The “Face” of Teaching

We all like to believe our work life is our work life, and our private life is our private life.  But despite the best of intentions, we know those lines are blurred.  Employers monitor web traffic to see what employees are viewing.  Too many individuals use their work emails for personal things (including job searches).  Many of us spend far more than the traditional eight hours working, resulting in a blending of work and personal as we try to take advantage of those free moments when we get them.

This is particularly true of teachers.  They have their traditional work day, then typically have hours of grading or prep work during their “personal” time.  They give up evenings for parent-teachers and before- and after-school time for student conferences and tutoring.  Many teachers even make themselves available online to students, offering IM and email addresses for questions or concerns.

Now along comes Facebook.  For those living under a rock, Facebook (and similar sites like MySpace) seem to be designed to purposely blur the lines between public and private life.  Over the last year, Facebook has grown as a tremendous professional networking tool.  Even Eduflack has a Facebook page, with 61 current friends (I know, pathetic, but I am still waiting for fellow U.Va. alum Tina Fey to accept my invitation).  It is an interesting tool to keep up with friends and colleagues, and witness how circles of influence spread and grow.

This morning’s Washington Post has a story on the darker side of Facebook, with a piece on teachers “going wild.”  See the full story here at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/27/AR2008042702213.html?hpid=topnews.

It is a fascinating piece.  The special ed teacher who posts an online bumper sticker using the term “retard.”  Risqué photos of scantily clad educators.  Vulgar words and semi-smutty thoughts.  All the things you would expect from 20-somethings engaging in modern day versions of bull sessions.

These sorts of articles are unfortunate because they tag all teachers with this same judgment brush.  Now, when we hear a teacher is on Facebook or MySpace, we expect the worst.  It could simply be a way to keep in touch with members of the college honor society or the local bible study group, but all we’ll see is “Teachers Gone Wild.”

When Eduflack first started working on Capitol Hill as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old, one of the first things he was cautioned on was elevator conversations.  Never say anything on a Hill elevator.  You never know who is in the box with you.  You never know what they hear.  You never know who they’ll repeat it to.

When I do media training, I always caution my clients about anything they say (or write in an email).  They can say it is private and confidential, but you need to be prepared for it to make the front page of the paper, the lead of the evening news, or the breaking story on a blog or website.

Teachers know this too.  You don’t see a teacher throwing back a six pack at the high school football game.  Too many people are watching.  Too many will talk.  The same is true about web content.  We’ve been googling people for years.  Now, we can learn far more than we want to from individual websites, blogs, twitter accounts, and Facebook pages. 

We have to believe that virtually all teachers show proper discretion and don’t post information on the web that would embarrass them, their families, or their employers.  Heck, we expect this of most professionals, whether they be educators or not.  Is it fair to question the professional judgment of a teacher who lacks the personal judgment to distinguish between public and private information?  Maybe.  Should we monitor the online postings of our children’s teachers?  Probably.  Is this a problem we need to add to the global worry list?  Of course not.

Perhaps newbie teachers just need a little sibling advice from their big brothers and big sisters at the AFT and NEA.  Caution new teachers about blogs and websites and such and how public school critics may be monitoring them.  Remind them that anything they post on their personal life could enter into their professional life.  Ask them if they really want their students and their parents to see those photos of the last beach week or the beer bash at last year’s homecoming.

If those photos and musings are so important to you, keep a scrapbook.  If you wouldn’t post it on your classroom’s bulletin board, it probably shouldn’t be on your Facebook site.

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