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.