Natalie Munroe: A Tale of a Teacher in a Digital Age

The Central Bucks East teacher who was suspended for blogging about her students is trying to change education—one blog post at a time

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.

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  • Tad

    Ready for a brave, new, and wildly unique teacher’s journal? One that’s deeply thoughtful, literate, and downright funny? Then enjoy A Dixie Diary, at http://www.adixiediary.com.

    The response from readers all over the world has been astonishing. Actually debuting during the midst of the Natalie Munroe business, this unique online journal shows a different look at what happens in the schoolhouse by a rookie special education teacher who loves his work and his students, but he expresses his thoughts and observations in a hugely different way than Mrs. Munroe. Sure, there are some intense student-teacher moments, even some choice words, too, but mostly it’s world-class hilarious and heartwarming … like reading a good book.

    It’s the look at a teacher’s madcap classroom world we’ve been waiting for. It’s simply mesmerizing.

  • Mary

    Most teachers encounter resistance from students, whether it’s apathy or obstinance, whether it’s done publicly or privately. Most teachers have sounding boards to vent frustrations to: spouses, co

  • Jeff

    Natalie Munroe displayed disastrously poor judgment, gross immaturity and–perhaps most damning–a startlingly low level of web-savviness. (Teachers should know at least as much as their students do.) By the time this is all over, she’s likely to have become an expert in only one thing: the laws governing libel and invasion of privacy.

  • Frank

    Your comment is one of a knee jerk reaction to a limited amount of information. Did you read the original blog? How can someone be held accountable for “libel, invasion of pri” when NO NAMES were mentioned, NO SCHOOL was mentioned, and it was ANONYMOUS! Get your facts straight!

  • Frank

    Your comment is one of a knee jerk reaction to a limited amount of information. Did you read the original blog? How can someone be held accountable for “libel, invasion of pri” when NO NAMES were mentioned, NO SCHOOL was mentioned, and it was ANONYMOUS! Get your facts straight!

  • Jeff

    It does not matter whether specific names were mentioned. What matters is that the targets of her vitriol were easily identifiable. Everyone in the school quickly knew who she was talking about. Not naming names is no protection.

  • Jeff

    Read this all the way through: http://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal/liability/defamation. “To state a defamation claim, the person claiming defamation need not be mentioned by name—the plaintiff only needs to be reasonably identifiable.”

  • Jeff

    Go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation Web site. Search for: Online Defamation Law

  • Jennifer

    It’s a shame, since she posted this, the only thing she should be punished for is admitting she posted one of her blogs online at school. Otherwise, she is no more at fault than the children. This

  • Jennifer

    students referred to her as comparable to the holocaust…watching your parents and siblings being slaughtered in front of you? really? Grow up. This is our future, maybe in a few weeks? What a sc

  • teddy

    cant believe we cant read the blogs?