Friday, July 13, 2012

The Great Claycord Kerfuffle

I've put off writing this for a long time. 

Partly, I just didn't know how to begin.  Partly, I'm worried about how long it's going to get (and if anyone would care enough to read to the end). 

But mostly, I think the wounds were still too fresh.  Not enough time had passed; not enough distance had been created.  I thought about writing about it when it all blew up back in May, but I really needed to let the whole thing die down.  Although it was very difficult for me to do so, I didn't enter the online tempest because I didn't want to inflame the situation.  I think that was wise. 

But it's time to tell the story, at least my side of it.  Even amongst people who know me pretty well, there's still a great deal of misunderstanding about what the hell happened, exactly.  How did I get myself into such a hot, stupid mess?  (In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a mirror on SF Gate of a blog originally posted May 30 on Claycord.com; the original post has been removed).

Well, let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Believe it or not, I think we need to go back to the first day of school in order to gain the context I want you to have.  Actually, I think we have to go back further than that.  According to my Facebook timeline, I joined up in March of 2008.  I could write a whole separate blog on how much looking up that date shocked me.  It's amazing how quickly new technology becomes part of our lives.  Is it really only four years that I've been posting snarky status updates, arguing with conservatives, and kvetching about the Giants?  It feels like I bitched about Aaron Rowand for six years alone. 

Anyway, when I first joined, I didn't allow current students as "friends" on Facebook.  Not because there was a school rule against it, but mostly because I didn't need them snooping into my personal life and seeing a side of me that I didn't present at school.  This mostly amounted to photos of me after a few cocktails that my friends would tag.  So I told kids to wait until they graduated, and then I'd accept them. 

What changed my mind?  Well, I hope you're ready for some really sweet irony, because here it comes. 

After being a citizen of Earth in the 21st century for a while, I came to an understanding: If you post something online (or allow someone to "tag" something on your behalf), you'd better be prepared for anyone in the world to see it, not just the audience for which it is intended.  See?  Irony.  Told you it was a comin'.  

In other words, I shouldn't have ANYTHING on my Facebook page that I didn't want students to see, because the reality is that if they really wanted to view it, they could find a way.  Lots of these graduate kids I was friending had younger siblings still at CP.  It seemed like a pretty silly wall of protection.  Yes, I could always say, "But I'm not friends with my current students!" if somebody wanted to make an issue out of something, but that seemed like an artificial restriction.

I deleted a few photos and became more careful with the language I used in statuses, etc.  I'll still drop the occasional curse word, but I won't go on any obscenity-filled rants.  I also made certain topics verboten.  It helps a lot that I've gotten pretty domesticated by this point in my life.  I'm married with two kids and own a townhouse.  There's not as much potentially embarrassing material as there would've been 10 years ago (or god forbid, 15 years ago...yikes). 

Back to that first day of school.  My syllabus ends with my contact information.  After I'm done reading it over, I always add (orally) that I do have a Facebook, and I will accept students if they friend request me.  I will never go looking for them- that feels creepy to me.  I warn them, though, that there can be repercussions.  I'll correct their grammar/spelling.  I'll gently chastise them for silly/drunken photo poses.  I'll mock their overly dramatic statuses.  I'll keep track of their relationships.  

Basically, I'll do all the same stuff I do to them in class as I get to know them over the course of the year.  I tend to get a dozen or so friend requests that first day, and by the time the year ends, probably 75% of them or so have befriended me.  Keep in mind, I get 160 new kids every year, which is the biggest reason I have 1,100+ Facebook friends.  Although being really, ridiculously good-looking is probably a close second. 

One advantage of allowing them as friends is that even though I give them my personal email on my syllabus, and my work email is readily accessible through the school website, kids find it a lot easier to enter my name into Facebook and message me if they have questions about an assignment.  It's just the way their generation operates. 

The other advantage is less tangible, and it totally depends on the type of teacher you are.  There are some in my profession who just want to show up, do their job, and go home.  They don't need nor want a connection with the kids, and that's fine.  You can still be a really good teacher conducting yourself that way.  But one of the main reasons I'm a high school teacher is that I actually like the kids.  Oh sure, sometimes they drive me nuts with their apathy/sloth/self-involvement, as teenagers will.  And there's usually one or two every year that I really can't stand (the feeling's mutual, I'm sure).  But by and large, the connections that I make with my students are some of the best parts of the job. 

