Cell phone cameras in the K-12 classroom: Punishable offenses or student-citizen journalism?

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

Take a look at the seven YouTube videos below, all taken by student cell phone cameras in classrooms. Do we want students bringing to public attention these types of classroom incidents? Should students be punished or applauded for filming and posting these?

122 Responses to “Cell phone cameras in the K-12 classroom: Punishable offenses or student-citizen journalism?”

  1. I think the cell phone and its capablilities, from SMS to cameras to video to contact have great potential as an educational tool.

    As far as if these students should be applauded or punished, I believe it all depends on their intent. Depending on intent, the cell phone is a tool or a toy.

    Much like the much sensationalized “Penny Protest” in a Readington, NJ middle school (http://wcbstv.com/watercooler/pennies.readington.township.2.666113.html)
    if the intent is serious journalism/activism where their goal is to bring the incident to light in order to cause a positive change in the institution and/or the world, I am all for it. The cell phone camera becomes a tool for change. (Change implies that the students will engage in follow up besides a post to, say YouTube. Maybe they will requets a meeting with administration or the Board of Education or write a letter enumerating their concerns.

    If the only purpose is a prank or to poke fun or to bring ridicule, then I say that they are acting like children and as such, toys shouldn’t be in the classroom.

    From these videos, it is difficult to know intent.

  2. Are we supposed to be disappointed in the teachers or the students in these videos? Frankly, I am shocked by the disrespect being shown toward the teachers. I only managed to get through the first three, but I never saw the teachers acting in a way that makes me think they should be punished or reprimanded in any way.

    It seems as if the students recording these incidents were doing it as a way of calling out their teachers, but what they’ve really done is showcase their astounding lack of respect, intelligence and common decency.

    I’m not sure what the fix is for this situation other than to start teaching kids respect earlier. By the time they get to junior high and especially high school, it’s a much harder lesson to learn.

  3. I’m amazed at two things: (1) that kids think because they did what they were supposed to do, their work, they are justified in doing what they’re not supposed to do, and (2) that they must be entertained or they’ll get bored.

    I’m only 24, so I’m not that far out of the gate, but that stuff is ridiculous.

  4. It all comes down to the parents. They are at fault. This is the #1 problem in our educational system, especially in the inner city schools. A private school would not tolerate this behavior.

    Many of the kids involved in these videos are punks who do not want to learn. They have zero respect for the teacher, and are just looking to avoid a traditional classroom session. They would rather waste everyone’s time than hear a lecture on the subject.

    We are too easy on children in our schools. If they don’t want to be in a regular class and learn, put them in a remedial class with a drill instructor as the teacher. The kids can self-study from their textbooks and take the tests without the advantages of good teaching.

    And teachers, get the parents on the phone!

  5. This is disgusting. It makes me want to quit my job and become a teacher just to beat these kids asses.

  6. One more reason why teaching is both powerfully exciting today and extremely challenging.

    Many would see this and tend to focus on what rules and restrictions need to be put in place in order to control students. Like it or not, privacy is dead.

    Do our best teachers have this problem? I doubt it. So let’s work on developing great teachers and learning environments instead of band aid solutions that involve avoiding litigation and public embarrassment. Will students still act up and egg teachers on to go into rants? Certainly, but they’d be minimal with great teachers and great teachers would be less prone to react as some of these have done.

  7. I think there’s three things to blame here:

    1. The Parents. I wouldn’t in a million years ever have considered speaking to a teacher that way regardless of how big an idiot I may have thought they were at the time.

    2. The Teachers/Education System. Personally I don’t think our schools are moving fast enough to keep up with the times. Schools still teach in a very old fashioned way. While not liking what is being taught is no excuse for disrespect I think schools have a major issue when it comes to engagement.

    The biggest shift I think schools have missed is that they need to be less about what students are learning and more teaching them the hows of learning. Schools have become purely about cramming “knowledge” into student’s head but we now live in an era where access to information is almost entirely ubiquitous. Schools should instead be teaching students how to effectively source and digest information, critical thinking and life skills (bring back shop, home ec., and add things like handling money!)

