PhillyBurbs.com:  Blogging teacher blogging again

The Central Bucks teacher who was suspended last week for complaining about her students defends herself online and in an interview.

The Central Bucks East High School English teacher who got suspended last week for complaining about her students on a blog is at it again.

And she is making no apologies for what she said – defending herself through her blog and in an interview with this newspaper Monday.

“While I never in a million years would have guessed that this many people would ever see my words, and I didn’t even intend them to, I stand by what I wrote and I think it’s good that people are aware now,” Natalie Munroe wrote on her blog Saturday morning.

“There are serious problems with our education system today – with the way that schools and school district and students and parents take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villainize them and blame them for everything – and those need to be brought to light. If this ‘scandal’ opens the door for that conversation, so be it. Let that conversation begin. Stay tuned here.”

In the post, Munroe recounts what has happened since students discovered her blog on Feb. 8: She was escorted from the school the following day, suspended with pay and her blog became national news. Munroe and her attorney were interviewed on a nationally syndicated television program over the weekend.

Munroe told the newspaper she started blogging again for the same reason she blogged before: “It’s still an outlet to keep up with friends. I need to write. That’s what I do. I don’t think that, as a teacher, with or without the scandal surrounding, I should not be allowed to do something that everybody else is allowed to do.”

Administrators are investigating Munroe’s blog – what she wrote and how much she wrote on school time. Superintendent N. Robert Laws said last week that the blogged complaints were “very egregious” and “certainly could result in termination.” He declined to comment further Monday.

Steve Rovner, Munroe’s attorney, said the school district has “no basis for firing her.”

“The school district has its power and authority and protections through the law. They’re not just a private employer. They can’t hire and fire anyone at will,” he said.

“They do not have an Internet policy. They specifically do not have a no-blogging policy. She did not do anything wrong that would give them cause to fire her.”

Rovner said Munroe “was as responsible as she could be.” He noted that she blogged only as Natalie M., and did not identify her school, administrators or students by name. She did include a photo with her blog.

The media attention surrounding Munroe’s blog has caused other teachers across the county to stop their blogs and deactivate their Facebook pages, Rovner said. “All that’s doing is limiting interesting speech. Everyone who speaks has an audience and all these audiences have disappeared out of fear.”

Rovner told a TV reporter that he believes Munroe has a First Amendment case against the school district if she is fired.

Munroe, a 30-year-old mother who is expecting her second child, started teaching in 2006. She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in education. She told the newspaper Monday that she worked in corporate real estate briefly before she became a teacher.

“I love literature. I love reading. I love the written word and communication. I felt like I really wasn’t using any of the awesome stuff that I knew and could bring to somebody else, working in corporate real estate,” she said, explaining why she became a teacher. “I was really excited and enthusiastic when I got my first class.”

As she continued to teach, she said, it got a little less exciting.

“It seemed like there was less and less accountability on students, and more and more having to explain what we do,” she said.

Munroe started her blog in September 2009.

She said she has always loved writing and a friend encouraged her to try blogging.

Munroe said she has a Facebook page that is set to “highly private” because she never wanted anything like this to happen. She never thought to post her thoughts on Facebook or password-protect her blog “because it is so hard to find.”

“There are thousands and thousands of blogs out there. I was just writing about the hum-drum of my life,” she said. “Even if somebody stumbled upon it, who cares? I am nobody.”

She wrote 84 posts in a little more than a year. Most of them were about muffins, Food Network stars, her favorite movies, restaurants she thought were overrated, child-rearing and her pregnancy. She also wrote a few profanity-peppered rants about her administrators, co-workers and students.

The posts people are talking about the most are more than a year old.

Munroe said: “I really think that somebody dug it up on purpose to raise trouble. And now it has.”

In one post, written a month after she started the blog, Munroe called her students “rude, lazy, disengaged whiners.” She fantasized in another post about telling their parents what she really thought about them.

She created a list of “canned comments” she thought teachers should be able to choose from for report cards, some of which contained profanity. The list included: “rat-like,” “dresses like a streetwalker,” “frightfully dim,” and “whiny, simpering grade-grubber with an unrealistically high perception of own ability level.”

Munroe claims in the blog post she wrote Saturday that the comments were “misunderstood.” She explains: “At report card time, we are obliged to add a comment to supplement and/or expand on the letter grades. We are strongly encouraged to use the ‘canned comments’ option, which have a limited number of comments from which teachers may choose to explain students+

“So I took the opportunity for myself and the possible amusement of my friends – since I was content and expected for everything to stay low-key with only my seven pals reading my ramblings – to list those real behaviors that exist but that you just aren’t allowed to write. (Parents don’t want to hear the truth; administrators don’t want us to share the truth.)

“But regardless, they weren’t comments meant to fit all students, and nor were they even for every student I wrote ‘cooperative in class’ about – I was just being pithy when I made that joke.”

Munroe says she does not hate her students, and actually likes some of them.

“But the fact remains that every year, more and more, students are coming in less willing to work, to think, to cooperate. These are the students I was complaining about in my blog. The same way millions of Americans go home at the end of the day and complain about select coworkers or clients or other jerks they had to deal with, I came home and complained on my blog about those I had to deal with,” she says.

Munroe writes that her complaints were not about every student she taught, and suggests that any student who thinks the comments are directed at him or her has “a problem within themselves.”

“It feels like they’re projecting their personal issues onto me,” she said. “The truth hurts sometimes. Maybe instead of getting pissed off at the person pointing out the behavior, people need to examine their behavior and make a change.”

Munroe knows that many people have said she’s “unprofessional” for writing what she did and in such a public way, but she believes she is still a professional.

“I still went home every night and every weekend, and worked on lessons and tried to modify things, even though it upset me that I had to for people who didn’t even want to meet me halfway,” she said. “I still did it. I still was willing to talk to people after class. The job still got done. If people view the words as unprofessional, that doesn’t make the person – the entire entity unprofessional. I’m still a good teacher.”

When a reporter asked Munroe if she wanted to return to her job at CB East, her attorney interrupted: “I don’t know that she should answer that question at this point. I don’t know that that’s a viable option.”

Munroe said she has no plans for a future career.

“This is sort of coming at me,” she said. “A career change at this point is sort of like pulling a rug out from under me.”

Christina Kristofic can be reached at 215-345-3079 or ckristofic@phillyBurbs.com. Follow Christina on Twitter at twitter.com/ckristofic.

Munroe’s blog

http://natalieshandbasket.blogspot.com

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