Teaching and social media: risk or reward?

There was an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Friday that discussed the issues teachers face in the world of Facebook, Twitter and blogging. Basically everything I was taught was necessary while a journalism major can now come back to haunt me. Or will it?

We’ve all heard stories about people across the job plane that got fired because of a post made on a social media site. But does the public scrutinize teachers more heavily? And should they? After all, they interact directly with children everyday for 8-9 months.

There’s the story of a Philadelphia teacher, who was suspended over a blog post in which she called her students “lazy whiners.” Closer to Pittsburgh, a Brownsville teacher was suspended for a photo of her and stripper at bridal party that popped up on Facebook, even though she didn’t post it herself. She later had her suspension lifted, though.

Go ahead and do a Google search for “fired over Facebook post” and you’ll see hundreds of stories of workers, teachers included, that were suspended or fired because of something they posted about the company they work for or a personal opinion. Scan through those results, though, and you’ll also see “wrongfully fired” and “company deemed wrong” to show that company’s may be starting to let people have their private lives – and express it, too.

But going back to that New York Times article, the author, Jonathan Zimmerman, claims that the teachers and those who defend the teachers “have it backward.” He claims:

The truly scary restrictions on teacher speech lie inside the schoolhouse walls, not beyond them. And by supporting teachers’ right to rant against students online, we devalue their status as professionals and actually make it harder to protect real academic freedom in the classroom.

Zimmerman goes on to state that schools and federal courts are at times violating a teacher’s freedom of speech. But if teacher’s are going to violate the privacy of children, then who is to blame?

In the end, Zimmerman writes that “[o]utside school, meanwhile, teachers must also avoid public language that mocks, demeans or disparages the children they instruct.” In essence, give teachers the power of free speech on the Internet, but those same teachers should use common sense.

Personally, this is serious issue for me. Like I said earlier, social media was engrained in me while studying journalism as it was deemed “the new newspaper.” But for a teacher, that may not apply. For me, aside from my Twitter account and this blog, everything has the most private account settings. And a Google search of myself doesn’t reveal much other than my Twitter, a few pages from this blog, my college newspaper articles and a bunch of stuff about Ultimate Frisbee.

So, am I in the wrong to have a prominent but fairly private life on the Internet? I also considered the social media I use to be extremely helpful in connecting with other professionals (from journalists to teachers now) and sharing ideas. After all, this whole blog post wouldn’t be possible without my public blog. I know a couple people who are teachers and refuse to have a Facebook, while I’m also friends on Facebook with about a half-dozen teachers.

It looks like teachers are about as split on social media as the schools are with how to deal with it. So, if you’re going to make yourself public as a teacher, use some common sense. Use social media as way to make the classroom better, not the other way around.

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1 Comment

Filed under Blogging, Communication, Education, Ethics, Google, Journalism, New York Times, Newspapers, Personal, Social Media, Teaching, Twitter

One response to “Teaching and social media: risk or reward?

  1. Great article! I find that as social media platforms are becoming more and more widespread, there is probably a higher need to exercise common sense, like with any other means of communication, especially for teachers.

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