Jeff Bliss walks out into history. A student teaches his teacher how to teach

clip_image002MANILA: If you haven't done so, go watch the YouTube video uploaded by James Smith showing Texas' Duncanville High School Sophomore Jeff Bliss lecturing his World History teacher Ms Julie Phung on how to teach (08 May 2013, youtube.com) - right after she kicks him out of the classroom. And I teacher will tell you this 18-year old student is good! (As I rewrite this at 0630 hr Sunday, 12 May, the video has been viewed 2,967,406 times 4 days after uploading.)

I know where Jeff Bliss is coming from. I was a student, I was a teacher, and I taught World History myself in high school. Truth to tell, I wasn't any better than Teacher Julie. The only difference was that I cared about my students, so who would tell me to my face that I wasn't teaching my students well; Julie Phung has her student Jeff Bliss telling the whole class, and the whole world, through a cellphone video via YouTube, that as a teacher she has not done enough - and what she needs to do.

As a certified teacher, that's an important point to me: Jeff Bliss tells the whole class how the teacher has been teaching, how she has failed - and what she needs to do.

Most of those who reported on the YouTube video called Jeff Bliss' outburst a "rant" and I thought they were wrong. But when I checked the meaning of the word, I found out I was wrong. To rant is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, to speak or declaim in a violent, loud, or vehement manner. Jeff's manner of speaking is not violent but it is louder than normal and vehement, that is, characterized by forcefulness of expression or intensity of emotion or conviction. No wonder his own mother, a teacher in another large district in Texas, told him she was proud of him but that "he needed to change his attitude" (Kate Stanton, 09 May 2013, upi.com).

Selena Hill calls it "an impassioned speech" (09 May 2013, latinospost.com), and it is. Amy Sterling Casilin says (11 May 2013, policymic.com):

This incident shows ... a bright student who wants to learn and a teacher who either doesn't care, or does not know how to engage and educate. The chances are that Ms Phung, up until recently, probably did not care, or perhaps had a complete misunderstanding as to the effectiveness of her interactions with students.

Differently, "in defense of the teachers of America," Luis Ruuska labels it "teacher-shaming" (10 May 2013, huffingtonpost.com), which tells me he has not been listening to the video at all and not reading what others have said about it. Luis Ruuska will not call Jeff Bliss a hero; I do. Ruuska says, "What (Jeff) had to say could have been said without an entire class watching." Luis Ruuska, it was the best time for Jeff Bliss to say it! Jeff had just been kicked out of class, and he was bursting with things to say, and he said them. If indeed you watched and listened to the whole thing, you will see that Jeff Bliss did not use insulting words, no, except "freakin' lady" - he calls everything "freakin'." He was very intelligent about it.

Eric Nicholson calls it a philippic (09 May 2013, dallasobserver.com), and that is wrong; Jeff's lecture is eloquent but not hostile; it is instructive but not invective. "I'm not bitchin'," Jeff says. "I'm just making an observation." He is.

I agree with Nicholson though when he says that Jeff's speech "stands on its own" and that "it's what every bored and disaffected public school student has always wanted to say but dared not to." In an interview afterwards (Jason Whitely, 08 May 2013, wfaa.com), Jeff himself says, "I believe that somebody needed to say this."

But what exactly did Jeff Bliss say in his fault-finding of his teacher's method? I have the full text, only 235 words, with minor editing by me, from LYBIO (lybio.net); remember, his teacher has just kicked him out of the class. The video starts with Jeff saying, "(This) freakin' lady goin' off on kids cause they won't freakin' get this crap?" He means the whole way Teacher Julie is handling her class in World History.

Almost the whole time, Teacher Julie is saying "Bye" or "Get out" or "Oh, would you please leave" or "Can you go outside please" or "Goodbye" or, for the last time, "Just go, bye. Close the door."

Teacher Julie comes to class and hands her students worksheets. Teacher Julie then sits in front of her desk and computer. "If you will just get up and teach them," Jeff says, "instead of just hand them a freakin' packet, yo. These kids in here don't learn like that. They need to learn face-to-face." Yes, Jeff, you're right, one-on-one. Students don't learn by reading all by themselves, the teacher not minding much.

Teacher Julie has just told Jeff to leave the class, get out of the classroom, for complaining. "You're just getting mad," Jeff says, "'cause I'm pointing out the obvious." Teacher Julie says, "No, 'cause you're wasting my time."

Jeff says, "No, no, I'm not wasting your time. I'm telling you what you need to do." He is right. He may be impolite right now but he is right. He is teaching the teacher.

I teacher know that the learning situation must be so constructed as to be stimulating, even electrifying. "You want kids to come in your class and get excited for this?" Jeff says, "You gotta come in here and make 'em excited." What if Teacher Julie had assigned Jeff's class to read on a chapter and then come to class the next time prepared to discuss and debate? There would have been excitement for days. What if the whole class had done some role-playing? What if Teacher Julie had asked her students to do research in the Internet and come up with at least 2 different versions of the same piece of history written by 2 different historians, ready to compare? There would have been eagerness to learn for days.

What do you do with the students who are lagging behind? Don't use your head - use your heart. "You want a kid to change and start doing better?" Jeff says. "You gotta touch his freakin' heart. Can't expect a kid to change if all you do is tell." Teacher Julie, easy for you to say!

From the one-track-minded responses of Teacher Julie, we can see that Jeff Bliss is right. She is not taking Jeff Bliss seriously, meaning, not taking her teaching job seriously.

"You gotta, you gotta take this job seriously," he says. "This is the future of this nation." He meant the students, the young ones in class. "And when you come in here, like you did last time and make a statement about, 'Oh, this is my paycheck,' indeed, it is! But this is my country's future and my education."

Teacher Julie is 44 and married; her field is Education Management (slideshare.net). She says in that website, "(I) work at teaching High School kids & I truly love it!" Teacher Julie, you must love teaching, yes, but you must love the students more.

Your job, Teacher Julie, is more important than your paycheck, simply because you're a teacher, and teaching is what makes a country great, or regret. As a teacher, I'm concerned, Teacher Julie. Your student is telling you, "This is my country's future and my education." You're not running but ruining both!

Worksheets are a good-looking way of leaving your students alone to teach themselves. "Since I got here," Jeff says, "I've done nothing but reading packets. So, don't try to take credit for teaching me that."

Teacher Julie: "Just go, bye. Close the door." Truth to tell, she says it softly, even kindly. But Teacher Julie doesn't realize that with that, when student Jeff Bliss closes the door, teacher Julie Phung closes the door that opens ways on how she can improve her teaching.

Under the circumstances, let this teacher tell you, Jeff Bliss, on the whole you did your school proud, not to mention your mother.

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