Is Your Teaching on YouTube?

You think ratemyprofessors.com is unsettling? Try having a video taken of you teaching and uploaded to YouTube.

Perusing the many videos featuring teachers up on YouTube, I see several categories of videos:

There are many CELEBRATORY VIDEOS, this category characterized by videos like this one featuring students having fun with their teacher, and this one featuring a very fun and funny teacher. Though I don't want to embed/host many of these videos, I'll embed one from this class:

More potentially disturbing is the class of VIDEOS DOCUMENTING TEACHER OUTBURSTS, like this one of a teacher "gtin pissed" or this one featuring a teacher trying to manage a loud and unruly classroom. Elsewhere, teachers are caught screaming and yelling at their classes. This vid is of a teacher talking about respect and self respect, and it's important to note that the video is titled "Teacher is sooo gay." Without a doubt, videos in this class aim to discredit teachers by capturing and displaying de-contextualized instances of, primarily, disciplinary instruction.

A related but different class of videos are generally tagged with the terms BAD TEACHING. These videos have such titles as Stupid English Teacher, Oblivious Biology Teacher, Stupid Physics Teacher, a different Stupid English teacher, and the emphatic DUMBASS earth science teacher. This last video shows a teacher working very hard to entertain and have fun with a class while teaching a lesson, and because of this I think the title of the video could be read as sarcasm. By and large, though, these videos seem aimed at documenting and publicizing poor instruction. Students snooze with heads on desks in one; students sit on desks chatting in another while the teacher does something indiscernible at the board. Again, I want to emphasize the problem of context in all of these videos: short clips of instruction enable the posters of these films to discredit their teachers very quickly without having to explain how we got to where we are in the particular lesson or class.

Perhaps the most disturbing class of videos document TEACHERS BEING PUBLICLY HUMILIATED AND PHYSICALLY ABUSED. This video is subtitled "me trying to tape our teachers ass" and displays a short video of exactly what it reports to be: a video of a teacher shot from behind. It gets worse. This multiply-posted video is of a teacher having his pants pulled down in front of class (referred to as "kecking" in this version of the same clip), this teacher is fairly harmlessly kicked by a student, and this video captures a teacher getting violently punched in the face by what may be a parent. It's hard to tell.

Those of us who teach web composition used to caution students to "Be careful of what you put online, because you never know who will see it and where it will go." Now a more appropriate caution for all of us is "Be careful of what you do and say, because you never know if someone else will document it and put it online."

A very old strategy of bringing about change involves documenting oppressive tactics. Police brutality, for instance, is powerfully documented by users of YouTube, requiring an increase in, users seem to hope, the accountability of police departments and officers. The class of videos that attempt to document "bad teaching" seem to try to make teachers (in particular and in general) more accountable. What I find troubling about this effort is that it puts too much responsibility on individual teachers and too little on the conditions within which they struggle to do their jobs.

The class of videos, though, that document teachers being variously assaulted and publicly humiliated are symptomatic of something else. Evident in these videos is, of course, the extremely low status teachers have. Why else would they be such acceptable targets for public humiliation? In the kecking video, though, and also in the kick-the-teacher-in-the-butt video, I think you can see an effort to dislodge the disciplinary power dynamic on display and fought for by some of the teachers in the class of videos I've called "videos documenting teacher outbursts." In those videos, teachers work to establish their control; when a teacher is publicly disrobed in front of a class (and subsequently on YouTube), that authority is challenged.

I began this loooong post with a mention of ratemyprofessors.com. When that site first went online, many seemed outraged that college level instructors would be publicly assessed in this way, outside of our already established course-evaluation-systems, and in many cases, professors have been graphically slandered and bodily objectified on that site. Ratemyprofessors.com made our lives as college level instructors suddenly unstable and encouraged some of us to be just a bit more careful, if that's the right word, when it comes to what we do in the classroom.

Videos of teachers on YouTube, however, magnify whatever paranoia ratemyprofessors.com may have generated. Were you video taped in front of your class yesterday? Today? Yesterday? Will what you do with your students be edited and presented in a way that you feel misrepresents how you teach? There are, you should know, videos of college professors up on YouTube, variously titled things like "[Professor Name] is a tool" and "Sleeping in LTS."

[UPDATE: Others taking up this topic: Alex Reid and Jeff Rice.]


  1. Good grief, this is really upsetting. Maybe it's especially disturbing because I have experienced student agression in the past, partly (I think) I'm a young-ish female teacher. (I'm also short, which I really do think plays into the dynamic, if only a bit.)

    What's most upsetting, though, are the comments to these videos. The "HAHAHA" responses to cruelty and violence make me feel so sad.

  2. How were the students able to videotape without getting caught? The lack of context is troubling, as it unfairly confirms the "bad teacher" or "buffoon teacher" stereotype in the minds of many. And it validates student aggression.

  3. Upsetting indeed. Since you mentioned gender, Jenny, I did a few more searches for videos marked with the tags "teacher" and "bitch" -- as you'd guess, more disturbing videos come up, several that ojectify female instructors.

    And Joanna, it seems that in most of the videos it's a hidden camera at work, or maybe one rested on a desk and seemingly off. (I say this given camera angle, which is low in many of the videos.) A short snatch of just about any lecture seems to confirm the "buffoon teacher" stereotype, and of course, none (or few) of the participants consent to having video of them published in this way.

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