A Hijacked Hashtag and Student Voice

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On an edgy Friday night, as I prepared to plan lessons and update my data, I created an e-card stating, “I became a teacher so that kids can pass standardized tests,” said no teacher ever. I tweeted it out with the hashtag #SaidNoTeacherEver. I added another, writing, “I wish a politician with no classroom experience would just come in and tell me how to teach #saidnoteacherever”

Soon, others joined me and eventually it started to trend. It became a humorous place for advocating against the things that strip away teacher professionalism.

A few hours into it, students began to add their voice. As the students “stole” the hashtag, I first felt upset, embarressed, even betrayed. They were being uncreative, repeating the same ideas without using an RT. They were being crude, making references to teachers having sex with students. They weren’t following our edu-etiquette that I’ve grown used to.

Then I listened.

I re-read the crude posts again. When the initial shock wore off, I began to see myself in those tweets. I was that crude. I was that rude in high school. And the danger in social media, in the ticker tape of conversation left behind, is that the digital footprint (or digital tattoo) doesn’t let kids make mistakes. If future employers want to make judgmental statements about what a seventeen-year-old writes as he’s still trying to figure out the best way to use innuendo, maybe we shouldn’t be lecturing kids but questioning the policies of transnational corporations.

I thought about my own kids and what they will write someday. I thought about myself and the lack of complexity in being able to speak my voice in a world where social media was almost non-existent. It had me thinking, too, that I often talk up “student voice” as something that is deep and profound. I only tell the stories of the brilliance that defies stereotypes of youth. But what do I do with the streams of information that confirm these stereotypes? What about the student voices where they are acting like sixteen year olds trying to figure out how to use humor?

I noticed, too, that the teachers in the social media echo chamber do not represent many of the teachers in our public schools. I kept reading tweets like, “No homework today,” or “Maybe you should enjoy the holidays rather than do my classwork,” and I cringed. I wanted to fight back saying, “Not all teachers are like this. Some of us don’t give homework.”

Eventually, the crude tweets wore off and the tone shifted. That’s when I saw the pain. I saw tweets like, “I won’t think any different of you now that I know that you’re gay” and “I won’t ask what you did to bring on the bullying.” Another read, “Amanda, I noticed when you were gone for ten days and took the time to ask why.” I saw tweets that reminded me just how painful the system can be and how rare it was in my own experience to have a teacher who saw me as a person.

I left with this lingering sense of the power of teachers to be either the protagonist or antagonist in a student’s story. 

 

John Spencer

John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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