We had an incident at school last week that taught us more than everyone realizes, but it'll be some time before some get it, if they ever do. The whole matter seems, on the surface, to be about the Internet--but it really has more to do with people, with the way they see each other, and with the way they see themselves.
Students post things about teachers and administrators on Facebook and MySpace and other social networking sites. And in the same way we know that child predators post identities and statements that may not be true, we know that students do the same. While the predators do so in order to confuse and deceive, many students post statements in order to be popular. In any event, we have learned this much: what is posted by people on the Internet--even if they're posting it about themselves--may not always represent reality.
So why teachers become all flustered and panicked when they see hateful messages about them posted by students on the Internet, I don't know. Twenty kids may post something hateful, or even threatening; the fact remains, however, that as many as nineteen of that twenty may be posting in order to remain in the good graces of the "popular crowd." This is what I believe happened last week, but there will never, ever, be any way I can prove it.
One thing, above all others, is certain, however: whether true or false, whether meant to curry favor with popular students, whether done to jump on the bandwagon and not offend their peers, the statements posted will have an impact. My fiancee, who teaches at our school, has some of the same students as the targeted teacher, and she saw some of the Facebook posts. "I had no idea that so-and-so would write something like that, " she remarked. "Although she has never said anything like this to me or in my class," (and believe me, teachers get to know what a kid is like despite what they keep to themselves) "I will never look at her the same again."
And that, my friends, is what we as educators must take away from this experience: our students are not who we think they are. They are more concerned with the perceptions of others, because their self esteem depends so much on what others think. They are willing to say and do things that may not be true, that may be hateful, and that may even be offensive to themselves in order to be accepted.
Then again, this really isn't limited to students, is it?