    3. Discipline. Note too that in most of these videos the teachers all look to be at least 50+. They likely started teaching in an era when there was still an element of discipline in schools (and heck, society). Schools today have been rendered toothless for anything short of expulsion. There’s no consequence to any of the behaviour exhibited here and the teachers are clearly not equipped to deal with disrespectful students.

    Train teachers how to deal with problem students & give the administration their teeth back.

    Just my 2 cents…

  8. This really makes me sad. Not the fact that kids are recording the video during class, but the behavior. Kids are always going to find a way to cheat or break the rules. Their behavior; however, is worse than I image. These teachers appear to have been pushed to their wits end many times and have no patience left.

    Sure, it is easy to say that I would not act in that way or I have been trained differently to adapt to those type of situations. Here is the real question:

    How many teachers can last in these type of situations without help from administration or parents…??? Teachers are not servants of students or the community. Parents and students are not “clients.” This is not a $$$$ business, we teaching people to learn. Teachers are teammates with administrators, parents, and students. Clearly, something in the system is broken.

    So who can fix this? Maybe this is the dirty laundry that is swept away that the public doesn’t want to see….

  9. And that is why I send my kids to private school.

  10. May be this helps explain why a sample of enthusiastic, entertaining teaching is one of the 200 top viewed videos of all time with over 6 million views?

  11. Good-natured fun in the classroom, yes. This, this is more like hate!

  12. “And that is why I send my kids to private school.”

    Actually, judging by the uniform on the kid in the last video that might just be a private school…

  13. I am shocked at the disrespect from these kids. Obviously the teachers aren’t getting any support from the administration or parents of the kids. What do you do with crappy kids like this?

    The teachers seemed to have been pushed to their breaking point.

  14. I agree that the behavior of the students is quite dismaying. But I also think it’s interesting that few of the comments so far have focused on the teachers. I’ll always remember my supervising principal for my administrative internship saying (as we dealt with yet another student disciplinary incident sent to us by teachers), “Scott, classroom management stems from good instruction.” There’s a strong element of truth in that, no? If so, then where’s the teachers’ responsibility in these videos?

  15. I am filled with tears of joy.

    Thank God technology has gone far enough to allow for students to hold teachers accountable, if only by youtube.

    Keep in mind students can’t choose teachers – unfortunately. They are stuck with them.

    I grew up going to many different schools and found at each school I had teachers who exhibited this kind of behavior – regularly. When students reported this behavior to the office (principle etc) they had always dismissed it.

    Well the times are a changing 🙂

  16. As a very passionate, successful, and yes, burned-out teacher, I am shocked and saddened by these comments.

    Why should a student respect a teacher who swears at them, belittles them, and disrespects them? Do any of you have any respect for people who treat you that way?

    Why do we so readily accept (no, demand!) abusive, controlling relationships in classrooms, when we clearly recognize their harmfulness in any other part of our lives?

    These kids are acting disrespectfully, there is no question about that. But if the teachers are, as well, then who’s actually to blame?

    I say good on these kids for raising the level of debate and awareness, no matter what their intentions.

  17. Thank you, Scarlett and Dean. I was going out of my mind reading all these comments about how wrong the students are.

    I assure you, these problems happen in these classrooms every day. This is a competency issue on several levels:

    1. not only is cussing out students and belittling them morally wrong and emotionally destructive, it is INEFFECTIVE as a means of classroom management, as these videos clearly demonstrate. People do not cooperate with those they don’t trust. Period. Nobody does. The jeering and booing and disrespect is a defense mechanism against a system that doesn’t listen to students, teachers who clearly need to get out of the profession before they do any more damage, and (I’m guessing) lack of success at learning.

    2. if these teachers had these students engaged in learning, the problems in these classrooms would improve tremendously.

    3. there are simple, intuitive guidelines that they’re simply not following (with one exception). They should not be arguing with students in front of the class. They should not be cussing, shoving, or even yelling. People who try as hard as these teachers are trying to FORCEFULLY control others do so because they have no control over themselves, as these videos demonstrate.

