Many of you may have seen the recent YouTube video of Jeff Bliss chastising his teacher for not teaching, but instead handing out prepared packets of material. Within days of the video rant being posted nearly 4 million had viewed it, and a significant number of comments were logged. The video first came to my attention when someone pointed out the uncanny physical resemblance to one of my own children. I was prepared to be a bit cynical about this student’s rant, but even I could understand, and identify with, Jeff’s frustration. I am not an advocate for students being disrespectful of their teachers, or being disruptive in the class, but what he said was so important, and seemed to engage (or ignite!) so many viewers, that it made me ponder what is it about this video that is engaging people?
I reviewed the original clip, as well as a few different news reports with interviews. I also took an admittedly unscientific poll of the comments that were posted. There were a fair number of people who took exception to his hair (get over it people!), and several people claimed to be teachers and basically stated that he was a whiny spoiled brat like all students (perhaps they subscribe to the same type of teaching methods he is ranting about?). What was interesting was the number of people who were students, and many adults who reflected back onto their own student days, who said that they too were ignored and marginalized by teachers who just didn’t seem to care, and did not want to help or engage the students to be BETTER students. Their feelings of being powerless over their own education, in the face of teacher authority, came through in so many of the comments. A few claimed to be teachers who abhorred this type of unprofessional conduct for an educator, but how many of them have actually ever stepped up and tried to coach this type of colleague to be better? Or encourage them to find a more suitable profession?
So is this a blog about teacher bashing? No. It’s actually a blog about a few different things. For one thing, the response to the video shows pretty clearly that public education is an ideal that people hold very dearly, and place a lot of value on. This blog is also about really listening to what real students think and feel – even though most are afraid to say it because they fear retribution. In this case, Jeff is talking about best practices in education – WOW – how did he get so smart? Could it be because his mom is a teacher?! Or is it because he left the school system, and chose to come back to BETTER himself and he has some insight into why students like him leave in the first place? That teacher should be thanking Jeff for reminding her about the REAL reason (I hope!) she chose to be a teacher…because she wanted to make a difference…because she wanted to touch the hearts and minds of young people. This blog is also about professional values and ethics. If this teacher is struggling in the classroom (and we do not know all the details obviously), why is it that colleagues and supervisors are not stepping in to coach and guide this teacher to be better? Far too often the “political culture” of this profession appears to more about protecting each other at all costs, and not about guiding/coaching/teaching/mentoring each other to be great teachers, teachers who really can make the world a BETTER place. This brings me to the part of this story that is the true tragedy. Here is this kid who left school – quite likely because he was having difficulties in the classroom, and CHOSE to come back and try again, and he is faced with a terrible disease that lurks in our schools, “educator apathy”. I know I am tired of “educator apathy”, and it seems a lot of other people are too. Teaching is not preparing a pile of handouts and using them with every student, every year, for the next 20 years – that is a classic symptom of “educator apathy”. I don’t know what the answer is, but I guess I would like to see more “Jeff Blisses” in the world - but as teachers, not students. The kind of teachers that know what education is about – the kind that value education – the kind that recognizes that not all students are the same - and might not be afraid to remind their colleagues of that too.