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Chapter the Seventieth: In Which I Discover I Have Screwed Up

March 27, 2007, 11:11 pm

So today I learned simultaneously that:

There are Zenith students reading my blog and they know it is *my* blog; and

That a post I wrote about a month ago, in which a student figured, made said student feel mocked.

I am not going to belabor this topic because a) I apologized to the student for harm incurred that I did not intend or foresee; b) by making it a Bigger Deal I risk undermining my apology to said student; and c) I have taken down the post, as well as two others in which any other student might be recognizable. But I have a few random thoughts about my sudden campus visibility as a blogger that are, perhaps, worth sharing.

I had noticed there were a fair number of lurkers with Zenith addresses, but it had honestly never occurred to me that they were students, or that students had any way of (or interest in) locating this blog. I knew that two of my colleagues had located me, because they told me so, and both of them are finishing books, and hence liable to be logging onto websites repeatedly to see What’s Up. My explanation, therefore, was that the multiple apparent lurkings were me logging on to my own blog, and them.

Not.

When I confided in a colleague later this afternoon, she and I figured out pretty quickly how I got outed on the student network, and it probably wasn’t just one way. And now I feel pretty dumb, because I really did not connect what I know about the internet (that a few keystrokes on Google can get you to almost anyone but the Queen of England, and I bet even she has a Yahoo account — lillibet@yahoo.com) to the fragility of my own status as an anonymous internet personality. As my colleague also reminded me, Zenith students dedicate themselves in their off hours to securing facts about faculty members.

I re-read the post before I took it down, and really, the student who was upset played only one of several roles in the incident in question, and it is true I was blunt (although I do not think mocking) about what I thought about the incident in the post in a way I would not have been in class. And my students don’t know that blog person — they know the *other* person, the teacher person. So that was one level on which I knew I had screwed up.

The other was this: it didn’t take me more than two seconds to recognize the nature and depth of the student’s upset — because she looked how I felt when I was a young teacher and read a horrible, nasty, or thoughtless comment on an anonymous teaching evaluation from a student. It can still feel, many years into my career as a teacher, like an arrow out of the blue to read one of those comments. Needless to say, this moment of recognition and empathy short-cut any impulse but the one I followed, which was to apologize and reassure said student of my actual, real-time respect.

This incident also reinforces something I know but don’t really deal with most of the time: that students at Zenith believe that the classroom ought to be a private space, whereas we faculty experience it as a public space, a place we are always exposed — to students, to the people who will eventually read those teaching evaluations, and to gossip about what we do there that is spread to our colleagues, to parents and to other students. Hence, my (I now realize naive) belief that because something happened “in public,” that four or five people were involved, and ten others witnessed it, that what I was describing was in the realm of common knowledge and it was reasonable to comment on it. It turned out I was wrong, or at least, less aware of how complicated this could be than I should have been — I screwed up.

But this incident leaves me with a set of dilemmas, including (but not confined to):

1. Should I remain anonymous at all if some people have discovered my street identity?
2. Does it matter that students know who I am, or will they get bored and go away?
3. If I come out, will it be better because if and when I offend people they will just tell me?
4. Would it be better to come out because then I would be more actively conscious about what I write about, who is implicated and whether I am prepared to defend it?

What would Superman do in a situation where his street identity hung in the balance? Or Wonder Woman? Fortunately, I can turn to GayProf for advice on this.

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POST UPDATE: MORNIING REFLECTION

I am not asking Zenith community members to stop lurking: this blog is public, not private.

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