Sep 10 2012

I am not a bully

Let’s face it.  Teachforus.org is not the most happening place.  With 40,000 potential bloggers, all this site gets is an average of four or five posts a day.  I write most of the posts on this site and I get most of the hits.  This is too bad since there are a lot of great bloggers who don’t post very regularly.

I recently saw a post by yoteach entitled More Unsolicited Advice for 2012ers: Don’t Let Gary Rubinstein Bully You!.  Seeing my name in the title of someone’s post is always a bit of a thrill for me, even when it is negative.  I know of three other times this has happened, though the others were all positive.  Four years ago there was An Open Letter to Gary Rubenstein thanking me for my honest advice about how to be an effective teacher.  Then this year, in response to posts I wrote analyzing the blogs of the new CMs there was The Gary Rubinstein Treatment and Clarification of Previous Post and Response to Gary Rubinstein.  I am definitely the proverbial big fish in a small pond.

But this recent yoteach post followed by some very negative comments about me and what I do really surprised me.  My motives were questioned by one of the commenters saying that my only goal is to sell books and to get interviewed.  Other people joined in.  Even the great Wessie of ‘Drinking The Kool-Aid’ fame called on of my posts ‘rude.’

I felt so misunderstood.  I know my writing ‘voice’ can be harsh at times.  What you see on this blog is ‘raw’ mainly unedited stream-of-consciousness and I don’t try to soften the tone since that would make this like ‘work’ and I don’t have time to do any more work in my day.

But when I critique a blog post where I find what I consider to be errors in their teaching, I do hope that it helps that person and/or that it helps other people who might be prevented from making that mistake.  I also do like to ‘circle back’ to what can be inferred about TFA that someone who trained with them should make this mistake or that.

Honestly, I get frustrated that more bloggers don’t write “I really wish they had trained me better for this.”  I know that TFA discourages this type of ‘reflection,’ but if nobody is saying that then there is not enough honesty on this site, I think.

I do hope, though, that people aren’t refraining from posting because they fear that I’m going to use them as an example.  This is something that I rarely do anyway, and generally when I do it, it is at the beginning of the year when some people who read this blog maybe haven’t started teaching yet and it serves as something that could prevent them from making these mistakes.  I think, though, if we never see another post like ‘I CARE SO MUCH’ again, it will probably be good for TFA to not have something that is so easy to criticize.  In a way, TFA probably hopes that I discourage people from writing about their mistakes.

No matter how you might feel about me, I have made a ‘difference’ in how people in TFA, and throughout the country, talk about TFA.  I’ve made it ‘safe’ for people to write about what things can be improved about this program.  I feel like I’ve even gotten TFA to change their strategies for what sort of messages they want to portray.

To be called a bully definitely bothered me, and I even responded to the post in a comment, as someone who was sometimes bullied in school and also at camp.  I don’t think these bullies were trying to help me improve in any way or to help others to improve by not making the same mistakes I had made.  I think they just did it because they were jerks.

I do what I do because, at least for now, this is something I ‘have to’ do.  All these ed reformers, with TFA’s blessing, are, I think, hurting the students they claim to put ‘first.’  TFA, unfortunately, is part of the problem.  So I’ll continue getting my ideas out there.  Sometimes it might be a bit sarcastic or even angry, but hopefully even those posts are thought provoking.

30 Responses

  1. Since I’ve left the classroom, I’ve realized that there are two buckets T4Us posts typically fall into: 1.) insights into a under-resourced classroom / school or 2.) meta analysis of education reform policy. YoTeach is essentially saying that your relentless focus on the latter by utilizing the classroom reflections of new CM’s is discouraging posts of the #1 type. I don’t know whether that’s valid, but it’s a good point and something for you to consider.

    I think we need a bit of both. Many people don’t understand the everyday reality of low income schools, so it’s important to hear stories from current educators. At the same time, it’s important to show the diversity of policy perspectives.

    I’m also presuming that yoteach is giving you way too much credit. A more probable suppressor of CM posts is a change in TFA’s CM media policy. As AmeriCorps members, they may have intensified the guidelines for social media. Don’t quote me on that ;-P but it’s one possibility.

    • David

      Hey Tony – here are TFA’s social media guidelines:

      https://www.facebook.com/teachforamerica/app_106171216118819

      Point 1 is GET VOCAL. It’s good for folks like you and others to be out there. The AmeriCorps bit is not specific to TFA and also pretty much on-the-edges stuff.

      Tony, I’m glad you are one of those who is sharing your experience with others!

  2. Sarah

    It really hurts to have your teaching criticized, because most teachers put their hearts into it, whether they get good results or not. A few years ago I got some harsh comments written from college students I taught, and it hurt. With two more years teaching under my belt now, I realize that most of the negative comments I got were right and I really needed to improve certain aspects of my teaching. I have a feeling plenty of bloggers in their first year will have the same realization later on.