    4. Students are following the lead the teachers have set for the room.

  18. The behavior on the part of the students is shocking. However, each of these short videos is only a few moments. What happened to precipitate the events? What about the fact that “teacher baiting” for the express purpose of posting videos on YouTube is becoming a real problem? In some cases students are actually planning disruptions to get a rise from teachers. That said, Scott has a point. Yes, we only have a snippet of the class period, but what sort of instruction was going on? Scott is right that a lot of discipline problems can be counteracted by good instruction. There is no denying, however, that times are different, and the behavior of these students is appalling.

  19. Adults model behavior for children. How do we react when something doesn’t go our way? You have to give respect to receive it. What these videos attest to is how not to handle discipline situations in the classroom.

    Twelve years after high school I can’t remember all the content I learned but I do remember my teachers.

    Teachers teach more of who they are as a person to the students than content. They need to understand this.

    Kids will always have a way of pushing buttons and to learn respect they need to be treated with respect. Yes it is very difficult. I believe teaching is one of the hardest disciplines to perfect and achieve master level status in. But, it can be done. It can be done very well.

  20. Something is wrong with the trackback function in my wordpress, so please consider this my trackback: Let’s Play Pin the Tail on the Grown Up

  21. The teacher is afraid of the principal, the principal is afraid of the superintendent, the superintendent is afraid of the Board of Ed, the Board of Ed is afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the children, and the children are afraid of nothing.

  22. I … am not sure what to say. I’m so offended by the appalling behavior, that I’m honestly without words. Both the teachers and the students … shame. Pure shame.

  23. These students do not respect their teachers or fear punishment. If they knew their butts would be kicked if they got out of line, they might have second thoughts about acting like complete idiots.

    Take a board to their ass and maybe their parents as well.

    If not they are destined to be nothing but useless trash to our society.

  24. I agree with Audrey. The behavior of both the students and the teachers is deplorable. The teachers need to learn a new method of interacting with the students and the students need to learn a little respect.

    And, Scarlett, sometimes we do have to hold our tongue when someone is mistreating us. If it is an employer or someone in position of authority, one must use different methods to fight back. Disrespect will never get you what you want. These students need to learn that, too.

  25. Kids today don’t understand what “respect your elders” actually means. And frankly, they are not to blame anyway. Thanks parents for your bang up job on our future.

  26. I go to a private high school and never have seen teachers act in this way, neither students. I completely agree that the problems boils down to the parents. There is no structure in families anymore..it is a great shame. America is sliding down hill and losing its values. My cousin in France told me they must stand when a teacher enters a class room. Why can’t we have more class like that? Students are reckless, and I feel sorry that they don’t grasp the meaning of education as I have come to learn. The American dream is possilbe, yet needs drastic improvement.

  27. I am shocked to see how these students behave, teachers are NOT paid enough to stand up for this kind of abuse, parents need to whip into their children that they are in school so they can learn and be prepared for their grown up years, not so they can party and be obnoxious not to mention abusive towards their teachers.

    Some of these teachers has thousands of dollars in student loans so they could become teachers and create a brighter future for these kids, and this is what they have to stand for?

    Do these kids even realize that many teachers has to pay out of their own pocket for materials and items for the classroom, do they realize that by acting like this they appear to be complete losers rather than cool like they think they are.

    I am ashamed of these students.

  28. Now I know why tigers eat their young.

  29. I truly believe that some of these were completely staged for the videos – students are more and more frequently staging fights for YouTube videos, these are the same sort of thing just drawing authority figures into the picture. I’m in no position to offer classroom management advice, so won’t go there.

  30. Riveting post–wonderful for discussion. If I were to show these videos in class, I’d be sure to stress the notions of context and construct–especially with that last one (could it be scripted?).

    I’d talk about how we do not have to see these actions as EITHER something to be punished OR something to be applauded. I’d caution them on the dangers of making judgments before knowing all the important information. Then, I’d watch them again! 🙂

  31. Kids can’t have phones, ipods, multimedia players, Nintendos in my classroom. I see them, I confiscate them and give them to the principal.

    No one can film me teaching, but the school. In Asia, classrooms are often filmed, so getting filmed doesn’t bother me too much.

