OK, you've got me really mad now

14th April 2006 at 01:00
Teacher bashing has reached a new low with a website that invites hurtful comments, says Jennifer Baker

A bizarre website called Rate my Teachers.com - which covers the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland - has made me realise how happy I am to be a freelance writer now and not at the chalkface. Let me explain.

Teacher bashing has been an acceptable teenage pastime since the first monk instructed the first boy in illuminated script and has always been accepted by teachers the world over. Adolescents by their very nature don't like to be told what to do and that is in the order of things.

They should be testing the boundaries and stretching adults to the limit.

If they are not doing that, then there is something wrong. "I hate herhim"

is part of the vocabulary of the average teenager and can be applied equally and at various times to anyone in authority - mother, father, uncle, aunt, but especially to the teacher.

Teachers have to tell them to do lots of things: when to enter a room; when to stand up or sit down; how to dress; and, especially, how hard to work.

It has always been a given that the student isn't going to like being told what to do, but part of the growing-up process is to recognise when to object and when to decide that the issue is not worth making an issue about.

So, if you haven't done your homework and you haven't furnished the teacher with a good reason why, then expect to lose free time in order to do the homework and accept that it is not necessarily the teacher trying to ruin your life. Instead, it's a need to continue the process of your learning without the interruption of missed homework.

However, it's quite acceptable, out of the teacher's hearing and with a few close friends, to bemoan the very existence of that teacher and hope that avian flu will catch up with her to keep her off school for a very long time.

But now there is something different. The mutterings are a shout and have gone global. Unsubstantiated claims are being made about individual teachers which can be read by anyone and, in the case of one or two I have seen, can be extremely hurtful.

Teachers have feelings too and, anyway, aren't defamatory comments issued without corroborating evidence a question for a court of law?

The idea is that you rate your teachers and their subject from 1-5, with five being highest. There are four categories. The first is "easiness" (it is pleasing to read that this refers to the easiness of the subject rather than of the teacher), then "helpfulness", "clarity" and finally "overall quality", which is what determines either a smiley face or an angry one. A comment can be added and very often is. Inspectors eat your hearts out.

This website claims that parents or administrators can view the site and assess whether the teacher has created an environment of mutual respect.

Eh? How does that work? A series of anonymous letters will bring about an improvement in teaching and learning over two continents? Give us a break! Surely even the most deluded pupil is not going to believe that?

Oh, and there is a forum for the anonymous parent too, so they can have a go at the poor benighted educators as well.

The website claims that most of the grades are favourable but even one unjustified comment from a disgruntled student could hurt or, even more dangerously, affect the teacher's career. What headteacher is not going to have a sneaky look to see what has been said about their staff?

Actually, in the half dozen schools I have looked at, the heads do not come out well. They are obviously not seeking the popularity of their students hard enough.

Rate my Teachers.com is advertised as part of a "public discourse on improving education". Yeah right. Rather, it's feeding the natural human condition of enjoying a good gossip, but it's being done in a public forum and that is not what gossip is about.

Gossip should be carried on, if at all, in whispers. It's one of the human race's least attractive qualities and, at its worst, can be a form of bullying. In the past 10 years, there has been a huge effort to drive out bullying among pupils in schools. Are we starting on the teachers now?

The website defends itself by stating that "opponents . . . believe that students are not astute enough to form a valid opinion". Well, we all know that they certainly are and that they should always be allowed to state their case reasonably and calmly. What they should not be allowed to do is to post insulting and libellous statements on the web anonymously. That is outrageous.

Jennifer Baker is a writer and supply teacher.

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