I'm not saying you need to be Facebook friends with the kids in order to form a bond with them, either.  You can chaperone dances, go to plays, fundraisers, concerts, and sporting events, or just shoot the bull with them before/during/after class.  Many of my colleagues confine themselves to just those things, and that's great.  I do all that stuff, too.  But I've found social media an especially effective tool in showing the kids that I do care about what's going on in their lives and inviting them to be part of mine-with boundaries, of course.

Part of what my partner teacher Joel Swett and I preach on the first day to our American Threads classes is that we're trying to build a sense of family.  We even joke that he's the "Mom," and I'm the "Dad" because he tends to be a tad more nurturing and earnest while I can be sarcastic and gruff.  Actually, I think I make that joke when he's not in the room.  It occurs to me he may not be in on that joke.  Oops.  Sorry, man. 

At the end of the year, it's uncanny how many kids write to us that they didn't believe a familial relationship amongst 65 kids was possible, but they really do feel that way as they leave for summer break.  Facebook is just one part of that equation, but I've found it to be a useful tool.  Do students try harder on their Great Gatsby study guides because I "like" their status?  Do they pay more attention to a dry grammar lesson because I tag them about something funny that happened in class that day?  Do they try harder to get to class on time because I'm a angry Giants fan who posted his rage about last night's game just like they did? 

There's no way of knowing for certain, but I'd venture a pretty emphatic "yes."  Again, I don't do these things because I'm looking for some edge in the classroom.  I do them because I'm genuinely interested in their lives and enjoy interacting with them.  That's what's most absurd about the outrage over the "babysitting society's mistakes" line on my profile.  To anyone who knows me, it's so obviously a joke.  When I mentioned it to my sophomore pre-honors class (basically, the best-of-the-best) after the blog came out, they all laughed.  The entire room.  A couple of them even said, "Now, that's funny."  They know that's not how I actually feel about my career and that it's clearly an example of my sense of humor.  

I can understand how parents and community members who read that and don't know me could get indignant.  Here's the thing: It's not intended for people who don't know me.  It's on my Facebook page with a whole bunch of other things that aren't meant to be taken seriously.  I had no idea that when I signed up to this relatively new site in 2008 and created a profile page with my tongue implanted firmly in cheek, it would be used to determine the quality of my character four years later.  

To clear up any future confusion, I have added parenthetical notes since the piece came out to make explicitly clear the humor intended.  I haven't changed anything else, though.  My "favorite" quotes are all lame cliches.  My "about myself" is a quote from a movie I love, and it's basically gibberish.  I also have listed that I am "interested in men" (which results in tons of gay cruise ads on my sidebar) and that one of my favorite movies is Beaches.  I am more likely to go on a gay cruise than to ever see Beaches.  

Hell, the silliest thing about the outcry over the "society's mistakes" thing is geography.  I live five minutes from College Park.  I am a member of the community.  I have two kids.  If we don't move by the time they go to high school, my own wonderful little "mistakes" will go to CP themselves where they will be well-instructed by a mostly outstanding faculty.  I'm proud of my school.  I'm proud of the kids who pass through there, for the most part.  I've devoted my entire professional life (13 years and counting) to the place.  There's the context that Claycord's post was missing.

Poop.  I meant to do this chronologically, and now I'm getting ahead of myself.  Lemme try to refocus. 

All right, so how did I get myself into this very public predicament?  Well, it's pretty simple, really.  I was grading some essays at home, where I have access to Facebook (it's blocked at school).  Grading essays is one of the least favorite parts of my job.  It's typically incredibly frustrating.  Part of it is that you're reading 130 papers about the exact same subject.  But mostly, it's that you've spent all this time with them going over exactly what's required and how to do it, and then you find yourself reading stuff that feels like they not only completely ignored all your instructions, they ignored them while putting in roughly 20 minutes of work.  

