A high school English teacher in suburban Philadelphia who was suspended for a profanity-laced blog in which she called her young charges "disengaged, lazy whiners" is driving a sensation by daring to ask: Why are today's students unmotivated - and what's wrong with calling them out?
As she fights to keep her job at Central Bucks East High School, 30-year-old Natalie Munroe says she had no interest in becoming any sort of educational icon. The Blog has been taken down, but its contents can still be found easily online.
Her comments and her suspension by the middle-class school district have clearly touched a nerve, with scores of online commenters applauding her for taking a tough love approach or excoriating her for verbal abuse. Media attention has rained down, and backers have started a Facebook group.
"My students are out of control," Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."
And in another post, Munroe - who is more than eight months pregnant - quotes from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie": "Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS."
She also listed some comments she wished she could post on student evaluations, including: "I hear the trash company is hiring"; "I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son"; and "Just as bad as his sibling. Don't you know how to raise kids?"
Munroe did not use her full name or identify her students or school in the blog, which she started in August 2009 for friends and family. Last week, she said, students brought it to the attention of the school, which suspended her with pay.
"They get angry when you ask them to think or be creative," Munroe said of her students in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. "The students are not being held accountable."
Munroe pointed out that she also said positive things, but she acknowledges that she did write some things out of frustration - and of a feeling that many kids today are being given a free pass at school and at home.
"Parents are more trying to be their kids' friends and less trying to be their parent," Munroe said, also noting students' lack of patience. "They want everything right now. They want it yesterday."
One of Munroe's former students, who now attends McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., said he was torn by his former teacher's comments. Jeff Shoolbraid said that he thought much of what Munroe said was true and that she had a right to voice her opinion, but felt her comments were out of line for a teacher.
"Whatever influenced her to say what she did is evidence as to why she simply should not teach," Shoolbraid wrote in an e-mail to the AP. "I just thought it was completely inappropriate."
He continued: "As far as motivated high school students, she's completely correct. High school kids don't want to do anything. ... It's a teacher's job, however, to give students the motivation to learn."
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association declined to comment because he said the group may represent Munroe. Messages left for the Central Bucks School District superintendent were not returned.
Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said school districts are navigating uncharted territory when it comes to teachers' online behaviour. Often, districts want teachers to have more contact with students and their families, yet give little guidance on how teachers should behave online even as students are more plugged in than they've ever been.
"This is really murky stuff," she said. "When you have a teacher using their blog to berate their students, maybe that's a little less murky. But the larger issue is, I think, districts are totally unprepared to deal with this."
Munroe has hired an attorney, who said that she had the right to post her thoughts on the blog and that it's a free speech issue. The attorney, Steven Rovner, said the district has led Munroe to believe that she will eventually lose her job.
"She could have been any person, any teacher in America writing about their lives," he said, pointing out that Munroe blogged about 85 times and that only about 15 to 20 of the posts involved her being a teacher. "It's honest and raw and a little edgy depending on your taste. ... She has a deep frustration for the educational system in America."
Rovner said that he would consider legal action if indeed Munroe loses her job.
"She did it as carefully as she could," he said about her blog. "It's so general that it applies to the problems in school districts and schools across the country."