via the internet.

      There’s one thing I’ve discovered about youngsters – you can’t expect too much compassion from them. They probably don’t mean to hurt others; they only want fun, seek attention, etc., but when they do hurt somebody’s feelings, they may not be fully aware of it. I remember when I was 16 or so, we played various tricks on our teachers too. Now I feel ashamed because I didn’t feel any guilt at that time (and I suppose some of the tricks were high over the top). So, raising awareness is necessary, but one has to find the right way of doing so. Emotional blackmailing won’t help.

      I’ve been searching the internet a lot today and I’ve discovered that the behavior I talk about in my post actually violates the law. So I made a document with basic information about the possible legal consequences and I asked the homeroom teachers to share it with their students. I hope it will help a bit. We teachers are becoming an endangered species and we need to fight for our basic human rights. But we might need some help too. From parents? Hm, unfortunately, some parents seem to approve of such unacceptable behavior, for example by *liking* some of the offensive posts. Would you believe it!?

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Hana

      Liked by 2 people

  2. ven_vve says:

    Hi Hana,
    I don’t think I have any helpful answers to your questions, but I do have some questions of my own. When you say “anonymous posts” on Facebook, what exactly do you mean? Fake accounts? Or is there an option I’m not aware of that would, say, allow me to log on as me, and post anonymously if I choose to? Just curious. Secondly, how did you get access to posts in student groups and how did you even find the groups? If they’re anonymous, and students confide in other students, it seems to me like they’d want to keep teachers out. Again, just curious.
    About the teacher who died – which is absolutely tragic – is anything going to happen as a result? Did I understand correctly that the students who bullied her are responsible? Are there going to be any consequences? Obviously, they’re underage, but still… any consequences at all?
    Finally, were the videos taken down? You say that once something goes online it’s hard to get rid of it, but has YouTube, at least, done the right thing? Oh, and does the system provide any support if teachers find themselves in situations like this?
    Sorry about all the questions, and no answers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for commenting, Vedrana, and I’m glad you asked so many useful questions 🙂

      1) I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Confession pages, which people can use to share their feelings anonymously. If you want to learn more, go to http://www.infochacha.com/how-to-create-facebook-confession-page-using-google-docs/.

      2) These pages are not closed or secret groups – they are public – so anybody owning a Facebook account can access them easily. Almost every school has such a page and you can look it up easily by simply typing in ConfessionXY. The way my colleagues and I actually learned about all the nasty comments is very unfortunate. The students actually ‘advertised’ the page by creating a poll called ‘Vote for the most popular teacher’. That would be perfectly fine, except that they also created two more categories, which don’t look so cool – the laziest teacher, the most aggressive teacher. Anyway, the most popular teachers were delivered certificates inviting them to visit the page for more details. To cut a long story short, that’s how most teachers learnt about the page full of offensive crap. So, no, they definitely didn’t want to keep the teachers out. Quite to the contrary.

      3) As for the teacher who died, it was the administrators who were held responsible in the end. Unfortunately, they probably knew about the ongoing problem. The thing is that it’s hard to prove that the teacher’s death was the direct consequence of the bullying but it’s not really important, I guess. One thing is certain, if she hadn’t died, nobody would have learned about the problem.

      4) Honestly, I don’t know what happened with the videos. I hope they’ve been taken down.

      Anyway, the good news is that earlier today, we talked to some people connected with the content of the FB page (we are good detectives, aren’t we?) and they promised to take the nasty things down and to be more careful about what they publish. We’ll see.

      Hana

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul Davis says:

    There have always been teachers who are vunerable – I can remember a teacher from my school days in the 1960’s who was hounded by us (not me actually but most of the class) – social media is nothing to do with it. As you said above – the support system in the school was to blame.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Absolutely agree. However, classic bullying was usually not anonymous so you could easily find the agressor. With cyberbullying it’s more complicated sometimes.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Chewie says:

    A difficult but pertinent post, Hana. I’m saddened to hear about the death of this teacher. You’re right to note how graffiti can be painted over, but an Internet comment can stick around forever. The same for compassion–plenty of young and old people lack compassion–but I do expect it from people. I’ve found that expecting nothing usually makes the other person want to do nothing. I want to think highly of people, especially my students. No one rises to low expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks, Chewie. Your comment means a lot to me. You’re absolutely right – we must think highly of our students and expect (demand) the best from them. Or, at least, we should constantly try to remind them of the positive…