Anyway, the first one I read started...well, I don't quite have the vocabulary to explain it.  And I'm not going to rehash it here.  Let's just say the first sentence was almost magnificent in its unreadability.  If you'd like to see it, it's still up on my Facebook page.  I didn't delete or edit anything because I knew that would be seen as an admission of guilt.  

Before I go further, allow me an addendum here.  Normally in this space I'm as honest and inclusive of details as possible.  It's my life, and I share it.  But this story involves a student, and he has already been put through public scrutiny through no fault of his own.  I (and others) have already caused him enough duress, so I'm going to mitigate his involvement in this tale as much as possible.  I will say this: He is not a poor student nor a problem kid.  He was one of my favorites this year, actually.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have posted what I did.  It's the same way I am in the classroom.  If I'm teasing you, it means I like you.  It's the kids I don't feel connected to whom I leave alone.  And yes, he was, and still is, a Facebook friend. 

I felt the opening sentence was notable enough that others might find it amazing as well.  One of Facebook's main functions is for people to vent about their jobs, and I'm certainly not above that.  I've published "from the mouths of babes" conversations I've had with students, observations from campus, and even praised kids when they've done something that's impressed me or made me laugh.  With this particular post, I thought people would marvel at the syntax and sympathize with what we, as teachers, must deal with at times.  My main point with the commentary about teaching being a hard job was, how do you go about fixing something like that?

As far as I can recall, it was the first time I posted an excerpt from student work, although I've more generally referenced things like it before.  Because of what came next, I won't be doing it again. 

Right now, you're probably saying, "Well, of course not, you idiot.  You shouldn't have done it in the first place, you big meanie.  How dare you humiliate a student!"  Well, you're saying that if you're an adult.  If you're a teenager, you're saying "Not kool 2 put smbdy on blast like dat!  SMH."

Here's where context comes into play again.  I made the post on a Wednesday, May 23.  I had just started grading that class period's essays.  It typically takes me about a week to finish one class set.  I read every word and circle every mistake, with plenty of commentary.  Papers I grade often look like they've been at a crime scene; they're splattered with red ink.  When I published the nameless excerpt, I knew that nobody except me could possibly know whose paper it was because I had it in my hands.  Furthermore, I wouldn't be returning them for another week- plenty of time for that post to roll well down the page and get forgotten like everything else does in social media.  Their lifespans are short, unless someone resuscitates them. 

My naivete came in believing the post would stay where I intended it- on my Facebook page, viewable to only those whom I was "friends" with.  If I had ever, for one minute, thought that anyone, including the student himself, would identify whose work it was, I wouldn't have clicked "enter."  Again, I know you might be saying, "But couldn't the student go check the post once he got his paper back?"  Trust me; you don't know teenagers.  I wish they cared that much about the feedback they get.  There was approximately .001% chance that the kid would get his paper back and check it against a Facebook post from a week ago.

Still, what I did was wrong.  It wasn't intended to be mean-spirited, but it could easily be perceived that way.  It wasn't fair to put a young person's work on display like that, even anonymously.  When the whole thing broke, I tried to justify it by saying that if my own kid wrote something that garbled and handed it in, I wouldn't mind him or her being made an example of, as long as it was done with humor and good will.  I still think that's true.  But this wasn't my kid.  Plus, there's no one I look up to more than my mom, and she told me I shouldn't have done it.  So, that's that.  I'll own my mistake. 

But let's also be perfectly clear: Without what came next, which I had no part in nor power over, that student would have never known that his work was being exposed to scrutiny.  The biggest misconception I'd like cleared up from the Claycord post is that the student or his parents complained, and that's how it became news.  The blog is intentionally unclear about how and from whom Claycord obtained my original post and the subsequent comments it engendered, so people were left to assume it was brought to light by an aggrieved party, namely the student or his parents.  This is flatly untrue.  

I know this because as soon as the blog was posted and it started to become "news," I pulled the student aside and told him about it.  I'm going to leave most of what we talked about private, except to say that he had remembered seeing my post and thought nothing of it, unaware it was from his paper, and that I have apologized to him for my part in causing this public dissection of his work.  

