Humiliation Does Not Create Resilience

I’ve spent far too much of my time today entering debates with people about the sacking of a school employee I’ve never met.

If you’ve missed the news that’s been floating around, Katie Nash was a social media coordinator in Maryland somewhere in America. Ms Nash used her position as the coordinator to correct a child’s spelling error on a school Twitter page which resulted in her termination from her position. And the internet can’t deal.

The child responded to a tweet about an approaching storm, “close school tammarow PLEASE”. Nash, who is not a teacher and possibly not even known to the child, responded with, “but then how would you learn how to spell tomorrow?” My teacher self shuddered. Ouch.

Most of the comments on various pages have been in support of Nash, and there’s a very sad theme forming on each of the comments. Comments like, “this is what’s wrong with the world”, have me really worried.

I’m not agreeing that Nash should have been fired, I have no idea about her employee agreement or the guidelines for being a social media coordinator (although I think I’d be great at this job), however, I do believe she behaved inappropriately and there should have been some consequences such as a warning or further training.

As a teacher, we are encouraged to support our learners, to guide their learning. We never humiliate (or we shouldn’t). Yes we correct errors, we show students how to improve their work and we absolutely correct spelling. Spelling is one of my passions, sad but true. My mum was a spelling wizard and most of our table conversations as children ended up as a spelling bee, so I totally understand the importance of spelling.

As an adult I have to restrain from correcting errors made by other grown adults on Facebook because IT IS RUDE! In fact, people are always commenting that they check their spelling before sending me a message because I’m a teacher, but I can guarantee you I wouldn’t have corrected their spelling anyway because it’s embarrassing. (I actually did correct someone once because it completely changed the entire meaning of her  Facebook post and she deservingly unfriended me). People are always very quick to point out a typo or grammatical error if I make one and I feel so embarrassed, I guess because I’m a teacher they think it’s okay to call me out. Whatever, my point is that no matter who you are, having a spelling error pointed out on a public forum is embarrassing.

In this instance the person making an error was a STUDENT, and the person correcting the error was an adult representing the child’s school. School should be a place where children feel safe from ridicule. The reply actually came from the school on Twitter, not Nash’s personal page. I really feel for this child. From all accounts the child brushed it off and said they thought it was funny, and I’ve seen plenty of children do that when they are trying to save face.

People pointed out that it was important that his spelling should have been corrected and I agree. I think a teacher or his parents could have pulled him aside and explained his error. They could even have a little joke about it. Nash’s comment was actually quite clever, and in a classroom setting that would have been funny. The teacher would know the child and know if they could handle a joke about that (because some children just can’t and that’s important), then there’s the perfect learning opportunity for that child and possibly the entire class. Those teaching moments are priceless, and students often learn from those better than other lessons. But Nash didn’t know that child, and her comment only appeared as the name of the child’s school.

So the debates all over various parenting and teaching sites began, and the common theme was that children these days are wrapped in cotton wool and we need to stop being so sensitive. Really? Mocking a child on a public page, accessed by everyone is okay? This had nothing to do with correcting a spelling error, and everything to do with embarrassing a child on a school page where everyone in that community can see it. I tried to help the others see sense (my opinion), I asked one teachers page if they would call a child out in front of an entire school community including parents, teachers and students, and correct a spelling error. This is no different (some actually said they would!). If we are expecting students to behave a certain way when using technology to communicate, shouldn’t we be setting the example? Digital manners should be the same as face to face manners, or really we are just demonstrating how to troll.

There’s also the perception that this would somehow build resilience, I disagree. Children these days face a very different world than we experienced at their age, I’m sure the world will provide them with plenty of opportunities to face difficulty. I don’t believe that school should humiliate children so that they can toughen up. No way.

One thing is for sure, I’m sure that child sure knows how to spell tomorrow now. I’m just not sure the lesson was the best method for successful learning.



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