    That said, I’m glad I read those in the privacy of my own home. Right or not, public criticism should probably be phrased more gently.

    • By the same token, bloggers also really need to think about what they’re posting about their students and their colleagues.

      • John

        This.

  3. John

    “What you see on this blog is ‘raw’ mainly unedited stream-of-consciousness and I don’t try to soften the tone since that would make this like ‘work’ and I don’t have time to do any more work in my day.”

    — if you’re not going to take the time to soften your tone, clarify what you mean, and uplift the person you’re criticizing, then don’t complain when other bloggers don’t “soften their tone” with you!

    you’re right, reading hurtful posts about ourselves is humiliating and painful.

    if you can’t take it, then don’t dish it out.

    make an effort to write more kindly. focus on reaching a good solution together vs. tearing someone down. Choose your words carefully. Or don’t complain.

    • I’m with John. If your real purpose is to help teachers figure out smarter ways to teach, then to do so effectively you’ll have to “soften your tone, clarify what you mean, and uplift the person you’re criticizing.”

      When you don’t take the time to do that, you’re being rude. You’re also more likely to have your motives doubted, and a lot less likely to change anyone’s mind. The whole purpose of your response to I CARE SO MUCH looked like ridicule to me. If you don’t want it to look that way, be nicer.

      • parus

        Honestly, I see it both ways. On the one hand, constructive criticism is generally more constructively received when it’s gently phrased. On the other hand, I do think there are plenty of things that ought to be baldly called out as unacceptable when they presented in the public sphere. Whether this is an example of the latter depends on your perspective, I guess.

        • yoteach

          Sure, but someone sharing a behavior management story does not fall into that category. My post does not engage him for debating CMs on their mindsets. It focuses on his choice to mock CMs who are simply sharing their struggles with management, or their feelings about their first day.

          • There were a LOT of implied conclusions in her “behavior management story,” though.

  4. Katrina

    I do think you are a bully, even if an unintentional one. I am one of the 40,000 potential bloggers you mentioned, and one of the major reasons I have refrained from joining the conversation here is because I have seen the way you treat others whose views are similar to mine.

    I happen to support the brand of ed reform you dislike. I would write on the subject, but doing so is exhausting because I know you will viciously attack my arguments. (To be fair, others will too, but if you maintain that “I write most of the posts on this site,” you must also assume some responsibility for the antagonistic environment your posts create on TFU). I feel like it’s a waste of my time to express my views here, since doing so will only result in angry comments that raise my blood pressure.

    I know you probably didn’t set out to be a bully, but your sarcastic and angry tone (your adjectives, not mine) has me figuratively cowering in a corner. It’s your right to criticize TFA, and I don’t want to stop you from doing it. By all means, continue. But you should know that your writing style drives some of us away from this site.

    • PhillipMarlowe

      From what I have seen over the years, Gary is mild compared to middle schoolers and 9th and 10th graders.

    • meghank

      I disagree. I’m a TFU reader who does not agree with the corporate reform movement. I read all of the posts, because I’m interested in the experiences of beginning teachers. I would disagree with you in comments on your blog if you were to post one, and that has nothing to do with Gary. It has to do with my love of teaching, and my disdain for those who are destroying the profession. I am sure many other readers/commenters feel the same way.

      Don’t blame Gary for the anger the corporate reform movement has created; the corporate reformers created that anger themselves.

    • 2011 in SA

      “I have refrained from joining the conversation here is because I have seen the way you treat others whose views are similar to mine.

      I happen to support the brand of ed reform you dislike. I would write on the subject, but doing so is exhausting because I know you will viciously attack my arguments.”

      So you don’t write in order to avoid having your views criticized?

      • Katrina

        I don’t write here in order to avoid feeling personally criticized. I don’t want to spend my free time in a community that berates my behavior (which is what others are complaining Gary sometimes does).

        I also don’t enjoy feeling like a lone voice, and that does play a role in my aversion to posting here. In meghank’s comment, she expresses her “disdain for those who are destroying the profession”. In yours, you imply that I am a weakling who can’t handle having my views criticized. Rightly or wrongly, it’s hard for me not to take those things personally.

  5. katb

    For what it’s worth, I never felt inhibited in writing about my hot-mess-of-a-first-year because I was worried that you’d come for me, “and my little dog too” (by the same token, you never did). I mean, the theme of my blog was once basically Hey Guys, Check Out The Stupid Things I Did Today! and when you write like that, you have to be ready for people to agree that, yes, you are pretty stupid.

    Anyway, The Official Backlash of the Organization was always much more terrifying/stifling.

  6. J

    I’m a big fan. But when you look for TFU for material- those are my least favorite posts. I think you have plenty of material without going after individual bloggers. Maybe if you saw a pattern of behavior you could talk about that behavior in a general sense.