The other misconception is that my Facebook page was set to public, so that anyone could have seen my post.  It wasn't.  It was set to private and always has been.  Again, the Claycord post conveniently left out that someone, either a Facebook friend of mine or someone with access to a friend, screen grabbed the post and comments and sent them to Claycord where they could be carefully edited to make me look like as big a monster as possible.  

To this day, I have no idea who that "someone" was.  But if you're that someone and happen to be reading this, allow me to speak to you directly: You are a coward.  I have no idea what your motivation was.  I'd love for you to explain it to me.  You could let me know who you are and why you had such a problem with what I wrote that you'd send it to a local gossip site, presumably hoping that a negative story would come of it.  But let's face it; that won't happen.  Because you hid behind your wall of anonymity while my reputation suffered, as did my family, as did the student whom your actions called attention to.  That's what cowards do.  Thus, I'm guessing the conversation will remain one-sided, unless you grow a spine.

Got angry there for a minute.  Stop.  Breathe.  Continue:

Two days after my post, I received the following email to my work address.  The return address read "news@claycord.com" :

Mr. Nolan,
I recently received the text from a post on your facebook page, and was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.
1.       Do you think it’s appropriate for a teacher to create a post on facebook criticizing an 11th grade student the way you did?
2.       Why did you do that?
3.       Do you believe calling a former student an “asshole” was appropriate?
Thanks for your time,
Mayor

I knew what Claycord was.  If you live in the area I do, and you smell smoke, see helicopters, or hear a loud boom, it's pretty much your first stop.  People from the community will hook you up with the 411.  Of course, I also knew what Claycord was not, which is an official news-gathering organization that plays by the standard rules of journalism.  It traffics in unconfirmed rumors and anonymous sources and serves as a hub for people in the community to anonymously vent in the comments sections about whatever issues they perceive to be afflicting society.  I had no idea who "The Mayor" was, but apparently he's the guy who runs the whole site.  Anonymously.  Sensing a trend with that word?  

All those factors made it an easy decision not to respond.  This wasn't The New York Times asking for comment.  These were incredibly leading questions from an anonymous blogger.  What good could come of any answers I gave?  It was pretty clear from the questions and the content of the site that a good, ol' fashioned hit piece on Yours Truly was being crafted.  I didn't want to fuel the fire. 

That was Friday.  On Tuesday, I got two more emails.  One was from my principal.  It was a request to meet with me to discuss an email he received from Claycord.  The one to him was signed "Kevin Cunningham" instead of "Mayor."  I guess authority figures merit an actual identity in correspondence.  Since the email was forwarded to me by my principal, and I haven't asked his permission, I won't re-post the whole thing here.  But The Mayor stated that I "posted a student's paper" and, as if the questions couldn't get any more biased, he asked my principal if he "condoned this behavior by a man who is supposed to be a leader...not calling our children 'society's mistakes.'"    

At the meeting, I told my boss exactly what I'd written and asked him if I'd broken any rules.  He told me that he didn't think so.  After the thing broke I met with him again, since he had gotten a few emails from parents.  Although he clearly wasn't thrilled to be dealing with an annoying situation like this, he couldn't really chastise me.  He had checked with the district, and they had determined that I hadn't violated education code, my contract, etc.  They determined that what I had done fell under personal "freedom of speech."  I wouldn't be officially disciplined in any way. 

The Mayor also emailed me again.  Clearly, he'd been "investigating" me.  Well, what he could get off my Facebook profile page, anyway:

Following up: Also, why did you post on facebook that your job title is “babysitting society’s mistakes”? Do you think that’s appropriate for a teacher to write? 

I've addressed this and The Mayor's other questions already.  As to the "asshole" query, my answer is "Yes, absolutely."  It's not exactly my finest hour, but calling a grown man a naughty name on the internet is perfectly within my rights.  What, because he once took up a chair in my room, I can never treat him like I'd treat any other adult?  It's especially funny that anyone would worry about me hurting that particular guy's feelings.  The dude's a college graduate and a U.S. Marine.  I think he's been through worse.  If you go back and look at the thread, he "likes" my comment and then we "lol" together in the next couple spaces.  Crisis averted.   

