Sunday, June 08, 2008

Here We Go Again With Teachers And Online Behavior

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what teachers do on their own time is no one's business but their own. Teachers are public employees but they are not, as the state official says in this piece, public figures.

Several teachers in Palm Beach County, Fla., may soon lose their jobs for allegedly posting questionable materials on the Web site, officials say.

State Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality Pamela Stewart said each of the teachers could lose their teaching certification for allegedly posting materials on the social networking Web site that their students could potentially access, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported last Sunday.

"We could think of it similarly to taking an ad out in a newspaper. If we're going to do something about that, we'll do something about it on a social network," Stewart said. "They certainly are public figures."

Only when their behavior affects their work performance should the school get involved. There are entirely too many opportunities for abuse for it to be any other way. Might a teacher get fired for appearing in newspaper picture from the local Wicca festival? Or how about for writing a letter to the editor in favor of some ballot initiative or another? How about for writing a blog?

Posting certain material on Facebook may be unwise, and teachers (especially young teachers) should have this explained to them if they're too immature to figure it out themselves, but until their online behavior crosses into the illegal or until it affects their ability to function in the classroom, I say leave adults alone.

I've written about this before, most recently here.


Ellen K said...

I guess this is the same arguement as pro athletes who claim not to be role models. Like it or not, certain professions are held to a higher standard. In earlier days there were clauses that would permit firing without warning for things seen as improper. I would agree that a teacher's online site is his or her own to control. But when you make it open enough for students to view, then you are allowing students to witness your bad behavior. That's bad for the morale of the faculty and makes for some pretty uncomfortable discussions. Believe me, I have been in that conversation after a teacher got caught sleeping with a student. It causes problems. What was the old saying "Fools names and fools faces,always appear in public places."

Charlie B said...

I'm not a teacher, but I do volunteer in a youth program (~10 hours/weekly). I know that I'm careful with what's on my facebook and myspace profiles, because so many of the kids I work with have access to those things. It is smart to have a high degree of moral fiber in those places. It may not be illegal, but maintaining respect is key with teens; if the respect is loss, so is your influence in their lives, and you may have to deal with some mockery from them (depending on the material).

That being said, I think that the social punishments should be enough, and that foolish people will either learn, or have a difficult time in life; the school should not be involved.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of different views on this, and for teachers it applies especially bad. One of my co-bloggers has his opinions about how this applies in general to professionals (also inspired by the WaPo story that Darren previously wrote about).

Teachers have always been the target of parents who desire a perfect safe incubator for their children instead of the real world. This hearkens back to the days when the town teacher was a single young lady who would lose her job if she so much as seen being courted by any one.

But the rules are the same as they always have been. Your choices have consequences. Once upon a time adults could have their social circle separate from what children could have access to. Town gossip didn't tend to spread to the children. However, that time is gone, especially if you actively post gossip-fodder to a place where children have access and free time to look around.

There is no such thing as security on a web site that you do not control. You do not control facebook or myspace, and therefore you ought to treat it like a bulletin board in the town square.

Given that her only response is:
"I would never want anyone I care about, especially my kids who look up to me, to ever see me doing those things," she said.

She is saying either that she didn't want anyone to see things she purposefully placed there (which is insanity), or that she excludes all Internet users from the set of people she cares about, and she does indeed wants each of us here to see her doing those things (which is merely neurotic and exhibitionist).

Apart from the free speech question, in her case there is a question of ability to assemble a logical thought.

The rules are the same. My job is not nearly as publicly exposed, but I still keep my web presence clean. If I feel the desire to post any kind of questionable content for the world to see, I'll do it in a way disassociated from my name. My friends can still find me, but my HR department cannot.