Texas high school sophomore Jeff Bliss told interviewers he had dropped out of school for a year before he realized the value of his education. When he returned to high school in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas, he landed in teacher Julie Phung's World History class. After Bliss asked a question about an upcoming standardized test, Phung's careless reply prompted him to stand and deliver a blistering indictment of uninvolved teaching and a demand for a better education that's gone viral.
I saw a link to the YouTube video via another PolicyMic contributor, and then got a question about it from a fellow teacher. After showing the video to two classes, the response of the majority of students was, "Go Jeff!" Some students were surprised or shocked at his vehemence, and there were a lot of comments like, "He's got balls!" A number of students said they wished they'd spoken up like that at some point in the past.
We've seen recent videos of students in ninth or tenth grade attacking teachers verbally and physically. This incident shows the other side of the story: 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.
"If you would just get up and teach them instead of handing them a freakin' packet," Bliss says. "There's kids in here that don't learn like that." He stops on his way out of the classroom and says, "You want him to change and do better, you got to touch his heart ... you've got to make him excited." Then Bliss added, "This is my country's future and my education."
"Can you go outside?" Phung responds. "Mm-hm. Yeah. Uh-huh. Just go. Bye."
To the credit of Duncanville ISD, superintendent Dr. Alfred Ray told interviewers that Bliss will not be punished, and Ms. Phung has been placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is being investigated.
I noticed something slightly different in the video than students did, although all quickly began to notice details once I pointed out how similar to an embattled fortress Ms. Phung's desk appeared. One student noticed what appears to be a mini-fridge, and another, a microwave. Phung is completely encircled by a monitor, folders, a classroom speaker, and other barriers to the rest of the classroom. When the cell phone video follows Bliss as he exits the room, the clean, well-ordered classroom with quiet students comes into view. Student desks appear to be a much greater than average distance from Phung's desk.
It's obvious from the video that Ms. Phung hasn't set up her defenses against unruly, dangerous thugs; she's teaching an average suburban class of high school sophomores in a small Texas town.
I wasn't shocked by Jeff Bliss. I was thrilled to see a bright, articulate student and I felt like cheering him on with the other students. If I had a student like Bliss, I'd push him as far as I possibly could to learn as much as possible.
As one YouTube commenter said, "He's going to be very successful."
This is one viral video that every educator should view, whether or not it makes them uncomfortable. I don't have the luxury of a single daily location that I can turn into my own mini-fortress, complete with fridge and microwave.
I know college is different from high school. I know that history is a difficult subject to teach. I also know what Jeff Bliss said is one of the truest statements ever. Teachers can't teach students from a frickin' packet. They don't learn like that. Teachers have to touch their hearts, and make them excited. They have to ask students to do things, and help them to believe they can learn, do and be anything and the only thing that limits them is themselves.