Friday, December 9, 2011

Teachable moments on Facebook

A high school teacher is under fire in New Jersey for taking to her Facebook page to argue that “homosexuality is a perverted spirit” and complaining about recognition of October as LGBT History Month in school.

A Bronx High School principal posted a Facebook profile picture of herself slathered in chocolate syrup dancing with a half-naked man. (She’s also under fire for allegedly improper crediting of students).

A couple of years ago, a teacher in Georgia was fired because of European vacation pictures that showed her holding beer or wine glasses (she said she was drinking but not intoxicated). Her page also included an unspecified expletive.

A first-grade teacher faces losing her job after posting on Facebook a comment about being “a warden for future criminals.”

Raises some interesting questions. Are educators more constrained than the rest of us when it comes to freedom of expression in their off-work lives? Sisters Schools Superintendent Jim Golden says yes.

“Like it or not, like a judge or a policeman, you’re held to a higher standard,” he told The Nugget.

But what standard, exactly? I can see disciplining or firing a teacher whose comments indicate a serious bias against a group of students he or she is supposed to serve.

“If I say something racist, I’m probably going to get fired,” Golden says. “And I probably deserve to be fired.”

OK, I get that.

But what if you’ve just had a crappy day and pop off about your students being “future criminals”? Is letting off steam something to kill a career over? If the teacher said that to a friend over a stiff drink in a bar (and I’m sure every teacher has said something like it at least once) it wouldn’t have been any kind of big deal. Because it’s on Facebook, it became a big deal.

And raising a pint of Guinness in Dublin and letting your friends see the pix on Facebook? Come on! What’s wrong with that?

Sisters School District does not have a specific policy about teachers’ use of social media. Golden said such uses fall under state standards and practices guidelines — but the standards of an “ethical educator” don’t address this area specifically either.

You could argue a couple of different sides to this question. On one hand, teachers should be able to have lives outside the classroom and away from their students. Those lives might even be R-rated. They should be able to express their opinions and let their hair down.

But Superintendent Golden is right — you’re never NOT a teacher, even when you’re off duty. Comes with the job. And you’re still a teacher on your Facebook page.

Social media is a useful tool, perhaps, though it also seems like a gigantic time-suck and an arena custom-made for preening narcissists. It certainly is not a secure venue in which to vent your spleen or show off your chocolate-covered dance moves. You can’t help wondering with these and some Twitter scandals, “What were they thinking?” Maybe there’s some weird dissociative aspect to the Internet that encourages people to post and say things that they would think twice about showing or saying in mixed company.

Sisters School District may not have a social media policy, but maybe a good one would be: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t show or say at a school board meeting.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. "Don't show or post anything you would not say at a school board meeting."

    Good advice. Too bad some of our more bigoted school board members don't take that advice!

    " Andrew Gorayeb said...

    What I don't understand and it really amazes me, is how good, hard working middle and upper middle class people are willing to give their votes to the Republicans. Simply put, if you are worth less than $50 million dollars, you are not ever going to get anything from the Republicans. They appeal to people with a social agenda, abortion, religion in schools, guns, anti-gay marriage, etc... but since 1980, they've done absolutely nothing about any of those issues... they talk about family values and American values, but in reality, all they do is talk about it. That's what they do with their right hand, with their left hand, the Republicans have executed an agenda of tax loopholes, deregulation and spending that has benefited the same $50+ millionaires. Look at the actual record. They took us off the gold standard, produced massive deficits for over 40 years, 2 un-winnable wars, raped the environment, made it possible to be a billionaire and pay no taxes, an unreadable, self-destructive tax code and a Wall Street bailout that was unprecedented, unnecessary and unfair. You actually have to take the time to look at the votes to see what the hell is going on with this party.

    To make matters worse, the actual actions of the Republicans actually has worsened the lives of everyone other then those same millionaires.

    I find it amazing that good, smart people that I know, people with moderate or slightly more than moderate means, give their vote so passionately to a party that turns around and slaps them with it.

