Teachers’ Online Identities

Miguel Guhlin has once again pushed my thinking. This time its about the issue of personal content that K-12 teachers post online. I’ve spent a lot of time researching, thinking about and discussing this topic, but it struck me that this issue is actually a lot hairier than I’ve previously realized. There are a lot of different aspects that need to be considered.

Here are a few points from Miguel’s post. I encourage you to consider each question twice asking yourself Do.. the first time and Should… the second time.

  • Do/Should school districts have any say about what a teacher does after hours?
  • Do/Should school districts have any say about what a teacher posts online?
  • Do/Should teachers represent the district after hours?

Rather than commenting on the discussion at this point, I hope to further it by asking a few more questions.

  • Do/Should schools districts have any say about what staff members (Secretary, custodian, cafeteria staff, bus driver, mechanic, maintenance, etc.) do after hours? Post online?
  • Do/Should parents and the community have any say in these matters?
  • How does this translate to higher education?
  • If the answers to these questions are “yes” then is the same true for individuals in other professions (Nurse, news reporter, radio DJ, police officer, elected official, unelected government employee, or store clerk)?

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Clif Mims is a Christian, husband, father, teacher, cancer warrior, and fan of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Memphis Grizzlies.

10 thoughts on “Teachers’ Online Identities”

  1. In response to your questions, I do believe school districts “have a say” in what a teacher does after work, because a teacher is a licensed profession. As a licensed profession there are ethical and professional obligations, as well as expectations that teachers are expected to uphold. Furthermore, in so far as all of these occupations are part of the school district, it is likely even in the absence a professional degree, the referenced positions would be required to uphold similar professional obligations (as part of their employment). Beyond that, specifically with regards to teachers and other positions in the school which students may look up to or see as mentors, those employees also have obligations from the community, society and their moral ideals to provide a positive example for impressionable youth.
    However, with all that in mind, we are all aware and the constitution provides ( with limited exceptions) anyone has the right to publish nearly anything they want but is also susceptible to the consequences and ramifications they may face from their employer while expressing their freedom of free speech. It is my opinion that this response would hold true for nurses, elected officials, police officers, government employees, and store clerks. Unless the individuals in those positions are also the boss there are likely expectations for their public behavior as well.

  2. I believe that who you are comes across loud and clear in your postings in social media. If you are a representative of a school, you are that representative wherever you are in cyberspace. It is up to us, the professionals, to make sure that we are conducting ourselves morally and ethically.

  3. The freedom of speech does not protect us from consequences. Before online social media, if a person stood up in a crowd and started loudly discussing his flings and drunken revelries, the school he worked for would take exception. It is the same in social media, just easier to forget the potential audience, because the technology is so new.

  4. I think it is appropriate for schools to have SOME say so on the after hours life of a teacher. That has always been the case and is, practically, dictated by local mores. I’ve told future teachers “you know if you want a job around here (NE TENN) then you will have to keep those tats covered at all times right?”. However what is a taboo in the Bible Belt will fly in NYC or Madison. I think the same does apply to other professions- but not all, or to the same extent.

    Those in positions of moral authority, public trust, or in direct contact with children do have an extra mile to walk in regards to the example they set. Again, local mores determine that criteria.

  5. All these questions need a second question. Does the post reflect on the school that employs them? If teachers and staff members are commenting as an individual that is making no reference to the school, other employees, the school system at large, BOE, parents, or students during their online posting after hours, it should not cause any controversy. However, if in their networking site they mention they are an employee of the X-school, then they represent X-School 24/7 and their comments should reflect a more professional attitude. Our school board’s policy states that while the Board of Education respects the right of employees and students to use social networking sites (i.e. blogs, MySpace, Facebook) to communicate with others, any postings referencing X-Schools shall always be professional and respectful of the school system, X-School’s employees, parents, and students. I don’t think that is too much to ask.
    As for the doctor/nurse comment, If they went online and slammed their patients, they would be violating the Health Information Privacy Act and would most certainly be subject to punishment up to and including losing their license to practice medicine.

  6. While I don’t think entities, companies, or schools have a right to say what an employee posts after hours, I do think that employees should be smart about what they choose to put out there. I recently wrote about these “professional filters” on my blog here: http://digigogy.blogspot.com/2009/05/maintaining-professional-filter.html

    Eventually, schools are going to start writing policies around this or adding language to their contracts that may seem to limit “free speech” to the extent that it protects the interests of the business or school. I’m not saying that we should censor ourselves and our thoughts, I’m just saying that we don’t need to share every little detail about our personal lives. In this economy, it only seems wise to think critically about what you put into the online environment, because once it’s there, it’s there forever.

    [rq=730,0,blog][/rq]New Web Stuff 06/10/2009

  7. I was asked to remove my blog link from my email signature at work after one of my posts criticized the impending layoffs of personnel that would affect me and my department (http://is.gd/XlFW). Until then, no one complained about it.

    This was in spite of the fact that at the bottom of every post, I publish the statement: “This blog expresses the personal opinions of the author and is not affiliated
    with nor representative of any company, employer, or other entity.”

    I wanted to protest the censorship, but decided my professional email was not actually owned by me, and the district actually does have the official authority to separate my personal editorials from work-related communications.

    The boundaries blur much more when we consider what I do on social networks or my blog or other online venues outside of work. On the one hand, as an educator, I’m morally and ethically held to a higher standard than someone who doesn’t model behavior for impressionable students. On the other hand, I have as much right to free expression as any other citizen.

    I’ve decided to take the higher ground and adopt a policy of caution when posting online. Since anything I write, publish, or post online marks and brands me, I try to stay positive and professional. My personal guideline assumes that my supervisor, my students, their parents, and any potential new employers will be able to review anything I post. It keeps me from being too ugly in tone or subversive in topic.

    Problem is, I like my sarcasm and I dislike reining it in. I have a secret wish to be rebellious and radical… perhaps I will create a new domain with an alias and post really snipey, mean, or crude material, and indulge my counterculture tendencies.

  8. This is definitely a hot issue as we see situations in the news where teachers have used poor judgment online more often than I would like to see. I understand that teachers are held to a higher “moral standard” than other professions, but why are teachers singled out? I have yet to see (but I may be wrong) a case in the news where a doctor, nurse, or the like have been fired due to their after hours activities or their online activity.

    Thoughts? Comments? I would love to see a further discussion of this topic from those in and out of the education field.
    [rq=489,0,blog][/rq]WORLD MATHS DAY 2009

  9. Aside from posting things that are morally reprehensible, I don’t think that schools should have any say in what teachers post outside of school hours. Nevertheless, as a teacher I try to remain apolitical in my online postings.

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