The Claycord post came out Wednesday morning, a week after my original post.  Since I knew that something was in the wind, I had been checking the site periodically.  Still, even though I was prepared for something, it's hard to put into words how shocking it was to see pictures of me and snippets of my Facebook page (with my name all over them...anonymity is reserved for the site's creator and the cadre of regular commentators) plastered all over someone else's blog.  All the old cliches were true: My heart leapt into my throat, the blood drained from my face, my pulse raced, etc.  

I was the talk of the faculty lounge at break.  At the end of the next class period, anxious students were coming up to me, asking me if I knew about "the thing on the internet," no doubt tipped off on their smart phones by their friends or family.  I wrote to my immediate family to warn them of the post before they heard about it from somebody else.  I spent lunch with my regular crew of a half-dozen teacher friends, who were all supportive of me and angry at what they perceived to be yet another example of petty teacher bashing.   

Mostly, I hit "refresh."  

The story doesn't end with the original post, you see.  Claycord revels in its community of commentators, nearly all of whom use nicknames or other vaguely descriptive monickers, such as "Pinky" or "me me me."  The next two days became a ceaseless ritual of checking every ten minutes (or even five, if I had time) what people were saying about me on the internet.  In the time the story was up, it was very hard to concentrate on anything else.  I had trouble sleeping.  I couldn't focus on the stack of essays I had to grade before the end of the school year.  I had little appetite.  

Actually, that was a nice fringe benefit; I can stand to lose 10 pounds.  Ok, 25.  I'm working on it!  All right, that's a lie, too.  

The only time the whole thing completely left my head was when I was "on stage" in the classroom, reading part of a story or engaging in class discussion.  

One specific memory I have of the day when the story came out was going to buy a new tire at Firestone and waiting for it to be installed while grading papers and sipping a beer at BJ's next door.  The whole time I was interacting with tire people/waiters, I was wondering, "Have they seen it?  Do they think I'm a huge jerk?"  

I don't possess the writing skill to adequately communicate the feeling of being publicly analyzed and eviscerated.  People I didn't know were writing emphatic opinions of my character, teaching ability, and attitude, based on a carefully crafted blog post by another person whom I've never met.  It's an incredibly odd and discomfiting feeling to stand by and watch people form strong, knowing conclusions of you based on a few snippets of your life presented out of context.  

It actually made me re-assess the way I feel about people in the public eye: politicians, celebrities, athletes.  You hear them say things like, "I don't read what people write about me.  I don't care what people who don't know me have to say."  Trust me; they care.  Everybody does.  It's human nature.  Even if they themselves don't read it, people who know them will, and it can hurt them more so.  It sure did for my wife and mother. 

On to the comments...

First, there's thing with the pictures.  There were people who had zero problem with anything but lost their minds over the fact that I had photos of students on my Facebook page, as if I just grabbed a bunch of screen shots of their yearbook photos and filed them in an album (the title of which is so obviously a joke I won't even bother to defend it).  Most of what's in that album are junior prom pictures from three or four years ago.  The kids posed for pictures with me.  My wife took most of the shots.  Truth is, I have photos of CP kids that aren't in that album because they were taken by students, and I was tagged in them.  For instance, Joel and I take a big group photo with both of our Threads classes on the last day of school every year, and the kids all tag each other in it.  The horror.    
 
Predictably, some called for me to be fired.  Others speculated that I was "burned out" on teaching and should retire or find a new career.  There was name calling: ("dick" and "idiot," amongst others).  Many harangued MDUSD for being so dysfunctional as to let someone like me remain employed there.  A few folks applauded me for not being "PC" and "telling it like it is."

Basically, the entire thing became an ink-blot test, which is likely how The Mayor intended it.  Whatever people's feelings were toward public education in general and teachers more specifically came out in their comments about me.  As is typical in today's hyper-partisan environment, several commenters took the opportunity to voice their opposition to the scourge of unions.  I think the quote that best expresses just how ludicrous things got had to do with the fact that I was (formerly) the head representative for the teachers' union at CP.  "College Park Dad" claimed:

Union guys use union tactics. As Mr. Nolan is the teachers union rep at College Park, expect that many of these comments have been solicited by Nolan and his sympathizers. They’re not regular Claycord readers who just happened to want to voice an opinion. This same sort of thing happens in Chicago elections.

