If you’re a teacher at any level, or have friends who teach, your Facebook feed is likely peppered with inadvertently amusing quotes from students’ assignments. A kid may have, for example, confused Abraham Lincoln for Mussolini, or identified Marie Curie as a fashion magazine. Maybe another wants an extension because of a crucial upcoming vacation to St. Tropez, or would like to meet with your teacher-friend to ask why an exam only got an A-minus… and to hold that meeting on a Sunday. One college-admissions officer was fired for this sort of sharing. But these posts, at least when coming from instructors, tend to just fly under the radar. The Shit My Students Write Tumblr collects such quotes anonymously, but is, as one BuzzFeed writer notes, enough to make students “paranoid.” It’s that much more unsettling when mistakes or missteps are shared on Facebook—the students may not be named, but the professors and institutions typically will be. Thanks to social media, we’ve moved from a vague sense that teachers sometimes talk about their students in an unflattering light to a having very concrete idea of what they’re saying.
As someone who taught for much of grad school and discussed teaching (off-line) as much as the next T.A., I’m sympathetic to the sharers, if not the sharing. Teaching is fun but hard work and rarely well-paid. Grading—broadly defined to include dealing with students unhappy with the grades they’ve earned—is one of the least delightful parts of the job. Unintentionally comedic moments buried in a stack of papers do help keep things interesting, and may even prevent an instructor from falling asleep on the train. And yes, where applicable, teachers discuss student entitlement—both to commiserate and, more constructively, to compare notes on how to respond.