I Was Bullied…On Twitter

By Guestblogger Kylene Young

As an educator, I have many conversations with students about online bullying. I have always known that it exists, but I did not come of age during the Internet era, so I had never experienced the phenomenon myself until recently. When I joined Twitter.

Now, some of you will say that I am blowing things out of proportion, which I know is probably true. My husband always tells me that if I ever want to be involved in politics, I need to get a thicker skin; I can be a bit sensitive. But I was bullied on Twitter by another person interested in K-12 education, and I want to share my experience.

Something was very unsettling about this exchange that I had with @sheeevan (not their real Twitter handle). Let me set the stage. I “followed” a couple of people recently who strongly disagree with Teach Plus, a nonprofit that runs a policy fellowship for teachers, in which I’m currently participating. These tweeters feel that the organization is part of “corporate education reform,” which understandably has a pretty bad reputation, and they started a conversation with me about this topic. The conversation started off respectful and I was excited that I was getting so many replies — it was the first time I had an ongoing “tweet” conversation. Enter the bully.

The first thing I saw was that @sheeevan was doing a little “behind the back” thing by tweeting at the other two in the conversation and letting them know she was about to antagonize me. She had looked at a past tweet of mine and wanted to use that tweet against me, which she did. At this point, the other two dropped out of the conversation, which I found to be mature and respectful. @sheeevan, on the other hand, was nowhere near done.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not turn the conversation into a positive or productive one. I told her that Teach Plus is an organization made up of teachers with many different viewpoints and causes, all united by our desire to improve education for urban students. I explained to her that my current cause was making teacher evaluations more fair and useful for teachers in Chicago and I asked her if she had any input on that. After each one of my tweets she responded with forceful accusations about how I must hate veteran teachers and answered each question of mine with, “get rid of corporate backed organizations like Teach Plus.”

There was no information about what she does for a living on her profile page and I got the impression that she wasn’t a classroom teacher, although she spoke as though she had some authority on the subject of corporate education reform. As her responses to me continued to be antagonistic and downright nasty, I finally decided to tap out — I realized that nothing productive was going to come from carrying on this way. My final message to @sheeevan was simply: “Sigh. Whatever.”

I’m not here to call out specific people on their Twitter etiquette. I am more concerned about the climate within the education field right now, and what seems to be an unwillingness to work together for solutions. As an educator, I am continuously working with my students on their discussion skills. It is my role to teach these young adults how to have productive, solutions-oriented conversations with people with whom they disagree — no matter how strong the disagreements are.

I am certain that my colleagues in education also strive to teach their students these fundamental skills. My concern is that we are being hypocritical by encouraging our students to have productive conversations with “opponents,” while we turn to Twitter and other forms of social media to argue our positions without even being open to finding common ground. I concede that my feelings were hurt by @sheeevan and her hatred of me due to an organization I work with, without even knowing who I am.  But I am not as concerned about my own hurt feelings as I am about the rhetoric and tone some educators (and non-educators talking about education) are taking on social media.

I don’t think I can be strong enough in my plea for those in the education sector to work together. I am certain that we have more things in common than we are willing to admit — I know that I, for one, am eager to effect change in the culture of over-testing that is forced upon our students. @sheeevan tweeted about feeling the same way last week — I would ask her if she would like to work together, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t be willing to work with me. I wish that this didn’t bother me as much, but it does. Sigh. Whatever.

 

Kylene Young is a special education teacher in Chicago Public Schools and a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow. 

13 thoughts on “I Was Bullied…On Twitter

  1. Mike G

    Great post.

    Jay Mathews and others have called for civility. As you know, this is not unique to edu-discourse. Hard to see what would catalyze a change in tone.

    The only idea I’ve wondered about is equivalent to the PoliFact type invention. An effort to have neutral-ish observers rate the truth or falsity of a claim by politicians.

    The equivalent here would be a RudeWatch by, say, Hechinger Report or Edweek or GothamSchools — but instead of evaluating accuracy, simply evaluate civility. Fight speech with speech. And model comments who disagree strenuously and yet with grace and courtesy.

  2. John Thompson

    Funny thing, in my experience, school “reform” has deteriorated into score settling. Mostly, what I see is a campaign to drive Baby Boomers out of the profession. Gutting our salaries and benefits is only half of the equation. Mostly, the goal is keeping us from contaminating the 23-year-olds.