Then there were those who took it a bit further.  Ever had anyone imply in a public forum that you're a sexual predator?

"Anon": Did anyone notice how many female students he has as friends?

"Shiloh": Do you think all pedophiles are on record as being pedophiles?

"Don't Censor Me Bro": Ex-teacher Julie Correa was well liked too…read the Sun & Mon Times for details…(Correa is an ex-teacher convicted of raping one of her female students)

How about being linked with a serial killer?

"Nice Doesn't Mean Anything": REMEMBER: Everyone thought Ted Bundy was a really nice and cool guy too….just sayin’

I actually found a degree of humor and poignance in just what a nutty age we live in, where people can anonymously fling sordid semi-accusations about a private citizen from an object smaller than George Costanza's wallet.  What a golden era!  Unfortunately, those comments did make my mom cry.  Small price to pay for progress, though. 

Of course, all comments are moderated by a site administrator, whom I can only assume is The Mayor.  I won't deign to commit the same sort of character assassination he perpetrated against me (how can I?  I don't know who he is!), but I will point out a few things and let you be the judge of what kind of man he is and what kind of site he's running.

Claycord purports to be a "news and information" site, and as I mentioned before, it seems to do a pretty good job with local stuff like ceremonies, fires, and traffic accidents.  But it does not practice "journalism."  Heck, the "Terms of Use" page makes that clear: The content that is published on Claycord.com contains rumors, speculation, assumptions, opinions and factual information. Postings may contain erroneous or inaccurate information. The owner of this site does not ensure the accurateness of any content presented on Claycord.com.

Simply put, a "real" news organization would not have run the story Claycord did.  It would have revealed where it got its information, and it wouldn't have cut things up into a context-less attack piece the way The Mayor did.  The "investigating" also would've been conducted in different fashion, as real journalists are trained to ask questions in a non-biased, non-leading fashion.  The reality is that this only became "news" because Claycord made it so.  There was no aggrieved, underrepresented party petitioning for justice.  I'd never received a single parent nor student complaint about my Facebook profile before. 

Then there's the accountability issue.  There's no byline on the story.  No editor-in-chief with whom to register feedback.  No contact info other than the nameless email, no journalistic credentials.  I wrote a few years back about the likely/inevitable death of journalism as amateur bloggers took over, and a couple excerpts from that entry proved prescient: 

What will happen if all the newspapers go out of business? I shudder at the thought. Will there be any more journalism, or just "news organizations," both television and online, broadcasting their own biased talking points? 

I closed with this: 

People already have enough trouble obtaining information without a filter. I'm terrified of a time when we won't even realize the filter's there. 

Claycord, especially its comments section, operates with a very heavy filter.  While comments comparing me to serial killers and pedophiles were allowed through, dozens of others defending me (and challenging Claycord's reporting) were never allowed to see the light of day.  

My friend and colleague Josh Coito pointed out many of the same issues I've raised in this blog and called out The Mayor. He tried as many as seven or eight times to publish his views from three different computers.  None ever made it through.  Criticisms were also deleted from Claycord's Facebook page, where they can't be moderated beforehand.  In the next few weeks, I heard from perhaps two dozen ex-students (both in person and online) that they had attempted to post and been denied, and many of them said they knew friends who had tried as well and were also turned away. 

Essentially, The Mayor completely controls the conversation.  He only allows viewpoints to appear on his site that further his agenda, whatever that may be.  He claims all the privileges and status of a journalist with none of that pesky responsibility.  Hey, it's working for him.  I don't know if putting me and me family through what he did caused him to lose any sleep.  I also don't know what caused him to take the post down in the middle of the night just 40 hours after publishing it. 

But I have a guess. 

In many ways, this became a Tale of Two Cities situation for me.  You know, "It was the best of times, it was..." shoot, I can't remember the rest.  Anyway, while this certainly had to be considered a low point in my professional career, it produced an unexpected blessing.  

You see, after the first wave of initial, largely negative comments were posted, people who knew me began coming to my defense.  Current students, ex-students, even parents spoke their good opinions of my character and abilities.  Kids I hadn't heard from in years chimed in that I had made a positive difference in their lives.  Many claimed that they were still using skills and critical thinking abilities I'd imparted on them.  A couple even suggested that I was one of the main reasons they'd decided to attend college.  