    Naturally, these kids shouldn’t use their phones to do this. They should be following in class.

  32. I do not think that this kind of behavior is appropriate. Even if you’re mad about the way a teacher teaches, you shouldn’t post the video on youtube.

    Both the students and the teachers are at wrong. One, the students shouldn’t be doing those things at all. If they didn’t there wouldn’t be anything for the teacher to be mad about. Two, in a few videos, it looks like the students are obviously provoking the teacher for entertainment and for the purpose of filming it.

    The teachers could have reacted in a better way. Though we never know what happened before the video started. Maybe that was the last straw and the teacher couldn’t stand it.

    This whole thing is just wrong. I’ve never experienced something like this. I’m in a public high school and this has never happened. Sure I’ve had a few of teachers getting angry for repeatedly telling students to be quiet, but they had a reason.

  33. All stems back to the abrogation of parent and teacher right to discipline children

  34. Range,

    See Liz Kolb’s site re: cellphones.


    Your suggestion or rules of banning these tools is not only rules them out as learning tools but in a few years, we won’t have a choice. Better to figure out how to leverage them now,while we still have a choice.

    That said, there is a huge piece around manners here and appropriate use. Just today I posted a picture of a friend and forgot to get his permission. While I’m not sure the students in these videos would respond to the issue of respect for privacy, it begs the demand for these concepts to be taught often and early in schools.

  35. Private schools have an unfair advantage in situations like these. The parents are willing to pay extra and are more likely to take their childs schooling seriously since it is such an investment. Kids who act like any of these kids can get thrown out of any decent private school as well.

    In my experience, it is often the elder teachers who have the best control, and not the younger teachers… I am not a fan of the new methods of dealing with the classroom. Time and time again they fail against the disciplined traditional methods. I’m not opposed to classrooms being monitored, but students with videophones are the last people who need to be monitoring their teachers (unless there is an academic reason like tape recording a lecture)… they need to be paying attention. The actions of some of these kids absolutely should never be allowed to detract from those kids who are there to learn.

    These videos are appalling, and it’s ironic these kids should have any sort of pride or self-righteousness when all they have done is put their immaturity and juevenile lack of respect on display. These videos ought to be sent out with these kids’ resumes.

  36. I used to wonder at my tired physical state on Friday night. After 23 years, currently feeling very under the weather, and these videos, I am reminded that teaching is a very difficult job. No teacher is good at every aspect of the teaching craft. I am quite good at the activities and curriculum, less naturally good at the “client servicing” side of teaching. Still, I have had to improve my people skills. Dealing with people demands actual caring and learned strategies.

    Most of these above teaching outbursts resulted in not being in touch with the reality that kids don’t find the class interesting. So, as has been said, quality teaching produces better student behavior, and not the other way around.

    From the technology side (which is almost unmentioned above) I am surprised more schools haven’t installed multiple cameras in classrooms to monitor student work, time on task, teacher behavior, and other things that can be faked by the once-a-year administrator visit.

    So, without the school/teacher’s video side of the story, we are left with student video that is invariably going to capture moments of rage, and not very often represent moments of rational defusing of problems by teachers with high-level people skills.

  37. I’m sorry, but I can’t even get through some of these videos. I agree with most of the posters here, I’m upset that the reputation of some of these teachers may be tainted because of the disrespect of students. In most of these, there’s obvious provocation going on, the kids know there’s a rolling camera, and they act out to get it on tape.

    What happened to respecting your teachers? Most of these students need some discipline and I don’t blame the teachers from providing that. I didn’t watch all of the videos, but from what I did watch, I didn’t see anything get out of hand.

  38. Teachers cursing at their students? Definitely wrong. Kids behaving this way? Absolutely disgusting. Aside from the last clip where the teacher completely lost it, I felt like smacking each and every student (and no doubt, their equally disrespectful parents).

    The fact is, education has changed drastically in the past few decades. As a teacher, I face these disrespectful kids (and their parents)every day. Kids who don’t want to be there or have not been brought up with a decent set of morals and values come in and make the day a living hell. They bully and mock other students and teachers, they make teaching absolutely impossible.

