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‘We shouldn’t need #Iwishmyteacherknew to tell us that kids are suffering’

Rafranz Davis, an instructional technology specialist for a Dallas/Fort Worth area school district in the US and a teacher blogger, writes:

For the past few hours, I’ve thought, rethought, written and erased, over and over again. In between going back and forth, I got to experience the vile realities of Twitter trolls creating accounts for the sole purpose of saying the most unreal, racist, sexist, body-shaming things to me. Clearly, speaking out against the “media interpretation” of awesome teaching ruffled some feathers.

And yet, I am still stuck at…How do I best convey why #IWishmyteacherknew is not just a “bad thing” but an “oh, heck no” thing…

First, let me say that I am an advocate for student voice. I believe wholeheartedly in not just hearing from kids but including them fully in the education process. I have also called the educational community on a number of occasions on equity, community and decision-making with students and families in poverty.

So naturally I was intrigued by this campaign, as the example I saw was mild. It was a child wishing for friends. I shared it and then I started reading articles…many articles. I was mortified because those shares were not just “students sharing their thoughts”; they were “students sharing personal family experiences”.

In the age of social media, this is not good…not at all.

The teacher who originated the #IWishmyteacherknew idea – and tweeted the notes her class shared with her – is not the only person affected by this. Families also play a part: families who have children in her class, in the community; families who have access to Facebook, Twitter, the evening news.

No one should have to hear on the news about the feelings their child shared with a teacher being posted to social media.

Now, before you go all “she had to have had permission” on me, let me be clear in stating that this teacher has been asked on multiple occasions about this issue and the only permission she seems to have been given is by the pupils. They are eight- and nine-year-olds sharing personal family details. If those thoughts were shared without parental consent, this is a big problem.

I even asked my sister what she would do if she saw that my nephew wrote to his teacher about issues that should have been discussed with her but were instead shared online. Let’s just say that if that happened, a visit to the school and superintendent would have been in order.

Quite a few people insist that this teacher was “brave” in selflessly sharing the voices of her students. No, the bravery belongs to the kids.

In addition, I would like to point out that this teacher is not the first to discover and share the existence of poverty. Newsflash: millions of children in the US live in extreme poverty or unbelievable living situations. As a matter of fact, if you extended this prompt across the nation, you might even hear stories about homelessness, abuse, divorce, neglect, addiction, depression, starvation and so on. You might even hear about kids who were poor but still happy. Those stories exist too (you don’t read many of them, though).

Even when it comes to what is being shared on #IWishmyteacherknew, there are other sides to the story. The perspectives of parents, siblings and extended family members are not being considered. Some parents work late and hard to support their kids. Often, children of that age don't fully comprehend this. Imagine being a working mother reading in a news article online that her kid needed her, and imagine the guilt she may already be feeling multiplying tenfold.

Maybe that’s not the story. Maybe it is. The point is, we don’t know.

Of course, student work is often shared across the edu-sphere, but this is different. This wasn’t just “work”. We were reading notes, written in the original handwriting of students. (They are locally identifiable. If I am a parent of a child in that class, I can simply ask my child or use community knowledge to find out who those kids are. Community shaming is real. Anonymity does not exist in this case because original work with handwriting was published. Most parents know how their own children write.)

But tell me, did you really need to see it written in students' handwriting to recognise that the world has problems? Were you completely oblivious to the real state of the American child that it took this hashtag to connect with the fact that our kids need help because the world sucks and they feel it? If you need them to pour their hearts out on to coloured index cards for anyone to read, you are a part of the problem.

Student work is not owned by teachers or schools. We have zero right to share their progress, thoughts or examples. That right belongs to families and, unless we get permission from them, we have no business putting their thoughts on the web.

To be clear, I am not muting kids. It is about ethics. It is about what is right and wrong.

One of the many Twitter trolls who contacted me today reminded me that parent permissions to share student work are demanded at the beginning of the school year. I can guarantee that the parents who signed those forms did not count on their personal lives being shared. There is no way.

One more thing: I am most disappointed in an educational community that turned a blind eye to this in public and were not strong enough to speak up for what we know is right concerning student/family privacy. It shouldn’t have to fall to me to push these discussions. Silence means that everyone loses.

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