  7. KrazyTA

    I would humbly urge posters on this blog to read PhillipMarlowe’s entry on this topic: “From what I have seen over the years, Gary is mild compared to middle schoolers and 9th and 10th graders.”

    Based on personal experience, also mild compared to some 11th and 12th graders and some SpecEd kids who are having a hard day.

    I make no excuses for Gary if he crosses the line into personal invective and outright lies. Nonetheless, in general, over the last several months reading this blog I have noticed that Gary bends over backwards to accommodate those who would rather he didn’t say anything at all. In fact, in my opinion he is almost too civil considering the “slings and arrows” he has to fend off.

    Gary, so far from what I have seen, you have nothing to apologize for. Keeping posting, keep letting your critics post, keep the conversation going.

    You know you are making sense when the defenders of the education establishment — past and present and [they hope] future — want you to just bite your tongue, stop the dialogue, and comply.

    Keep on truckin’.

  8. 2011 in SA

    To more fully support Gary on this, I am copying (with a few edits) the reply that I posted on the original YoTeach article:

    It is sadly ironic to find complaints about bullying directed at a veteran teacher who has steadfastly defended teachers against the pervasive and severe bullying they get at the hands of dogmatic reform politicians and test-minded administrators nationwide; and also at the hands of organizations like TFA and the New Teacher Project which deploy tag lines like “student achievement” and “the bigotry of low expectations” to inflict an undignified amount of guilt on teachers who fail to produce the transformational results of an exceptional few.
    Gary Rubinstein has courageously spoken against these trends when so many teachers in TFA muzzle themselves and the reality of their teaching history, whether out of guilt or out of fear for their careers.

    As a teacher, YoTeach should know better than to use the term “bully” so flippantly. Bullying means harassment with the intent to impress a sense of inferiority upon another. Bullying has zero constructive content, and for this reason it shuns a genuinely public eye. A bully does not present his deeds and words for the judgment of the public and offer space for feedback. Now let’s look at what Gary R. has written about posts by first year cms. He has explicitly stated his intent to *help* the corps members under discussion, and to use their experiences as”teachable moments for the other beginning teachers who may be liable to similar judgments which he finds erroneous. If you disagree with him about this, that’s a separate matter. But to refer to an intellectual adversary as a bully is actually to become more like one yourself by prejudicing all the ideas of the other side. It is a common discursive tactic in mudslinging politics, a cheapshot, but is not to be found in genuine dialogue.

    One gets the sense that YoTeach has read Gary’s writing with precisely this sort of prejudice. What else could explain his oversight of sentences like these: “This is a very well written blog and I really appreciate the honesty that I’ve read. To me, she is having an extremely ‘typical’ TFA experience, particularly for a middle school teacher” (Gary Rubinstein, “Is Bad Classroom Management Destiny?”) or “I do hope that Anna continues blogging. Teaching middle school math my first year is what nearly killed me. To quote Nietzsche “What does not kill me makes me stronger” so Anna, if she makes it through the year (I’m rooting for her), will be a very strong second year teacher.” Doesn’t sound like any bully I’ve ever seen.

    YoTeach claims that Gary’s blog merely poses as “advice” in order to advance a criticism of TFA that is “anything but new.” It’s not real advice, you say, because it is “un-actionable.” That is a quintessentially TFA-esque way of delimiting the idea of “advice.” Just because advice is not actionable does not mean it is not advice. Consolation in mourning is hardly actionable, yet it could be reasonably viewed as advice. Early in my horrendous first year last September, a fellow colleague told me, “honestly, man, it won’t get any better.” He was right. And if instead of looking for action items I had thought about his comment, I may have been more emotionally prepared for what was coming, and it may even have led me to take sooner the actions that ultimately rescued my teaching career (joining the union, reaching out beyond TFA). His second argument that Gary’s advice merely furthers an unoriginal critique is a hallmark of assertive evasiveness. YoTeach did not say Gary’s ideas about improving teacher training in TFA were wrong, nor did he refute the absolute relevance of a corps member’s experience to this critique. He simply belittles this relevance by calling it “anecdotal.” Again, as a teacher, one would hope that YoTeach has gained a stronger appreciation for the meaningfulness of the “anecdote.” So much bullying of teachers – by policymakers, administrators, parents, filmmakers – stems from the disembodiment of the subject from actual events in the classroom. Instead, the discourse on education lives in a world of fairy-tale super-teacher myths or in the even murkier world of “research-based” pseudo-scientific analysis. When someone publishes an “anecdote,” a grain of reality from their classroom, there is no better occasion for the advancement and rethinking of critiques that may not be new, but may still be right.