    The days have become 10% teaching and 90% classroom management. It is easy for an outsider to throw out management alternatives, but the truth is, when a student simply does not care, he or she will not listen to nor respect the administration or their own parents.

    I teach in an affluent neighborhood where many families are intact and do not have financial issues. The problems remain (and are often extended), because any issue at school is always excused by the parent (if they even bother to call back or talk to the teacher). There is no discipline at home, no consequences, and ultimately, no control over their kids. The parents are both working and “spend time” with their kids by leaving them on the computer or video game systems for hours and hours.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love xbox and facebook and reading blogs and so on…but when an 11 year old asks me if I’ve seen the “2 girls, 1 cup” video, I want to scream.

    I am only 26 – I am a young teacher with tons of energy and amazing ideas for fantastic and engaging lessons. I can’t conduct them when one kid is telling me to fuck off everyday and his five followers won’t stop throwing things, making noises, talking incessantly, bullying other students, never completing work, etc… etc…

    We enter a profession of impossibility. It is set up to fail. I work at a board that promotes inclusion (which means every child, regardless of ability, skill level, or behavior) is in the same classroom and NOT ALLOWED TO FAIL. Many people do not know this. If a child is failing, it is our fault as teachers because we didn’t modify the program enough. We are actually not allowed to keep a child back a grade. We have students going into high school who lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills because the system pushes them through for statistical glory. This means children learn very quickly that they school system caters to them and even if they do nothing until the end of the year, no one can touch them.

    And speaking of touching, I just witnessed a dearly loved supply teacher of 25 years get suspended (with a pending lawsuit) for asking a student to “sit down” several hundred times and then gently placing her hand on the kid’s shoulder and again repeating “sit down”. The parents are ensuring this teacher never teaches again and the child got away with fabricating a story of abuse.

    But that’s another issue.

    We are trained to prevent these behaviors from happening instead of reacting to them (as these teachers have) by setting up classrooms a certain way, making the kids part of the rule making process and consequence list. There are tons of strategies that look great in theory but in practice they crumble because kids lack the respect and social skills in the first place.

    Solution? These things need to be taught at home. Way before the child even enters the school system.

    We need to start educating parents about parenthood before throwing out ideas to change the way teachers teach or kids learn. On top of the already packed curriculum, we are expected to parent these children. It is impossible.

    So – should these kids be allowed to record their teachers? Honestly, I wish sometimes that my classroom was full of cameras. Full of parents watching. So they can see the destructive ways of their children and maybe understand that teachers are being pushed so far it is damaging their health. At any given school there are a handful of teachers either on stress leave or teetering on quitting for good.

    The fact that these clips, like many media outlets, are taken out of context and definitely done with the intent to ridicule and push the teacher over the edge, make it unacceptable. Its like continuously poking a stick at a helpless dog through a cage and then getting upset when the dog eventually bites back.

    The best part is, teachers get paid horribly little to endure this kind of punishment and then get brushed off because we get “the summers off”. Without that time off, the mental wards would be filling up quite quickly.

    I understand my post has gone slightly off topic here and there – but this is so much more than just a cell phone issue. It is an epidemic that will quietly keep snowballing. I’m staying in this profession to hopefully make and see a change, and for the handful of students who are there to learn.

  39. Have we lost our minds?

    How can we excuse any of this as activism? Activism is high-minded. It is doing what is right even when others aren’t or even when they don’t recognize what is right. Who is doing right here? The teacher? The students acting out? The students filming it? The students laughing in the background? How can anyone find humor in this?

    If the intent was to bring the misbehavior of teachers to someone’s attention, they should have brought it to those people. This is an attempt to hurt people. I am all for ridding the classroom of teachers who clearly don’t belong there, but this is just an ugly display meant to tear someone down. Is that the message we want our kids to learn? When someone gets in your way, tear them down?

    I am a huge proponent of better teaching leads to better behavior. However, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is only the result of poor teaching. These kids are misguided at best. What parent would condone this behavior from their child, even in a scenario where a teacher was out of line. If a teacher hit a kid it might be different, but even then, I would teach my kid to leave the room and get another adult, not to ignite the situation and make it worse.