      Like

  5. Deine Oma says:

    Hi, I’m a student with a German background and the reason why I’m responding to this is because at my school there has been a recent case, where a teacher has claimed that students have bullied him (I wasn’t one of the bullies, even though I’m not particularly fond of him), and now I’m looking for teachers thoughts on the topic.
    I personally believe that it is true that teachers can be bullied, and the term bullying is probably the most subjective term ever, but I also think, that people who choose to pursue teaching as a career should be aware of how rude and nasty teenagers like me can be. That is one of my main questions for teachers:
    Did you really think that it was going to be all sunshine and rainbows with students? I mean, teachers were students as well, and they should probably know how bad it can get for teachers. Do you think that teachers must suck it up to a certain extent (the way students more often do than teachers think)?
    I also strongly believe that not everyone who thinks that they are called to be a teacher, should actually be a teacher. In my school we had a biology student teacher, who was not capable of controlling my class, which was the only just-boys class in the entire school. She had enormous trouble talking to us, getting to know us and so on. She needed absolute silence from the moment she entered the classroom and if she didn’t get her total quiet, she would act like a diva and call us horrible students.
    This went so far, that she gave up teaching in general with us after a month or so and just made us do presentations, on which she would quiz us. She left our school after the first semester for a girls only school, and I honestly don’t miss her. She was rude to our class and didn’t even try to approach us (this is were the compassion ended). She even went so far as to tell the next student teacher that we were the worst class ever and that we were a hopeless case. After the one week long semester break the new teacher started and she kept us under control while still maintaining a friendly and nice classroom atmosphere. She was totally on our wavelength (completely childish and pop culture oriented), and managed to teach all the topics we should have covered in the first semester and the topics of the second semester with spare time at the end.
    I honestly don’t think that my class had changed over one week of break and I honestly think that the first student teacher was not meant for teaching. She should have done something else with her life.
    My second question for teachers is, if you agree that some people are not meant to be teachers. I know it’s hard to get honest opinions from teachers, especially when it involves colleagues, but I trust the anonymous internet power here.
    Finally, I think that teachers often think that they deserve respect, for whatever reason, which is not acceptable. Respect is not deserved, it is earned. And just because you studied pedagogy in college it does not mean that you did anything to earn the respect of your class. Same holds true for students, by the way. If a student hasn’t done anything to earn respect by the teacher, there should be no respect given.
    How much do you agree to this? And as teachers, what do you think earns respect with students (I’m just curious there, I already know the answers to that)?
    I would love to hear some opinions, especially on what qualifies as teacher bullying.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you for your comment, Deine. Here are some of my random thoughts:

      1) Although I agree that bullying is quite a subjective term, it’s clear that it’s about inequality, i.e. the stronger/older one hurts the weaker/younger one or a group of kids pick on a loner. Sometimes the teacher is ‘strong’ enough to handle a bunch of teenagers; sometimes s/he is not. However, not being strong (whatever that means) doesn’t mean that the teacher is a bad professional. Maybe s/he would be amazing if s/he just got a different class. So, as I see it, it’s absolutely unacceptable to hurt or disrespect people just because they are not interesting/entertaining/cool enough. Being introverted/shy/old-fashioned is not a weakness anyway.

      2) I would disagree that respect should be earned – I believe that every human being deserves respect and this is even built into our legal system. And I believe that this is what we should teach at schools.

      3) Concerning your point/question that maybe some people are not meant to be teachers, I would say that everybody has the right to do what they like. Also, and this might sound a bit harsh, I doubt that students (especially youngsters) are fully qualified or mature enough to judge the suitability/quality of a teacher. When I look back over my shoulder, I realize that at the age of, say, fifteen, I saw things from a slightly distorted perspective.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 3 people

    • laurasoracco says:

      Hi Deine,
      I’m an English teacher in Seattle, and I found your questions interesting since I can relate both as a former high school student and as a current professional who likes to think about student/teacher dynamics.

      1) I think *nobody* should ever be bullied. Nobody. Regardless of how much of a “diva” you may act, or of how terrible of a teacher/student/person you might be. I agree with you in saying that as teachers it is not realistic to expect we’ll never encounter rude students. I also believe that as adults and teachers, it is our job to deal with this in a professional way and try to change the class mood when we have students who are rude and disrespectful. However, students are also responsible for their actions. We all are. If anyone feels like bullying (teacher or student alike) a moment should be taken to plan what actually needs to happen to make class better. If I were being bullied by a student, I would take him/her aside and try to work something out. Talk. Nobody is ever justified for hurting other people instead of trying to find a solution to the issue. School should be teaching us all that much.

      2) I do think some teachers need to seriously reconsider the profession they are in or their approach to teaching. I had a math teacher in high school who used to throw the board eraser at us if we were distracted. I’ve met people who say some terrible things to students, and wish they were doing something other than teaching. But I think this is how life is -and it’s up to us with our daily actions to help make it different. Doing the best you can as a student, and making sure you complain in a constructive way when something like this happens can make a difference.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s