Is it time for cameras in the classroom?


If you’d asked me ten years ago how I felt about having my classroom videotaped, I would have been dead set against it.  Besides the fact that I’d be afraid of looking fat, I hate the nasal sound of my recorded voice, and I have a weird neck thing that’s exaggerated on film, I was worried that I would be proven incompetent.  I became a teacher in California during the Emergency Permit days.  I walked into my classroom the first day with a bachelor’s degree and a key.  I didn’t even have a teacher’s edition of the textbook.  I had no formal training whatsoever.  And boy, did it show.

My point is that my only objections to being recorded while teaching were my vanity and my fear of having my perceived incompetence revealed. 

Ever since the first time I watched an embarrassing You Tube video of a teacher being recorded without his knowledge, I have tried to conduct myself in class as though I were being recorded at all times.  Frankly, it has made me more professional in my conduct.  If I’m sitting at my computer during class, I can guarantee you that I am doing my online attendance or answering a work email, not shopping for shoes or watching You Tube videos of teachers being secretly taped.  That wasn’t always the case.

Ever since You Tube became popular and camera phones became affordable, students have engaged in a game of baiting teachers into saying or doing inappropriate and embarrassing things, recording them without their knowledge, and posting the results on the internet anonymously.  I can tell you that we have all said things we regret to students at one time or another.  Maybe a few have been guilty of “laying hands on” a student, but mostly in acceptable ways.  I’ve certainly returned handshakes, high fives, and hugs with students, although I’m very careful about the latter.  I’ve patted students on the back for encouragement or to show them that I’m proud.  I’ve gently jostled a few awake (although my fear of litigation usually compels me to ask another student to do it).  One time, I asked a student to stay after class and he refused.  He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and I grabbed onto his sleeve and tried to keep him from leaving.  He left anyway, and I spent the whole night in a cold sweat, heart palpitating, worried that his lawyer was going to be calling the school board in the morning. 

I heard of an incident at a high school recently where a teacher was reprimanding a student verbally and touched the student in some way.  I’m not sure how.  I don’t know the teacher or the student personally.  I heard this tale through the Teachers Living in Fear Network of Blood Curdling Stories.  I believe that she laid a hand on the student’s shoulder.  There is no excuse for touching a student in anger.  None.  As a parent, I would demand the teacher’s severe reprimand.  It seems like most parents, however, are just excited that such an incident can lead to a big payday.  Their son who was laughing the incident off in homeroom was suddenly “traumatized” and suffering from PTSD by lunch.  The teacher was placed on immediate administrative leave.  She is a beloved teacher, who has been with the school for 20 years.  Doesn’t matter. 

I wish that there had been a camera rolling on the incident for two reasons.  One, we’d have the truth.  Two, knowing that a camera was recording her, the teacher might have behaved with more restraint.  Students are guilty of baiting teachers and generally acting like they’ve never been raised a day in their lives, but some teachers have lived in consequence-free environments for far too long. 

I have nothing to hide (except the last 7 pounds of baby weight).  Film me.  Maybe it will make me a better teacher.  In fact, I have no doubt it would.  I could review my own performance with a curricular coach, and that person wouldn’t have to miss his own class to sit in on mine.  Not to mention that none of us is “real” when we are being formally observed.  You cannot observe a system without changing it through the process of observation.  It’s, like, science and shit.

If we had cameras filming us all of the time, then we would be accustomed to it, and all observation would be more authentic.  The Union would want assurances that these tapes would not be used against teachers in non-contractual ways.  I think that something agreeable to both teachers and administration could be worked out.  I sincerely do.  Especially if you sweeten the pot a little.

Because we will ALSO be filming the students.  Oh, yes.  And we will use the footage in parent-teacher conferences.  No more “he said, she said” drama.  When a teacher sends a student out on a referral, the principal can merely cue up the tape and observe the incident.  We teachers would be holding hands and skipping down the hallways like school girls. 

“Who threw that spitball?  No?  Nobody wants to cop to it?  Okay, let’s play back the tape.”

“You weren’t cheating on the test?  Are you sure that’s the story you want to go with?  Shall we review the footage together?”

Just as I believe that surveillance would cause teachers to become better at what they do, I think it would put some pressure on students to behave more appropriately as well.  Right now, I have a new system at my school called “Teleparent.”  I can click a few tabs on my screen and have a recorded phone call sent home any time I want.  There are hundreds of messages to choose from.  I can easily send home glowing praise, stern reprimand, or reminders about important assignments.  I visualize a future where I can just as easily email a video clip.  “Here is your daughter, sassing me in class today.”  Oh, it’s beautiful to dream of.

Many teachers are natural performers.  We love our captive audience.  Imagine to what creativity we could be inspired knowing that our lessons were being taped and could be reviewed by colleagues!  No more needing to get sub coverage so I can go observe another teacher in his classroom, demonstrating his expertise in something I may be weak in myself.  Maybe I could even access a library of archives where teachers I know and respect are teaching lessons I’m about to teach with students similar to mine.  I can’t think of a better teaching tool to help me develop as a professional.

But, yeah, I have to admit, I want those students who make our job hell to have some serious accountability.  Tomorrow, I have to be out AGAIN because my daughter and I have yet ANOTHER day care cold.  I have left sub plans, but I know exactly what is going to go down while I’m not there.  If the students were being filmed, I think they would behave better.  I think if students behaved better, more people would be drawn to the teaching profession.  I think if more people were drawn to the profession, the quality of people in the profession would improve because there would be competition.  I know that megalomaniac administrators and other politicos with agendas would find ways to abuse this tool, thereby rendering it a horrible idea.  Bad apples, and all.  I still think that in its pure, ideological form, it’s a great idea.

I just need twenty minutes of hair and make-up and I’ll be camera-ready.

And Spanx.  Definitely some Spanx.


About Mrs Odie

Friendly Pedant; Humble Genius
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4 Responses to Is it time for cameras in the classroom?

  1. mrsk6 says:

    Competition between teachers rather than schools? Careful you, that there’s some radical thinkin’!

  2. ASDmomNC says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, and empathize with the constant fear of litigation in your professional life. I think that unfortunately, in our society in this day and age, cameras in the classroom are becoming a necessity. Not to “catch” bad teachers, like some think, but to protect them and to back them up. I am one of those evil parents who would be eternally grateful for video footage of my kid acting up so that I could play it back for them while I was handing out punishment at home. >:D “And THIS, my darling child, is WHY we are taking your phone/ipod/car keys away for 3 months. Maybe think about that the next time you want to act like a punk, hmm?” Omg, I’ve become my mother…

  3. Kari says:

    Bravo, my friend! Many times, I have wished to show a mother her “perfect child” talking back, sleeping, etc. I say, bring it on!

  4. Rosie says:

    I chose teaching as a career because I’m a frustrated childrens’ show host. Or maybe a host of a Mexican variety show. Anyway, being the ham that I am – I would’ve loved being video-taped!
    In my district teachers on continuing contract were evaluated each year in an unannounced visit from one of the administrators. It was a game I had each year between me and them – go ahead, I dare ya! Check me out – I’m ready for you! For the same reasons, being video-taped in the classroom would have made me unbearable in the staff room, I’m sure. As if I need more encouragement to be theatrical.

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