Teacher’s Biting Blog Stirs Storm

Tracy Dell’Angela, Chicago Tribune, April 22, 2006

Typing rambling screeds in an anonymous blog he called “Fast Times at Regnef High,” a Fenger High School teacher unleashed his frustration over the chaos he saw around him.

He labeled his students “criminals,” saying they stole from teachers, dealt drugs in the hallways, had sex in the stairwells, flaunted their pregnant bellies and tossed books out windows. He dismissed their parents as unemployed “project” dwellers who subsist on food stamps, refuse to support their “baby mommas” and bad-mouth teachers because their no-show teens are flunking.

He took swipes at his colleagues, too—“union-minimum” teachers, literacy specialists who “decorate their office door with pro-black propaganda,” and security officers whose “loyalty is to the hood, not the school.”

In his blog, the teacher did not identify himself or his students, the exact name of his school or the city where he taught. But like most bloggers, he wanted an audience, so he wrote in his blog that he had leaked news of his site to a few co-workers. Soon enough, the 30-year-old teacher’s name was the talk of the school.

This week, after returning from spring break, the students read how they were depicted and flamed the blog with profane threats and righteous indignation toward the teacher.

By Thursday, the reaction grew so vitriolic that the blogger took down his site from Blogger.com. Also that day, a Fenger High teacher e-mailed his principal that he wasn’t coming to school because he “feared for his safety.” The teacher was the same one widely believed to have authored the blog because he told two colleagues that it was his, Fenger Principal William Johnson said.

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Johnson believes it will be difficult for the teacher to return to Fenger, given the controversy. Because the teacher is untenured, the principal can fire him without cause at the end of the school year or after 10 workdays if he doesn’t return.

“He’s lost his credibility,” Johnson said. “He lost the faith and trust of his students.”

The animosity stirred up by the blog fueled even more chaos in this beleaguered all-black school in Roseland on the city’s Far South Side, among Chicago’s worst performing. But the principal said the episode has galvanized the school in a way he had not thought possible—and is encouraging staff and students to talk openly about the problems and how to fix them.

“There is a silver lining,” he said. “It brought Fenger together.” Johnson said he plans to hold student forums next week to discuss the blog, both the antagonism it revealed and the challenges that need to be fixed.

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The teacher compared his suffering to Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and he suggested that many others who worked and studied in the building shared his opinions.

“Do you not realize that many people go home and CRY to their loved ones about what they experience here? Do you have any idea the psychological and emotional trauma that is inflicted on those who suffer because of the daily injustices and wrongdoings here? To fear for your own safety? To know that you will likely be unemployed, hated, spit on, punched, and have property destroyed? This is not a one person blog. This is a building speaking for the suffering it sees every day.”

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