the video and the teacher

Jeff and Spencer both write about this phenomena of students posting videos of their teachers/professors on YouTube. Here’s one example titled "screaming teacher." I’ll go as far as to provide a link but I don’t want to reproduce it here. As much as I find this scene unfortunate, anyone can have a bad moment; this guy’s bad moment happens to be on YouTube.  The point is though that we have all been students in scenes like this (I would imagine), and I know at least I have had teachers where such scenes and other similar behaviors were not uncommon. If you look at the comments for the video, they say things like "this is why I hate teachers," and "I don’t care how much they get paid, this is why I don’t respect teachers."

Now to be fair, there are some videos that represent teachers positively or at least in a benign fashion. Even still, it’s an uncomfortable feeling thinking that your actions as a teacher might be serreptitiously recorded and made public. True, most people don’t want to be secretly recorded under any circumstance, but there are some special considerations to understanding the videoing of teachers. This YouTube practice, along with those or ratemyteacher or ratemyprofessor and MySpace or Facebook pages dedicated to the dislike/hatred of a teacher, does not represent a change in the way that students feel about teachers, but rather a change in the available means of expression.

I can’t imagine many people want to be high school students. Not only does one face the personal psychological and physiological crises of adolescence, but also the social trials of negotiating peer communities. And that’s without school. School adds this massive institutional force, where nearly one’s every move is surveilled and judged (by peers or by teachers or staff). Even though teachers may think of themselves as caring or sympathetic, they regularly act of out of their institutional identity to control or discipline. Playing out this role is likely unavoidable, even if one didn’t believe it was his/her job to do so. The social do-gooder grates as much as the touchy-feely teacher or the tyrranical teacher or the burned out teacher. It’s not so much what kind of teacher one is as the fact that one is a teacher at all, forcing others to occupy the role of students. No matter how one defines oneself as a teacher, students will inevitably push their teachers to call upon their institutional authority, and it is at that point that the students believe they see their teachers "true colors," regardless of how those teachers see themselves.

Now here’s the interesting twist. As teachers, particularly in English, we encourage our students to write, to express themselves. We often discuss how effective writing can have power in a community. Well…. here you go. We got what we asked for. Now the students turn the panopticon back on their teachers somewhat. I’m sure there have been students over the past decade in my classes who have been sitting there thinking "this guy is boring" or "he’s an idiot" or "I hate this teacher!" Why not? I’ve had those thoughts as a student. Now they have a way to express those thoughts, besides talking to their roommates.

I don’t think there’s much teachers can do about it. Perhaps the YouTube phenomena will pass lke a fad, but I really doubt it, even if YouTube itself doesn’t last. Perhaps teachers will be more reflective about their behavior, but I doubt it, and I don’t know that that’s really the problem anyway. Even the entertaining teacher can be cast as a fool in a video (in fact, that’s a common trope on YouTube). I suppose you can heighten the panopticon to try to catch these secrete video recorders. I’m sure that’s the response you’ll get if this really increases. No cell phones or at least no cell phones with camera/video function in the classroom.

Yes, that will surely make things better…

The bottom line, I guess, is this. Yes, there is some bad teaching out there. Yes, this videoing practice and related online attacks on teachers can be unfair and unethical. The institutional relationship between students and teachers ensures that we will continue to see this dynamic play out. Even if the relationship in the classroom were entirely voluntary, there would still be some of this conflict (though it would be diminished, I believe).

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2 thoughts on “the video and the teacher

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  1. I’m torn. While the teacher “kinda” comes off badly, the students also look pretty hopeless and stupid. I guess I can see the progression from those students to that teacher. The panoptic turn is a little distressing, to be sure, but I wonder if flooding “the pipes” with this kind of video ends up diluting it to the point where the image becomes as anecdotal as, well, the anecdote. I cringe when I see these things, but mostly because I see a lot of people who don’t understand their own imprisonment.

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  2. I was not aware of this phenomenon until happening upon this post. I cringe to think of how bad teachers in general can be made to look when videos of a few bad apples make the rounds on YouTube or other sites. I only hope that people watching these videos realize that they are not representative of the profession as a whole.

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