    But, that doesn’t really bother me. Baby Boomers have been very fortunate. And, the main reason why “reformers” targeted teachers is that it is smart politics. We haven’t suffered as bad as the rest of workers, so we’re due for a come-down.

    Besides, nothing “reformers” dumped on us is as bad as what our inner city students have suffered. It is the damage that “reform” does to students that bothers me.

    Our generations are similar in that younger Boomers came of age as the Energy Crisis wiped out the economy. That and the subsequent corporate policies that accelarated deindustiralization are the big causes of our school failures, but that’s for another day.

    The difference is that Baby Boomers came of age during a forty year economic boom – the greatest in history. We grew up knowing that tomorrow will be better. Young teachers today grew up during a forty year decline in wages. Its harder for younger workers to have the same hope for the future or the same sense of empowerment.

    Young people have to be tempted to sign on to the corporate agenda to avoid a worse scenario.

    If you want a balanced dialogue, work to get Teach Plus to explicitly repudiate Rahm Emanuel. (certainly you don’t deny his motivation, in large part, is destroying enemies.)

    I have to ask, however, how can you be so upset about a twitter exchange? Dang, “reformers” libel teachers all the time. How is blaming our “low expectation” different than calling us racists? Our faith in our constitutional democracy and in the liberal arts, and in a culture of the free exchange of ideas is condemned as “the status quo.” The principles that we revere about public education are under siege. Compared to what is being dumped on us, what is the big deal with your twitter dispute?

    And, again, let’s not be too concerned about the war on teachers. It is the harm that is being done to kids that should outrage us.

  3. Susan Volbrecht

    I agree–teachers participating in conversations around ed reform have an opportunity to elevate the profession, AND model productive debate for our students! Bullying represents all teachers poorly, and sets a low expectations for how our students engage with issues. Keep fighting the good fight!

  4. Kylene

    John –

    I appreciate your thorough comment. I agree with you on a lot of your sentiments. My post was not meant to be a discourse on the evils of education reform however, just a commentary on disrespect online. I hope that I did not convey that I was unreasonably upset about a twitter exchange other than admitting that it did hurt my feelings. I was really just trying to use the example of that exchange to shine a light on the angry and uncooperative rhetoric that is so prevalent online amongst educators.

  5. Rachel

    Kylene,

    I totally saw this exchange on Twitter and ask for your forgiveness by not stepping in. It probably wouldn’t have ultimately mattered, but I feel bad.

    And no, @sheeevan is not interested in working with anyone but the CTU–she often speaks for the union, even though she isn’t a member.

    Very interesting indeed.

    I too believe educators and policy makers can work together. It can start with Twitter conversations, but not always, as you experienced.

    Best of luck with your fellowship and thanks for this post!

    -Rachel

    Thanks for this post.

  6. Lisha

    Hello,

    Sorry to hear about your experience. I started a radio show this week to give voice to this type of dialogue. I am a former teacher, future researcher who cares about teachers, students AND policy.

    Educators and citizens needs to grab a chair, a cup of coffee and a listening ear. Everyones experience in education (policymakers, teachers, prinicipals) is different. I have organized and demonstrated against charters, but with more research I am not rethinking my position.

    The issues are complicate and it is easy to get overwhelmed and emotional. At one point I thought I should become a teacher therapist to deal with all the stress I have seen while working in education.

    Dont disengage. I dont know alot about Teach Plus. I do have ideas about “corporate education.” No solutions are worst than imperfect one.

    Lets continue the conversation
    Follow me at @edupolicafe

  7. Seth

    Great post and I too would love to see more productive (not reductive) conversation.

    Funny thing is, I know EXACTLY who you are referring to w/o even looking at your tweets. This person essentially has zero credibility left save in her own echo chamber. Every respectable person I know on Twitter (whether I agree with them or not) has blocked this person, even would be allies of hers.

    SMH.

  8. John Thompson

    Kylene,

    I didn’t follow the twitter conversation and I sure don’t know how upset you are or aren’t by it. You chose to blog on it. I just sought to provide some context, albeit from my perspective.

