Jeff Hammer: The joys and woes of Youtube

One day about fifteen years ago, a very bright young lady in my fifth grade classroom at what used to be North Elementary seemed a little tired and inattentive, which was totally out of character for her. Generally, she would be completely engaged, if not a little reserved; that is, until she was asked a question, and then her answers were thoughtful and direct. I continued to observe as she laid her head on her desk, using her arm as a sort of pillow to cushion its hard surface, which was something she had never done before. If one has been teaching a while, a student doing something out of the ordinary is recognized as a red flag that something is wrong.

I asked her if she felt okay, and did she need to go to the nurse.

“No,” she said, “I just stayed up too late last night watching youtube videos.”

What? I think I had heard of youtube before that day, but I really didn’t understand what it was; just like now… I have heard of Facebook, Twitter, and Tic Toc, but I really don’t know their finer intricacies as I have never participated in any social media platform. I have no interest in revealing anything personal at all concerning my life, and I especially have no interest in the finest details of someone else’s life nor do I have to know their opinions on everything from politics to how to choose a name for one’s offspring.

Some things should just remain secret. I have heard (although I wouldn’t know) that some people take revealing photographs of themselves while on vacation and post those pictures on their social media accounts for all their “friends” to see. A popular image, I am told, is of the photographer taking a photograph of their bare feet in the foreground while the surf gently laps the sand in the background while the photographer is reclining on a lounge chair acquiring a blistering sunburn somewhere on an exotic beach .

I would never do that to any of my friends. Besides being lily white, my feet aren’t all that attractive, particularly a couple of my toes; and I would venture a guess that most folks my age have equally unappealing feet that should never grace the screen of a friend’s computer, tablet, or cell phone. If I were to commit that atrocity I’m pretty sure I’d be “unfriended” faster than one could say “toe jam.”

Only babies have cute feet.

The foregoing example is just one of the reasons it’s a good thing I don’t have a social media account that might tempt me into posting images that would no doubt cast embarrassment upon my daughters or my wife. I sometimes can accomplish that just by attending social gatherings where there are a limited number of people. Imagine what I could do on the world wide web.

Anyway, back to my former student.

“Videos?” I asked. “What kind of videos?”.

“Just videos posted online by anyone wanting to share. Like last night I was watching pet videos,” she informed me.

“Fart videos?” I asked, trying to understand.

“Yeah, people film videos of their pets or of themselves playing with their pets and share them on youtube. I just typed in the word “pets,” into the search bar, hit return, and I had all of these great videos that I could watch.”

By then our conversation had attracted the attention of a few other nearby students.

“Yeah, I watch skateboarding videos all the time,” revealed one young man.

By then I was beginning to think that maybe these kids needed a little more homework, but their revelation did raise my curiosity level to the point that later that night, after the supper dishes had been washed and I had completed the obligatory two hours of grading homework and tests, I grabbed my personal computer typed in Utube in the browser and hit return. Unfortunately, I discovered very quickly that I had misspelled youtube, and that perhaps it was I who needed a little additional spelling homework.

Anyway, I was directed to the appropriate website and was offered what I am assuming was a generic smattering of videos that I might like. None piqued my interest, but I could see that the site offered a search function, so I typed in the words “elk hunting” and hit return. My screen filled with a seeming endless amount of video clips of anything one would like to know about elk and elk hunting, so much so that I wondered if I was the only elk hunter in America who wasn’t filming their hunts.

That evening opened up avenues of knowledge and entertainment at which I still marvel today. Since that time, I’ve used youtube to enrich my life with respect to everything from music I never would have ever discovered without the website to how to fix a blown out o-ring on the city water intake valve on my camper trailer.

Now that I have been retired for a couple of years, and because I like to be entertained, the opportunity to sneak in a little youtube time happens more frequently, and I’ve started watching a few comedians that I had never heard of before, such as Gabriel Iglesias, who is unbelievably talented.

Of course, when one watches a single video in a certain genre, some algorithm within the confines of youtube offers videos of similar content; so eventually I received an offering from a comedian/motivational speaker from southern Mississippi named Zach Rushing. Being the curious type, I clicked on the video and watched him telling the story of being invited to a barbeque by one of his black friends at which he was the only white person.

His account of the event wasn’t just funny. It was so much more than that; and of course his redneck southern accent (of which he is proud) adds to the jocularity. Besides being funny, the video also offers the viewer a lesson in positive race relations, which I was to discover is a theme in many of his videos.

I performed a little research into Zach’s life, and discovered that he also owns an outdoor line of clothing called Bass, Bucks, and Birds Outdoors from which he uses a portion of its proceeds for philanthropic purposes. Being a cancer survivor himself, he particularly likes to help child victims of cancer. However, he’s also been known to donate to inner city youth athletic organizations that perpetually seem to be underfunded. Zach, coincidentally, is a big guy and played on the offensive line for the Wyoming Cowboys from 2010-2013.