I was incredibly humbled by their kind words and vociferous protests.  There was another thing that made them valuable: The vast majority of these comments had names attached.  Out of all the people who bashed me, I counted one who used a real name, a 2012 graduate who claimed I "regularly acted unprofessionally."  Here's the thing: I didn't even know that kid.  Never had him.  Had to look him up.  Everyone else who used his or her real name was apparently on my side.  

Maybe The Mayor realized that he'd slandered someone most people seemed to regard as a beneficial member of the community.  Maybe he felt bad about what he'd done.  Maybe he was just tired of moderating the scads of comments from the pool of thousands (I'm getting old!) of students I've had in the course of my 13 years at College Park.  

Without explanation, he removed the post sometime after I went to bed that Thursday night and before I woke up that Friday morning.  I clicked "refresh" and got a 504 notice, which meant now I also did not have access to all the nice (and not-so-nice) things people had written about me.  Fortunately, I had left the page open on my school computer and was able to copy and paste the story and most of the comments into an email, thus my ability to quote them in this post.

If you'd like to peruse them yourself, shoot me an email, and I'll forward them to you.  It's the least I can do for anybody who's read this far.  Which may be exactly nobody, at this point.  I mean, sheesh.  I wanted to tell the whole story all at once, but could I be any more verbose?  Sorry.  We're almost done, I promise.  

There's one last thing to do here.  

The day the blog posted, I knew enough to stay out of it.  My friend and colleague Lance Johnson rendered me a huge service by posting a blog and writing several comments on Claycord that showed a different side to the story.  I was able to direct concerned parties toward his work without entering the fray myself.  He ended up taking a bunch of flack for his efforts and got lumped in with me (one commenter, curiously, wrote that Lance did so because I was his "boss," which shows an alarming lack of knowledge of faculty hierarchy).  For that, I am indebted to him. 

The rest of my friends and family were uniformly supportive as well.  I owe them my thanks and apologies; it can be difficult to be married/related to me at times.  Like, a lot of the time.  However, those people are supposed to have your back, even when you're wrong.  

Therefore, it was mainly the kids (many of whom are now adults) I had in mind when I wrote my only public response to this incident before what you're reading right now:

(I want) to thank everyone who had my back today. I am truly humbled by the number of people, especially students and ex-students, who took the time to stand up for me, and with such passion and eloquence. You'll never know how much I appreciate it.

Those words are more true today than ever.  This could've been one of the great crisis of my life.  Instead, because so many of you who sat in my classroom at some point in the past 13 years went out of your way to comment on the post itself, write to me on Facebook, or offer words of support in person, I feel a tremendous sense of affirmation.  I owe a special debt of gratitude to the countless number of this year's students who wrote variations of, "Keep being yourself.  Don't let people who don't know you change how you do things" in their end-of-year journal entries.  

I even feel kinda fortunate that this all happened, in a way.  After all, most people have to die in order to have such nice things said about them.

Thanks for reading.

-Nolan




11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Heart you Nolerpoo! - Suserpoo

Victoria Larnach said...

I second that comment above. I was one of your first students at CP (now that dates me too!) and have always believed that you were one of my best teachers because of your sense of humor and understanding of what it truly takes to be a mentor. Kids look up to someone like you because they can relate to you much better, in many cases, than otter adults in their lives. It is so easy for outsiders who do not know you put their very misinformed opinion on the nature of your skills as a teacher and a person (das right - you gotz maaaad skillz Nolan). I had you for English when I was 15 years old, I am now 27 and still find that what I learned in your classes and having you as a FB friend, watching the happy photos filter through of you and your family, you are a tangible human being who doesn't take like too seriously and for the most part, have your facts straight. If something like this deters people from accepting you as a brilliant mentor or thinks it gives them reason to taint your reputation, then I'd like to see what they do when a real crisis issue happens with a political leader or someone who REALLY does bad shit in the community.....boy are people diluted and misinformed. DONT BELIEVE THE HYPE. You're awesome. Totes amazeballs and heaps of love comin atcha. BOOM.