    The following musings may or may not be helpful. I’ve experienced politics that I didn’t care for in academia, electoral politics, and in other professions. Perhaps I saw it as something that had to be endured as an apprenticeship. I also saw it as childs play in comparison to what I saw in the blue collar world. As an oil field roughneck, a ditch-digger, and construction worker, etc. I saw the way that big money would just as soon bury workers as provide decent conditions, and power was often the motivation. Then and now, I didn’t see professors, professionals, or teachers as any different than workers.

    I think I see a difference now. You can choose or not choose a profession where you have to play a destructive form of politics. Edu-politics has become different because most teachers were just minding their business, doing their jobs, ignoring politics, and all of a sudden the “reform” movement ambushed them. Reformers could have assaulted social workers or firefighters, but instead they started gratuitous attacks on teachers. That is one reason why I’m reluctant to criticize teachers I disagree with. Of course, seeing us as workers is another reason. We’ve got to stick together when facing power.

    Secondly, I was a lobbyist in a state where our motto was, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Using smoke and mirrors, compromise, and deal-making was essential to survival. Our handshake has to be good. Frankly, I’m more disgusted by the situational ethics of the Rhee’s, Deasys, and Emanuels, than by the rightwingers who I know. Its this politics of personal destruction by people who see themselves on the side of angels that I can’t stomach. Their ends justify their means, or so they believe.

    Frankly, I’m dumbfounded by “reformers” who are so sure of themselves that they impose their utopian ideals on us. Who appointed them Social Engineers for America?

    As far as online discussions, my teaching (albeit in a hardcore inner city school where we students and teachers ragged on each other pretty hard in the gym or in class discussions) suggested an ethic. Wit that is comparable to throwing an elbow on the b-ball court is fine. But, you don’t, metaphorically speaking, take out your opponent’s knees. You rag on someone, but you don’t ridicule them.

    Over the years, have there been “reformers” who I’ve used ridicule to reply to ridicule? Yeah, a few. I reserve that for those who cross some bright lines.

    Face it, ed reform is a part of the spasm we’re enduring as America changed from the New Deal/Fair Deal mixed economy that gave us a growing pie to a nation at risk of becoming an oligarchy. The Billionaires Boys Club has done a great job pitting liberals against liberals and generation against generation. A lot of anger is going to burst out.

    And my last year in the classroom, a light went one. The abuse that was dumped on us wasn’t really different than what we oil field “worms” had dumped on us, and our lives weren’t placed at risk. But, I kept finding myself saying to the teacher next door, who was a couple of months older than me, that dang, I’m 60. If I was 20, 30, 40, or 50, that would just be something to be endured. Its not right that they treat anyone this way. But,, dang, I’m 60. I won’t take it anymore.

  9. PhillipMarlowe

    I was really just trying to use the example of that exchange to shine a light on the angry and uncooperative rhetoric that is so prevalent online amongst educators.
    Then maybe they ought to meet in person.

  10. Education Realist

    You can’t be bullied on twitter. Keerist. Grow a pair. You are part of an organization that, by its very existence, is trying to hurt existing teachers. You might be very polite, but your goals aren’t. Some people will give you grief over that. Have the courage of your convictions, or don’t. But quit whining about politeness.

  11. Christine Blythe

    As much as I’m addicted to computers and social media, I also look upon them with a great deal of trepidation and questions their veracity for constructive conversation (or even argument).

    It’s all too easy for those who wish to do harm, be radical, insulting, or just plain being a bully to remain anonymous and and continue their
    online assaults unabated.

    If I really want to have a conversation about a topic and it is being disrupted by someone like mentioned above or just an internet troll, I will recommend our conversation become more private through online chat, email, etc.

    I keep free online email accounts just for this purpose and to keep my main personal accounts private and secure.

  12. Kylene

    Christine –

    I agree, great ideas. I offer often to go get coffee with someone if they live near me. I have never been taken up on my offer though.

  13. Matt Smith

    Why do we need policy experts in education.

    I see the intense conflict between teachers and policy experts to be much like an enlisted special warfare operator having a policy expert by his side all of the time.

    Policy experts are a non-essential element in education and they add much redundancy and friction to an already turgid process.

    Policy experts need to be seen in the same light as defense contractors: Their purpose to sell something.

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