    I think it's due to the aspirant nature of some people. "If we vote like rich people, perhaps someday we will be rich too". If you actually look at what's been and being done to these people by the Republican party, they might change their tune.

    I have no reason to support the Koch brothers agenda, I am not an oil and gas billionaire. I don't steal natural resources from the federal government. I need safe schools, streets and drinking water.

    Oh and by the way, as the largest employer in the US, the government creates lots of jobs. Without projects like Manhattan, Apollo, WPA and Several hundred tech initiatives, we would not have the microchip, nuclear and hydro power or all of these tiny, wonderful computers that we use for your blog. Government made these possible, and those governments were lead by, dare I say it, Democrats!!!!

    I'm tired of lies veiled in truth and I'm tired of liars. Wake up, unless you're really, really rich, and if you vote republican, the Republicans are screwing you.

    October 21, 2011 8:35 AM"

  2. Thank you for another thought provoking article. It's wise for us all to be reserved in placing our status and/or opinion online. The speed and level at which the public intrudes upon and judges our words and actions (and photos) can be frightening! I love Facebook and continue to use it cautiously, and remind myself often, that thinking any of my innocent or otherwise comments are held there privately is a complete illusion! Your advice is good for us all even though we may not in the educational system. Good job!

  3. Anonymous #1, I'm not seeing your point. It looks to me like Andrew Gorayeb expressed a political opinion ... and did so rather eloquently. The fact that you disagree with that opinion doesn't make it bigoted or offensive, it just makes it different from yours. People need to get a grip.

  4. I love the Gorayeb types :). They swing on in here from CA have all the solutions and do all the right things !! Tell us all their great ideas and then poof, there gone. Been here a long time, seen plenty of em'. ...

  5. Anon 4.02

    How does being an active member of the community and School Board member, like Andrew Gorayeb, = "poof there (sic) gone"?

    Probably you really meant, " I disagree with him, so I feel the need to belittle him."

    Anon 3.32,

    Excellent point!

  6. OK, we're way off the topic here. Enough.

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  7. Ok Jim, Let's try to get this back to your point:

    I always find it fascinating that when we talk about teachers lives outside of school in the context of free speech, many will make statements like " are never not a teacher..." and " you are held to a higher standard". Ok. But the irony is that many of these same people whistle an entirely different tune when it comes to Teachers paychecks.

    Then it becomes "they only work half the year" instead of "you are never not a teacher" and "those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" instead of "you are held to a higher standard".

    Our real attitude toward teachers is that they are indentured servants who are not allowed to speak unless spoken to and that we hold them to a higher standard until they need to be paid.

    The hypocrisy masquerading as "Social Media Policy" is unbelievable.

  8. Bigoted? Nice, whoever you are, I know one thing, you are a coward (hiding in anonymity), I would gladly say all of that at a School Board meeting, it means that I'm genuine and I'm concerned about "safe schools, streets and drinking water". Not like some people, hiding in the shadows, afraid to voice their opinions in the open... this is a democracy, my speech and it's freedom are guaranteed. Oh and by the way, you should look up big words like "bigoted" in the dictionary, BEFORE you use them...

  9. From Wiki:

    A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. (ie Republicans)

  10. Jim,

    At the risk of going off on an unwanted tangent, I would like to comment on the post quoting wikipedia.

    Quoting Wikipedia as your source is like citing graffiti as an authoritative source.

    If you look up an actual English language dictionary you will find that the definition of Bigot is not nearly so broad. Merriam-Webster defines Bigot as follows:

    ": a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group)with hatred and intolerance "

    I think it is clear from an actual dictionary definition, that bigotry is about racial and ethnic hatred, not political party affiliations. In fact, feigning to be the victim of bigotry because of your party affiliation demeans all those who truly are real victims of real bigotry.

    And, just to try to drag this back to Jim's original point, if you paid as much attention to what the teacher said in English class as you seem want to do to their Face Book post, maybe you would not misuse words like "bigoted".