Victoria Larnach said...

It's supposed to be *other* adults in that sentence, not otter. But I'm writing from my iPhone and that's typical of auto correct and my generation :)

Lance Christian Johnson said...

This is all good and fine, but you forgot to mention the fact that we both got fired.

Patrick Sullivan said...

I am never leaving San Francisco. It is too scary living in the burbs...

Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew--Kelley forwarded to me your blog because she thought I'd appreciate your situation--believe me, I do. It reminds me of why teachers definitely need a long summer vacation, so that these issues can settle and you can enter the classroom in the fall refreshed. You are so right in your comments about journalism. I worry about this (Claycord's) misuse of the internet when there is so much useful info to glean from it. Hang in there--it sounds like you are making a difference in the right way in students' lives.
Enjoy Trinity this summer--I hear Derek is joining you. You'll have to compare notes on the difference between teaching versus the corporate world. Which is more real? Less frustrating?
I did read your entire blog--I'm waiting for Kelley's baby to arrive, so I have extra time to enjoy your "rants"! Mary Sue Kuzak

Dawny Ahlstrom said...

Bravo Nolan. I've been following this whole kerfuffle since it first popped up on my Facebook Feed. The real crime here is that these commenters and "the mayor" didn't receive a CP Education to actually learn about logical fallacies. The Witch Trial scene from Monty Python keeps popping in my head the more I read about this (perhaps we should build a bridge out of you to make sure you're not a serial killer).
http://youtu.be/zrzMhU_4m-g

Anyway, you are one of the best teachers I've ever had. Maybe if you had taught some of these people they would have enough common sense to realize how ridiculous this whole thing is.

Stay strong Nolan. Someone has got to be the one inoculate society's mistakes against the highly contagious idiot virus.

PeteCal97 said...

Hee hee...you said "poop". Sounds like a shitty situation, buddy, but I like that you've put a positive spin on it. Go ahead and send the original post and comments my way.

Ashley Hagin said...

Hey Nolan,

I stumbled across your blog after a fellow CP alum posted a link on facebook to an old post of yours.

First, I'm glad you wrote such an eloquent response to a less-eloquently written article. I was in Hawaii celebrating my graduation from Saint Mary's when I received an email on my phone with a link to the Claycord article. I read it, and my first thought was: "Babysitting society's mistakes? Totally sounds like something Nolan would say." Immediately after, I started wondering why the hell someone cared enough to spend the time to "investigate" and write the article. Aren't there more important things we could be "investigating" than whether a teacher posted something "mean" on his private page?

Second, thank you for pointing out Claycord's policy - specifically that the information may contain rumors. I went straight to their page to find that info for myself, and almost couldn't believe that that's actually written there (although in actuality, the chances of the common reader taking the time to read that specific paragraph are zilch). I was an editor of the Saint Mary's student-run newspaper for three years and it saddens me that a paper run by a bunch of 19-20-year-olds has stronger journalistic values than a "news source" read by huge communities. Articles were never run without bylines; letters to the editor were rarely published anonymously (and the new Editor-in-Chief informed me as I was cleaning out my desk before graduation that he will NOT publish ANY anonymous letters while he holds his position). When we had student election drama (which resulted from alleged character-bashing on Facebook), I, as News Editor, chose not to run the story until I had quotes from all sides - students, candidates, and faculty - three weeks later. This was supported by our entire editorial staff.

I'm saddened that your own reputation was put on the line by someone who couldn't own up to their own story. It is my belief that if you can't own up to your own words, then you shouldn't publish them. On that note, thank you, also, for owning up to your mistake. I'm sure that wasn't easy.

By the way - I started re-reading A Tale of Two Cities the other day. I first read that book in your sophomore pre-honors class, both in the summer (yep, I actually did the summer reading) and in the fall when you made us read it again :)

Ashley Hagin, class of 2008

Kevin McElroy said...

Next time let your favorite brother in law (conveniently the only one you have) know what's going on. I realize this is now a year old, but I was completely unaware (maybe its an East Coast/West Coast thing?).

Keep doing what you are doing and ignore those who have to cast stones to feel better about themselves.

Kevin McElroy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.