Teaching in the Internet Age: Teachers Beware! Somebody's Watching.
Social Media can make or break a teacher's reputation. Here are some tips to avoid embarrassing or legal situations
It was supposed to be a joke, an Ohio middle school teacher claimed. She took -- and posted -- a controversial photo onto her personal Facebook page. However, the “joke” has placed her on unpaid administrative leave by her school district.
The photo in question was of her students seated at their desk with duct tape placed on their mouths. In addition, it had a caption stating, “Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!”
While it may sound like a gag -- and was done with students who willingly particpated in its creation -- the humor was lost among members of the Akron Board of Education. As a result, she is (at the time of this writing) expected to have her case sent before the school board. She may lose her job over an Internet photo.
This incident illustrates a point often overlooked by many educators; appearance and action in public can have profound effects on their careers. Teachers, more than any group that serves the public are placed under a microscope. Their appearance, mannerism, comments, and actions – whether it’s in the classroom or on social media sites – are not going unnoticed. Even a teacher’s past actions can fall under close scrutiny by concerned parents, community leaders and school board members.
What are teachers and other educators to do under increased scrutiny? Simply put, they must avoid embarrassing situations that can jeopardize their careers as well as their standing in the community. And, they have to realize that the public will hold them to a high ethical and moral code.
Also, they need to realize that in the 21st century, it’s not just the students in the classroom who are watching them; it’s the rest of the world, thanks to technology.
Here are some advice for teachers -- or just about anyone working at a school. These are simple rules, but breaking them can cause a lot of headaches.
Use Common Sense in the Classroom
The "new normal" of education is that teachers do not teach in isolation anymore. Almost any infraction can be taped by students with hidden cameras or cell-phones. Also, a teacher’s words or comments can be posted onto the Internet for everyone to see and hear. Even a teacher’s past can be found by Googling it.
Now, more than ever, teachers must use some common sense: watch what they say, keep a lid on their anger, and always be professional. Even without the presence of a recording device, reports of their actions in the classroom can spread by word of mouth. In many cases, teachers’ reputations will be slightly tarnished, meaning future students may try to avoid taking their classes or show little disregard for them. In severe cases, administrators may take punitive actions, such as a write-up or termination of the educator's teaching contract. In a worst case scenario, law enforcement may be called in to investigate; especially if the action had abused a student, physically or sexually.
Thus, it's always advisable teachers must be professional in the classroom. This includes restraint of verbal and physical actions, maintenance of composure, and ideal manners.
Keep your Opinions to Yourself
Too many teachers get in trouble for their Facebook comments. They make the mistake of believing that their personal page is a place to vent frustrations they have for students or colleagues. Often, they don’t realize that the comments can easily be leaked to the public; especially if certain built-in protocols within the social media are not followed (such as sharing the comment publicly).
Facebook is not alone. Personal blogs or webpages have landed numerous teachers in hot water. Most notably, it centered on comments they made about the teachers, administrators, and students at their school.
Also, some teachers have made the mistake of placing their opinions on the reader comments of an online community newspaper. Today, many of these forums give the readers a chance to post their comments via Twitter, Yahoo account, or Facebook. As a result, the comment goes way beyond its intended audience.
One example happened In 2010. A teacher lost her job after writing several negative remarks about students in general. These remarks found their way onto a local online newspaper (it originated on her personal blog). While she received some recognition (she was given “thumbs-up” by some of her readers), she didn’t raised the ire of parents, students, and administrators at her school. It wasn’t long before somebody complained and the teacher’s contract was not renewed for the coming year.
Go to the popular site and type in “teacher meltdown”. There will be countless postings of teachers hitting students, destroying cell-phones, or screaming at children
Act Professionally in the Front of the Camera, err, Classroom
Teacher meltdowns are inevitable. There are simply days when a lesson is not going in the right direction, or the students are extremely rambunctious. The flustered educators may scream, yell, or simply lose their cool. It happens to the best, from time to time.
Still, those meltdowns can have dire effects on teachers, especially in the age of You Tube and cell-phone cameras.
Go to the popular site and type in “teacher meltdown”. There will be countless postings of teachers hitting students, destroying cell-phones, or screaming at children. In one memorable post, a teacher literally destroyed his desk and threw several chairs against the wall. The situation got so bad that students fled the classroom.
Through it all, a student recorded the event and placed it on You Tube for the entire world to see. The public saw – even if the teacher was a model of exemplary behavior most of the time – was somebody out of control and unfit to teach children.
Teacher Destroys Classroom
Think Before You “Act”
The Internet has a way of exposing one’s past. Take the story of a teacher in southern California whose past “job” was exposed.
Students of the Oxnard science teacher discovered that she was once an adult film actress. The acting career had been brief and had taken place a decade earlier when she was a struggling college student trying to find a way to make ends meet.
Word quickly spread until it reached the school board. She was promptly removed from the classroom. Although her discretion were not illegal, she broke an unwritten law pertaining to a community's concept of morality.
The school board voted to terminated her employment.
Technology can be a wonderful thing in the classroom. It heightens a lesson plan or accommodates students with learning difficulties. It can also be an hindrance if used incorrectly (especially in the hands of a student). If there is one important lesson to be learned from the examples mentioned, it is that teachers must be careful. It can be the teachers’ friends or their enemies.
Should Teachers be Held to a higher moral and ethical standard?
Code of Ethics in Education
© 2013 Dean Traylor