Another teacher investigated for venting on Facebook

Facebook continues to be a risky place for teachers who like to vent about students in their charge.


Dave Copeland

Internet Culture

Published Oct 26, 2011   Updated Jun 3, 2021, 1:54 am CDT

As another teacher gets in trouble for comments posted on Facebook, educators must be wondering where they can go to safely vent about their students.

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Jim Whitney, a Joplin, Mo. high school teacher, is being investigated by the school board after leaving the comment “Moral of the story: don’t be gay” in response to a story about bullying that was posted on Facebook. When another commenter asked, “How many more kids have to kill themselves before everyone realizes that this is an actual issue?,” Whitney responded, “11-13 ought to do it. Somewhere in that vicinity.”

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Whitney’s comments drew widespread reaction in an online communities.

“there are good teachers, and then there is this prick…. ps. teachers, don’t friend your students on FB, it’s tacky,” @blurredsilence tweeted.

Whitney released a statement to the Joplin Globe saying “I do not condone bullying or harassment of any kind and I am very aware and saddened by the negative impact this type of behavior creates. I regret that the posts appeared on Facebook. They do not reflect my personal views and I apologize for any and all offenses caused by the comment.”

The math teacher did not respond to follow-up questions from the newspaper asking how comments that do not reflect his views ended up on his Facebook page. Whitney’s comments come less than two weeks after Union, N.J. officials opened an investigation into a teacher in that school district who posted homophobic comments on her Facebook page.

Vicki Knox, the New Jersey teacher, was getting support on Wednesday from Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.

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“If the teacher cannot share her views in her off hours on her own private FB page, then the 1st Amendment means nothing,” Perkins tweeted. The timings of his Tweet, however, led to some confusion, with some people thinking he was defending Whitney, whose name was not released in original news reports because of the ongoing investigation.

Stories of teachers getting into trouble for online postings are nearly as old as the Web, but Facebook has only accelerated the trend. Other educators choose anonymous forums to vent, particularly when it comes to rants about their students. “Rate Your Students,” formed in 2005 to mock the popular site “Rate My Professors” and “Rate My Teachers” closed in December. The group blog offered posts like Chicago Charlie on Grading, Grade Inflation, Love, and the Grade Bump and even garnered a New York Times article.

On College Misery, college professors anonymously vent about their students and the state of higher education. Students are often referred to as “snowflakes” and frequently dismissed as stupid by professors writing under the guise of anonymity.

“Even after an informal poll conducted in class last week revealed that over 90% of them think reality tv is “real”, I held out some faint hope that they couldn’t be *that* stupid,” Drunk In A Midnight Choir posted on the site this week. “They are.”

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Other recent posts include a rant against the student author of a Harvard Crimson article that considered reasons why students check Facebook in class and a list of student excuses a professor “had” to accept so far this semester.

“Let’s teach some real world expectations here. I will give extensions where warrented, and will even bend over and ask for another when they aren’t warrented, but you CAN’T make me kiss their arse,” the disgruntled adjunct professor known as FML said.

The College Misery brand of venting falls far short of the homophobic rants that have landed two high school teachers in trouble this month, but the online venting about poor student performance has been rampant enough to draw a reaction from no less of an authority than the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“If we work with sometimes hundreds of students each semester, frustration can a part of our job.  Sometimes, those frustrations can bubble to the surface and they erupt on social networking sites,” Billioe Hara wrote on the Chronicle’s ProfHacker blog. “We might think we are writing to a group of our closest online friends who will understand the context of our complaints , but it’s impossible to know—with any certainty—who might be reading those online words.”

Image credit, Kevin Dooley

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*First Published: Oct 26, 2011, 5:07 pm CDT