The most enjoyable part of my role as a co-curricular adviser is the opportunity for students to participate in the publications program for multiple years. It is different than a traditional class. Throughout their time in publications, I can witness them grow as young adults and journalists, but also as human beings. This extended time together allows me to become more familiar with them and their families. They also become extremely familiar with me and my family. This unique connection is what has made this past 20 months the most difficult of my professional career.
As students graduate and move on from my co-curricular programs, it is my deepest hope that they not only gather the skills necessary to be a multimedia journalist, but they also gain an understanding of how to function ethically and morally in their future communities. I try to model these skills for my students, even supporting their right to free expression to the point of being fired. In the publications classroom, we call ourselves a family. We commit to each other every year and it is always my hope that the bond never fades.
However, since a flawed investigation led to five criminal complaints against my friend and colleague, it has been difficult for me to grasp that certain students no longer feel that connection. This separation has been the most disheartening. During this last year, I received this note from a former student:
At this student’s graduation party in 2009, a parent told me that if it wasn’t for my publications class, the graduating student would have dropped out long ago. There was a bond within that publications environment that tied everyone together. That’s what made this message so difficult for me to read. Aside from the fact that this student takes aim at my daughters, it crushes me to think this student believes I would express anything but the truth.
Whether they are aware of it or not, by believing the accuser’s allegations, former students are indirectly calling me a liar. The accuser’s allegations, which were not specific until long after the investigation, involve situations where I was present. The most difficult aspect of the past year has been dealing with this mistrust.
It was difficult for me to understand why former students would suddenly assume I would turn my back on my moral code. Recently a colleague of mine shared a quote from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, “One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview – not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases…but people prefer reassurance to research.” My students’ worldviews have changed since they were in my classroom and that has made it easier for them to consider me a “mysogynist”.
This worldview concept is evident in other former students’ discussions regarding this situation.
To me, the sad reality is no amount of fact-based information will sway these perspectives. In fact, as someone responded on a previous post, “It is extremely important for me as an ally to stand with the women who have been violated in any way.” As a teacher, it’s hard not to stand up and clap for this former student’s convictions. However, it is also extremely disheartening that these convictions grasp so tightly to a skewed worldview and are void of the “research” deGrasse Tyson mentions.
A friend and supporter of the accuser posted this article on a social media site. The lines that speak to deGrasse Tyson’s philosophy include, “Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong. No, the fact that you believed it doesn’t make it any more valid or worthwhile, and nobody owes your viewpoint any respect simply because it is yours. You can be wrong or ignorant. It will happen. Reality does not care about your feelings.” It hurts that some of my students, who prided themselves on fairness, truth and accuracy in my classroom, would think I would stray from those same core values. I am proud of them for expressing their strong “feelings”, but disheartened that these feelings ignore the truth and “reality” they were taught to pursue.
It has been an emotional 20 months for me as I have reflected on my role in the classroom. These last few posts about this situation have provided me a means to share those thoughts. Moving into the new school year, I will return to my original intent of starting this site: to share my efforts, successes and failures in the ELA classroom. As the year begins, it will be a little harder to form that “family bond” we know so well in the publications environment. It takes time and effort to develop strong trust in these relationships. Knowing that an altered worldview can easily break that trust has been the most disheartening realization.
Stay tuned for: “The bottom line: Compassion” Editor’s note: This was going to be the next post after my post on August 8, 2014 until the last year caused me to reflect upon my profession.
Jeremy Murphy is a journalism and English teacher at West Fargo High School in West Fargo, North Dakota. This blog represents his observations from his professional growth in his nine year career. In no way should this be mistaken for advice or any form of professional expertise. If you are looking for an expert in teaching, English and/or life, you are on the wrong site. You can follow Jeremy on Twitter at @mr_jmurphy or email him at email@example.com
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