Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teachers and Facebook, Again

I've written several times that what teachers and students do on their own time is their own business, and that the school should stay out of it. However, I grant that there's a gray area, and this teacher is smack dab in the middle of it:

Caustic remarks on a Facebook page by a Wake County middle school teacher and her friends about her students, the South and Christianity could get the educator fired.

Melissa Hussain, an eighth-grade science teacher at West Lake Middle School in Apex, was suspended with pay Friday while investigators review her case, according to Greg Thomas, a Wake schools spokesman.

If you're publicly making remarks about the people you work with, and that includes students, then you're in a gray area. I'm not saying the teacher should automatically be fired for this, just that the teacher isn't covered by my total "butt out, school" philosphy.

At first glance, I'm inclined to believe that this teacher should be allowed to attack Christianity. So what if her students are Christians? I attack liberalism all the time, and plenty of my students are liberals. Should I not be allowed to do so?

I'm a little unsure about attacking "the South", as the attacks are clearly general attacks about people from the South. Throw in race or sexual orientation instead of "the South" and few would defend it, so I'm inclined to yell "gray area!" or "yellow light, slow down!" here.

But attacking particular students? Uh, no. I can't abide that. Sometimes, long after a particular incident, it can be acceptable to write about an incident and leave names out of it. Talking about something that happened in class today--well, you have to be careful. I can't come up with a hard and fast rule, but I'd say some discretion is required. It's acceptable to write about this, for example, but it wouldn't be acceptable to trash someone in your class.

What's a reasonable rule of thumb for what's acceptable for a teacher to post publicly versus what isn't acceptable?

Update: Maybe I'm wrong, maybe there isn't a gray area at all:

A student who set up a Facebook page to complain about her teacher -- and was later suspended -- had every right to do so under the First Amendment, a federal magistrate has ruled.

The ruling not only allows Katherine "Katie'' Evans' suit against the principal to move forward, it could set a precedent in cases involving speech and social networking on the Internet, experts say.

Perhaps, as long as we're not discussing Privacy Act issues, we teachers are also free to say whatever we like.

Hat tip to NewsAlert for the update.


Mr. W said...

interesting...I wrote about a student who was suspended for 5 days for drinking, I said it wasn't enough. I didn't name names, but some how she found out and was a little upset. I said that i didn't say it was her.

Interesting topic though. Kids always seem to have 1st amendment rights and teachers don't.

Rhymes With Right said...

The difference, of course, is that we teachers are employees and the kids are required by law to attend school. As such, we do surrender an element of our liberty vis-a-vis school related speech that a kid would not.

Had this teacher been posting on politics or matters not directly related to her school/classroom, I think she would have much more secure ground to stand upon. But when one makes these sorts of statements regarding the students one teaches, their parents, and the community in which one teaches, then the ability to teach effectively in that assignment is gone.

Darren said...

The only time I ever voluntarily gave up 1st Amendment rights was when I joined the army. At that time I gave up the right to publicly criticize the President, the Congress, and the government of the state in which I was currently standing. I don't recall any such giving up of rights when became a public school teacher, except for the "right" to seek the destruction of our republican form of government through communism.

MiaZagora said...

If she criticized the South, she can't be too bright. I remember traveling to Chicago when I was in my mid-20's (I turned 43 today!) and always having a group of young men hanging around me just to hear me talk. I daresay a man has NEVER asked this so-called educator to talk...probably the opposite. I think her incompetence is evident and she should be shown the door! With a proper Southern accent of course! ;)

Mr. W said...

good call Darren.

I have had words about parents and students on my blog since that first incident, but now I wait until the year is over.

Rhymes With Right said...

I suggest you consider the whole issue of the Garcetti decision to see just how far our speech rights as public employees extend when it comes to talking about situations at work.

Ellen K said...

If you work at any job and post your full name on Facebook, you do so at your own peril. I have a Facebook to communicate with my friends. I do not friend students and I do not post criticism of my students except in the same general whining that we all do from time to time. For someone to be stupid enough to criticize ANYONE by name who isn't a celebrity is to invite a lawsuit. Someone that dumb shouldn't be in a classroom, even as a student.