    Yes, the teacher is the adult and should know better, but let’s not start excusing kids from proper behavior just because the teacher is not in control of their own. No one benefits.

  40. Most kids nowadays are punks. For them, school is a place to hang with friends and sell drugs… not to learn.

  41. Sublime’s post was right on the money and most insightful. All of these clips are taken out of context, but what is clear is that the students have no respect for authority whatsoever. They are behaving in a deplorable manner. Are all the teachers saints in these clips? No. But they are human beings who have to put up with students who, day in and day out, behave in this fashion. Who can blame these teachers for getting angry?

    The students featured in these videos, their parents, and the students who secretly recorded these videos should be ashamed of themselves.

  42. I think Audrey sums it up best:

    “The teacher is afraid of the principal, the principal is afraid of the superintendent, the superintendent is afraid of the Board of Ed, the Board of Ed is afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the children, and the children are afraid of nothing.”

    Posted by: audrey | March 06, 2008 at 06:34 PM

    It might just be this simple.

  43. It’s been fascinating to read everyone’s comments. Lots of different perspectives here. Can we glean any learning, though?

    FYI, discussion on this also is occurring at LeaderTalk:


    and Neatorama:


    There are a number of posts linking to this one. Here are two good ones:



  44. Whether these acts of disrespect are recorded on video or not, this is taking place in too many classrooms across the country. Please note that I have not stated who was being disrespectful to whom in these videos. That is for you to decide. I am a little unnerved, however, that some of the people commenting about this so quickly and easily blame “administrators.” The issue here is not legal or illegal videotaping. It is about bad teaching. It is about bored students. It is about disengaged learners. Why is it that this behavior only happens in some classes and not others? I bet that most of these students do not act this way in the classrooms of the teachers who understand the importance of making learning engaging, real, and authentic. The teachers in these videos should be blamed for this. Their behavior sickens me. They are adults who have lost touch and who have forgotten how to relate to children. Yelling and swearing at children is never the answer. Corporal punishment, John? You have got to be kidding. The only administrators who should be blamed are the ones who let these pathetic teachers get tenure in the first place.

  45. I cannot believe the disrespect most of these students displayed towards their teachers. Teachers are not NBA players. They are not POPSTARS. They don’t get paid a hefty sum to sit there and have *children* berate and disrespect them. I honestly don’t know how people are raising their kids these days, but it is obvious that ‘respect’ and ‘values’ are lacking. How can anyone learn in a classroom where the class clown and miss popular want to disrupt the lesson for attention? I am so glad to be out of school. Never again will I lament those summer days I could spend as a student. No thank you, because if I had to contend with peers like that, I would have just dropped out.

  46. Why do the teacher argue with them? It would all stop if the teacher walked out of the classroom and told the student to join them outside, then send them down the hall to the principal. Dont bloody stand there shouting back, that achives nothing.

    And yes, the disrespect amognst the students is sickening.

  47. Clearly there is a lack of respect of both the teachers and students. I dont know how, at that late stage in the game, to gain that mutual respect back. It is the reason for both sending my own children to private school and the reason I choose to teach elementary level students. Without respect and the development of schools as a community of learners, the total breakdown of the institution of education is inevitable. The you tube clips point to an out of control situation that needs addressing in our society at large. It needs the attention of families, student leadership and schools alike. The use of cell phones in class pales to the larger issues at stake here.

  48. I say that we bring back capital punishment. Ooops. Wrong post. But I still remember the bloody painful cracks across my knuckles with a yardstick during grade school. And that was for not writing the date in my notebook. Imagine what would have happened had I caused trouble. Oh wait, I did.

    We’ve cut off teachers’ balls, so to speak, and then the world has thrown ubiquitous cameras, YouTube, and incentive to cause trouble. Doesn’t anyone with any influence have the power to do anything? Maybe we need Curtis Sliwa, or someone like that, policing schools and kicking butt. YOu cause trouble, you get your ass kicked. As soon as you cause trouble, you should lose your rights as a minor.

  49. For the people who say the parents are to blame – a glance into Judith Rich Harris’s “No Two Alike” might be very enlightening. Or maybe not.


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