It's always interesting when a teacher bumps into a student while shopping during school breaks or on the weekend. The reaction is always the same: students are a bit surprised that their teachers own t-shirts, use coupons for things like peanut butter, and, yes, have lives outside the classroom.
It's not, however, something that teachers can take for granted. A recent report from the University of Cincinnati warns educators and administrators about the dangers of using sites like Facebook, because teachers have been fired over their own social networking behavior.
I use Facebook, and while I'm no longer teaching, I have to say that I might curtail my use of social networking sites like it and Twitter, simply because the unspoken threat to job security is so very fluid and unpredictable, with horror stories popping up in the news every few month.
Researcher Janet Decker claims it's up to school administrators to make their teachers aware that their free speech rights may be challenged, because the existing laws can't keep pace with the technology being used. She cites one case involving an educator who was fired for posting a photo of herself holding a glass of wine.
Decker is, of course, referring here to the 2009 incident when English teacher Ashley Payne lost her job after her Facebook activity was called into question - specifically, a photo of Payne holding wine during a recent vacation.
Time for Class
Decker recommends that administrators take the initiative and educate their educators about their rights and responsibilities where it concerns their own use of social network sites. The reason? Even when it doesn't involve mention of a student, parent or school, what teachers do and say can be held against them.
Essentially, the process should involve something teachers recognize at once: inservice education. Decker suggests that administrators involve their staff directly in the process - not just on the receiving end, but in the creation of the policies they'll be expected to follow. This way, the many issues will be more widely understood, and teachers will be more likely to follow any recommendations.
She points out that it's essential that legal precedents, examples, clear "consequences for violations" and an appeals process be included, in addition to the regular modification of these rules as might be necessitated by changes in technology and existing laws.
Educators are only human. They attend parties and festivals, enjoy concerts, and, yes, on occasion, even drink and swear. The clash between their free speech rights and the expectations of their employers will inevitably come into question until current legislation catches up to the technology that continues to outpace it, even when the behaviors in question are entirely legal, and within any adult's right to pursue.
Until it does, however, Decker advises caution.
Kimberly Morgan taught high school English in Florida, and currently writes for Yahoo! Voices, where she is a Featured Contributor for Education.
- Arts & Entertainment/Media
- social networking