Letter: Mr. Blanchard, ‘we’ve got your back’

Posted 9/20/22

To the editor:

I am writing in response to a letter penned by Craig Van Ness last week concerning his son and an incident with his English teacher, Mr. Blanchard.

As one of Mr. …

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Letter: Mr. Blanchard, ‘we’ve got your back’


To the editor:

I am writing in response to a letter penned by Craig Van Ness last week concerning his son and an incident with his English teacher, Mr. Blanchard.

As one of Mr. Blanchard’s former students, and one with experience in education, I can affirm that Mr. Blanchard is a talented teacher, indeed a very talented one. In fact, Mr. Van Ness’s peculiar diatribe tells us as much: Mr. Blanchard gave Luke and his classmates a stimulating and student-oriented assignment in their class; Mr. Blanchard actively encouraged Luke to adopt a position hostile to his own; Mr. Blanchard had no problem with Luke writing him at his personal email address, and took the time to correspond with him outside of class about his methods and approach. All of which screams “I care about my students”. From personal experience, I can testify that many teachers (justifiably, given the current climate and hostility towards the profession) would never have found themselves in Mr. Blanchard’s position for the mere fact that they would never have allowed students so much room to assert themselves.

There are also some details that Mr. Van Ness leaves out, like the nature of Luke and Mr. Blanchard’s relationship before the incident. It’s interesting that Mr. Van Ness found it necessary to look up the the meaning of “Watch your back” and then explain it to the Barrington Times readership. Another term that Mr. Van Ness might want to look up is “tone”. I’ve had plenty of students with whom I’ve engaged in what might be called “verbal roughhousing”—all in good fun, even as a display of mutual respect. In fact, I have no doubt that there was a healthy dose of that behind Mr. Blanchard’s “intimidating language”—a quality lost by the fact that the exchange was in writing. Had the phrase been spoken verbally, accompanied by a smile and a chuckle, there would doubtless have been no such ambiguity. I believe it was Mr. Blanchard who also first introduced me to terms like “hyperbole” and “sarcasm” (both in the Cambridge Dictionary as well, I’m sure), which would help explain phrases like “Your methods verge on the criminal”.

A few other things strike me, the most salient being that Mr. Van Ness never presented what Mr. Blanchard had to say in his defense, which suggests that Mr. Van Ness either willfully and disingenuously chose to omit it, or that he didn’t ask for it. Either way, given all the talk of Luke’s “bravery” in the letter, I would have expected a bit more of it from his father, a proud sports coach who wrote a Barrington Times editorial so as to bully his son’s teacher, Mr. Blanchard, in front of the community that he’s served for decades.

At most, Mr. Blanchard made a careless lapse of judgement, which evidently he acknowledged, but one that in no way betrays genuine ill-will towards the student (the phrase was clearly said in jest, just look at the rest of the email) and one that hardly deserves such outrage. Even if Luke felt reproved (though I’ve seen and experienced much worse in schools), months later I’m sure that the young volleyball player has moved on, even if apparently his parents haven’t.  

There’s a lot more that could be said, but I’ll leave it at that. To close, here’s one more idiom for Mr. Van Ness’s notebook: “Get one’s back”. Because Mr. Blanchard, on behalf of your former students and sincere, however imperfect, teachers everywhere, “We’ve got your back”.

Jordan De Maio

Rome, Italy

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.