In his videos, he stresses the importance of respecting all people…but apparently that respect doesn’t include teachers.

I continued to watch and enjoy his productions until one day not long ago I came across a two-part set of videos titled “Parent Teacher Conference, Parts One and Two.” During the first video, he describes how he is asked to look after a friend’s young son one evening so the child’s parents could go out to dinner. Even though the two are not related, the boy calls Zach his “uncle.” During the evening he helps the youngster with his math homework so that later they could play video games together.

A few days after that evening he is informed that the child’s teacher downgrades the homework because the young man did not show his work. In the video, an enraged Zach informs the viewer that he is on his way to a Parent/Teacher (P/T) conference with the child’s teacher because he wants to know why the homework was downgraded even though the answers were correct. I’m not sure why the child’s parents let him go to the school in their stead given his obvious state of irritation or why the school even let this conference happen, as a family’s acquaintance has no standing to confront the teacher of a child who is not his own.

As a former teacher, I could have predicted the outcome of the conference before he even stepped inside the classroom door.

After the conference, in the second part of the video, Zach’s anger has not abated, in fact he seems to be more angry than before. This was not going to be a P/T conference during which a free exchange of ideas occurs between rational adults while they keep in mind what is best for the child. He admits to using the F-bomb and calling the woman a “prissy-assed teacher” who is on a “power trip” and who goes home at night to a husband that obviously beats on her. He made a total jackass of himself. It was hard to watch.

Initially, what disappointed me was that Rushing could not make the connection between academics and athletics because coaches really are teachers, and they will be the first to advocate for teaching the fundamentals during practice before athletes appear in a game because they know the outcome of a game can hinge on the players knowing the fundamentals of blocking and tackling, using football as an example. As a player becomes older and his skills improve, and as the competition improves, those fundamentals are so ingrained in his work ethic the player doesn’t have to consciously think about them. He has to be able to act and react instinctively.

Learning math is similar. Showing one’s work is fundamental to becoming a good math student. Even though it may seem a waste of time in the younger grades, as the content becomes more difficult, showing one’s work is imperative to success because it’s a physical representation of one’s thought processes as one works to solve a problem, and it’s the only way for a teacher to evaluate which individual steps to solving a problem are providing difficulty for the child so that remediation can take place, if necessary. A correct answer tells the teacher nothing.

But the bigger takeaway for me was that these videos are just another example of why there is now a teacher shortage in our state and in our nation. At the beginning of my career, applications for every job opening at any level of public education numbered in the dozens, sometimes in the hundreds. Now schools will be lucky to have a handful of applicants for even the most coveted of positions. Some open positions receive no applicants. This lack of interest is but a symptom of why, in a recent study, 65% of current teachers in Wyoming are unhappy in their chosen profession.

The reasons are multiple, but here are only a few.

There seems to be an increasing attitude of threat directed at public school teachers which I don’t understand, but I think social media has contributed to this situation. Parents can submit a rant about a perceived slight online, and of course they are reinforced by their followers. Astute children see these postings and some are not above fanning the flames of discontent by pushing their behavior in the classroom, knowing that their parents will likely not take the time to discover the facts but will instead choose to continually berate the teacher, while other social media users join the bandwagon of raking the teacher over the coals because apparently it’s easier to spread misinformation than it is to find the truth.

National politicians who badmouth educators in order to gain political capital with their constituents are also part of the problem. Just today, I read an article in which Marjorie Taylor Greene, a congresswoman from Georgia, called teachers “monsters” for allegedly trying to “deceive boys into becoming girls.” That assertion is so ludicrous, it deserves no response, but I am sure there are people out there who believe it.

High school graduates, many of whom are children of teachers who thirty years ago would have followed in their parents’ footsteps into the field of education, see this behavior online and in their classrooms as they grow up and understand that putting up with angry parents and increasingly disrespectful students every year is a certainty. No amount of money will entice these young folks, who could potentially be outstanding teachers, to enter the field of education. Neither of my daughters even considered a teaching career.

In addition, the workload placed on teachers has increased over the years so that now it is overwhelming. Toward the end of my career, each year we listened to administrators who said, “We know you are overworked so we’re going to take a few things off your plates.” That never happened, but I could not fault them. They were underappreciated and overworked, as well.

So, I no longer watch videos produced by Zach Rushing. Shame on him for unnecessarily lambasting a teacher for trying to instill good work habits. Shame on the child’s parents for allowing a surrogate to perform their duty as parents, knowing that that person was most likely too angry to use rational thought. If he hasn’t done so, Rushing should apologize to the teacher for his inexcusably inappropriate behavior, but more importantly, he should apologize to the child for setting such a poor example of what adult behavior should look like.

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