    As a writer, I wish that YoTeach had reflected more carefully on the consequences of his post. In what he has framed as a defense of a teacher against a critic, the consequence of his advice, “don’t let yourself be bullied,” is that these anecdotes and the open dialogue they encourage will become ever more rare and hidden. What “don’t let yourself be bullied” really means is, “conceal what is actually happening from the public eye.” Fewer corps members will share what it is actually like to teach in the hardest schools. Fewer morsels of truth will be available to rebut the most ridiculous ideas now being mooted about our education system. Fewer beginning teachers will benefit from the ear of well-meaning veteran teachers who can sympathize with them over the worst of what they face. The public picture of the teaching profession will be more distorted. It will be less honest. It will be more serviceable to organizations with political and profit motives. It will be unusable for disinterested critics and advocates.

    I am 2011 corps member and I care most about reversing this trend and giving the public a chance to see teaching “as it really is.” Few have done more than Gary has with this site to strengthen that cause.

    • JDM

      “Assertive evasiveness.” That’s a brilliant phrase and this post is well said indeed. Gary Rubenstein is no bully and yoteach, OTOH, is engaged in a whining bully’s attack, which is a lot like what TFA, the NTP and the Residency consortium do when they have have no good answers for legitimate concerns civilly expressed.

      • yoteach

        I actually don’t disagree with Gary on a huge amount, and I also don’t evade talking to him, you will see me commenting on almost every post. I bring up how he makes his points in sometimes destructive, unnecessarily harsh, and frankly mean ways because I think that detracts from the well-reasoned points he is capable of making. I honestly think Gary has good things to say, and alienates himself by using these methods of attack and this kind of tone. This keeps his voice form being heard by anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Notice how my post never attacks his political views, nor affirms views of the reform movement. Those who are putting this discussion in those terms are missing the point.

        • Have you ever heard the term “tone trolling”? While I value kindness, focusing on someone’s perceived incivility rather than their actual content is often a way of derailing conversations (can be purposely derailing, or just as a side effect…both have same result), both online and in everyday life. If someone is wrong, it should be easy enough to show that they’re wrong without engaging in namecalling and whatnot yourself.

          • sellario

            If I say yoteach is a Tone Troll, does that make me a bully?

          • Sellario, it’s a circle of dumb: if you call him a tone troll, it makes you a bully, and if he calls you a bully it makes him a tone troll :D Arguments about niceness on the internet are kind of reductive.

          • yoteach

            The way Gary writes and his focus on mocking first year teachers’ educational practice, has caused the very people he aims to advise to take down their posts, scared others from sharing their experience, and undermined the utility of the advice he is trying to give. Victims of tone-trolling are not hurting real people in real classrooms with their words. This is not an attempted takedown of his worldview or his points. It’s a plea for him to use more rigorous and less deleterious means of articulating his points, and for those who are afraid to share or don’t know how to handle his assault to rise above it. I’ll gladly agree that there is a lot of stuff espoused by CMs of all variety that deserve a healthy dose of challenge, but you have to admit that analogy is hollow.

  9. Michele

    You don’t owe anyone an apology. Keep up the good work!

    • KrazyTA

      Amen!

  10. Michael Fiorillo

    It’s truly amazing that TFA, which is the point of the spear for privatizing the schools, and which by it’s nature involves some really nasty behavior – teacher firings, school closings, disenfranchisement of school governance – is so thin-skinned about Gary’s reasoned arguments and criticism, which if anything are too kind.

    Then again, experience has taught me that when you defend yourself against a pathological personality or institution, you are then cast as the aggressor.

  11. CM '11

    Don’t lose any sleep over that bully comment. Keep up the great work!

  12. Carrie

    If you cannot be bothered take the time to monitor the tone of the ‘advice’ you give because it’s too much work, you should not be giving it. Ensuring that your feedback sounds constructive, sounds empathetic, and sounds genuinely rooted in a desire to help teachers improve rather than to attack the TFA machine via individual teachers is the VERY least you could do.

    I think the posts in which you call out new young teachers by name and analyze and critique each individual mistake sound deeply unkind and driven by a motivation to demonstrate your superior knowledge and skill. It would take a truly rare person to take advice delivered in your manner of aggressive, point-by-point critique and respond with openness, rather than defensiveness.

    I believe that one of the most important things teacher coaches can do is allow teachers a safe space to make mistakes, learn, and grow from those (because, as we all know, all teachers make mistakes every day). Your posts sound hostile and mocking would put anyone on the defensive. You do not allow teachers a safe space to learn and grow from their mistakes, and I think your posts cannot possibly be accomplishing your stated goal of helping brand new CMs learn something.

    Monitoring your own tone is the very minimum in professional courtesy. Don’t post these ‘reviews’ of new teacher blog posts if you will not take the time to afford other professionals that courtesy. Young, inexperienced members of the TFA machine deserve it just as much as any other adult in a workplace.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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