Natalie Munroe: A Tale of a Teacher in a Digital Age
IN MORE THAN SIX YEARS at East, Abe Lucabaugh, 38, had never been up against a controversy like this, with reporters knocking on his office door and irate phone calls from people on the other side of the globe. He’d certainly never had so many students worrying about how their teachers felt about them, asking, point-blank, “Do teachers really make fun of us when we ask a lot of questions?”
He quickly realized that figuring out what to do about Munroe was only part of his problem. He also had to deal with his kids. And parents. And, of course, the media.
At first, he asked teachers to avoid engaging in conversation about the situation, so as not to fuel the fire. But as calls from reporters kept coming, he realized he needed to tell the kids what was up. By then, he was well aware that even though Munroe didn’t use the kids’ names in her blog, everyone knew exactly who many of them were.
“My son’s the one she wrote about who annoyed her when he asked her every day for help,” explained one parent over the phone.
One mother called in tears. Her daughter had come home crying: “Mom, I’m the one who always stays after class.”
“Our daughter has special needs,” the mother wept to Lucabaugh. “We’ve done the best we can. Her father died. I work three jobs. My child dresses the best she can. I know my child has asked Mrs. Munroe for help. It breaks my heart to have my child belittled in this way.”
“The kids were genuinely, personally hurt,” Lucabaugh says. “They needed to hear that one person did not represent a universal sentiment.”
Two days after the incident, he addressed the student body on East’s TV.
“We believe in you,” Lucabaugh exclaimed, dressed in a suit, but looking young and fit and sympathetic enough to garner rock-star status among many of the kids. “We’re proud of you. We realize you’re not perfect. I’m sorry these things are out there. I’m sorry it became public. Your teachers care about you. Hold your heads high. Be who you are. We’ll get through this.”
But “this” just kept getting bigger. Within days, Lucabaugh’s problem had leapt onto the national scene, fueled by the availability of the blog, still cached on Google. Any reporter could read it and scour it to find new juicy bits to quote. The Associated Press picked it up. It was discussed on “The View.” Influential bloggers weighed in. The media salivated over the chance to report on something other than teachers sleeping with students and students beating each other up. This was new: teachers blogging for all the world to read about their charges, these damn “kids today,” these privileged, rude, disrespectful American teens who think the world owes them something.