Are You a YouTube Star?
Millions are sharing videos online. Are you the star of one of them?
By Cindy Long
The day his classroom was occupied by test-taking sophomores, El Camino High School music teacher Mark Lowery marched his band class over to the choir room. Since they had no instruments to play, the students were allowed free time to study and hang out. While they laughed and joked with one another, Lowery pretended to fall asleep in the middle of the action, slumping in his chair, chin on chest. It was an innocent joke that got kids laughing, he thought. But one of them captured his prank on her cell phone camera and it wound up on the video-sharing site YouTube.
Then a parent saw the video and reported it to the local media. Then the principal was called. And then there was some explaining to do.
Fortunately for Lowery, no action was taken against him. The principal assured a local newspaper reporter that Lowery, a former Teacher of the Year in his Oceanside, California, school district, is an excellent educator who would never actually nap in class; he was merely kidding around with students. And the one who posted the video realized she had unfairly taken a moment out of context and removed the clip from the Web before more people could view it.
But some teachers aren't as lucky as Lowery.
Cristina Mallon's 15 minutes of YouTube fame made it all the way to network television when a video of her performing a cheer in front of her humanities class aired on NBC's Today show. Mallon, who was her Gilbert, Arizona, school's cheerleading coach, was trying to get the kids excited for "Spirit Week." The cheer was captured on a cell phone camera, manipulated to exaggerate certain moves, posted on YouTube, and viewed by millions, including some students' parents. Many claimed the cheer was sexually suggestive, others said it was benign, but in the resulting flurry of embarrassing attention and community pressure over the video (as well as a book she had assigned to her class), Mallon resigned.
Welcome to the age of YouTube, where anyone may be armed with a cell phone camera and all the world's a stage, including your classroom. While districts scramble to come up with new policies to regulate the use of digital media, students across the country are busy recording their teachers and posting the videos to YouTube. A search on the site for "angry teacher" returns dozens of videos taken surreptitiously in the classroom.
Sometimes students post videos to expose bully teachers—one shows an angry high school teacher forcing a student to stand for the National Anthem by yanking his chair from underneath him. Another catches a Connecticut high school teacher jabbing a student with his finger and calling him a "fag." But in other cases, it's impossible to discern whether the videos are of actual misconduct or if they are regrettable moments of a teacher pushed to the breaking point. Sometimes, educators are provoked by students trying desperately to get their teachers to explode just so they can capture the episode and upload it to the Web for anyone to see.
A simple search on YouTube for "angry teacher" returns dozens of videos.
"I don't think I'm on YouTube yet, but I've caught a couple students with their cells out trying to get something good to post," says substitute teacher Loressa Dunn of Eugene, Oregon. "As a substitute, I'm in a variety of classrooms and, some would say, a sitting duck. Proudly, I can say that I don't 'egg on' easily, so the couple of times students tried to get me riled up it didn't work. A few of the students made comments about my hair, makeup, and clothing, but being a seasoned sub, I didn't take the bait."
On a bad day, or even on a good day, many teachers would understandably lose their patience and take the bait, especially in the face of wounding personal insults. What's a teacher to do if that moment is uploaded to the third most popular Web site on the Internet? According to YouTube, the site is self-policing, meaning that YouTube relies on its community of users to report improper content. If you want a video removed, you have to set up an account, log on, and flag the video for removal, selecting a reason, such as the video is "Hateful and Abusive" or "Infringes My Rights."
Common Sense Media has some tips on how to avoid becoming the latest internet star.
“Yes, students are posting videos of unsuspecting teachers online and it is worrisome. It’s one part of a bigger issue, which is that kids do not understand how to behave in an ethical way online,” says Rebecca Randall of Common Sense Media. “They may know how to use technology, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use it wisely. Kids don’t realize the implications, legal or otherwise; they may think they’re just being funny and that no one will get hurt. But cyber-bullying is a huge issue, whether it’s directed at teachers or other students.”Common Sense Media has a program to help schools deal with these issues, and this October, it’s going online. It’s designed to educate parents and teachers about how they can teach students how to use and create media in a safe, smart, and ethical way. Check it out!
Flagged content "is reviewed by our staff and usually removed from the system within minutes if it violates our Community Guidelines," says a YouTube spokesperson. The full guidelines are available at www.nea.org/ref?youtube, but the gist is that users shouldn't "cross the line" by posting things like pornography, criminal activity, animal or drug abuse, or graphic or gratuitous violence. "If your video shows someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it," the guidelines state, which could easily include a video of a teacher being baited and humiliated in the classroom.
The guidelines also state that YouTube "trusts you to be responsible, and millions of users respect that trust, so please be one of them." Problem is, kids aren't always responsible. That's why cell phones and other digital media should be banned in classrooms, advises NEA General Counsel Michael Simpson. He also suggests that schools make it a punishable offense to post a video of another student or teacher without that person's permission.
But the safest course of action is to prevent students from capturing humiliating or damning video in the first place.
NEA on YouTube
Check out videos on education issues ranging from achievement gaps to NCLB on NEA's YouTube channel.
"When you're in the classroom, consider that you may very well be taped without your knowledge," Simpson says. "Be on your toes at all times. Always try to present information in a neutral manner, allow students to speak their piece, and do not persuade them to a particular point of view. Never overreact to a student challenging your authority, and don't ever try to personally or physically punish a student."
When in doubt, remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: "Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching." On YouTube.