Posted April 28, 2008 9:49 am by with 12 comments

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The Washington Post pokes around a few MySpace and Facebook profiles of young school teachers and shares the apparently disturbing results.

One Montgomery County special education teacher displayed a poster that depicts talking sperm and invokes a slang term for oral sex. One woman who identified herself as a Prince William County kindergarten teacher posted a satiric shampoo commercial with a half-naked man having an orgasm in the shower. A D.C. public schools educator offered this tip on her page: “Teaching in DCPS — Lesson #1: Don’t smoke crack while pregnant.”

Shocking, huh?

I know you’re expecting me to now drone on about the importance of ensuring you have a clean online reputation and some bullet-points on how these teachers can protect their jobs, but I’m not going to.

Here’s why.

Should these teachers conduct themselves online with the same high standards they conduct themselves in the classroom? Absolutely! But, in the real world, we often have corners of our lives where we let our hair down and depart from the roles we play in our work environment. I’m sure each of you could name at least one incident in the past 5 years that you’d rather your employer not know about–we all could.

So yes, school officials should pull up the social networking profiles of the teachers they employ. And, if they find something illegal or likely to impact the teacher’s ability to teach and protect the children under his care, they should consider disciplinary action. However, they should also apply some common sense. We do indeed live in a Radically Transparent world, but its not the behavior of teachers that has changed in the past 5 years; its our ability to watch their behavior that has changed. If you think young teachers haven’t conducted themselves inappropriately on the weekends for, say, the last hundred years, you’re living in denial.

So, should we let teachers off the hook? Should we simply dismiss their rambunctious behavior? That depends. I like the sensible approach taken by the National Education Association:

If they can prove that no one at school complained about the page, then they might prevail in a personnel dispute “because there would be no evidence of any real or potential harm to the students or school,” he said.

And maybe the answer is not to judge the teachers. Maybe the burden should be on the parents. After all, if you’re letting your kids view social networking profiles that include a “half-naked man having an orgasm in the shower” then maybe you should be the one who’s role–as a parent–is scrutinized.

In summary…

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?

Likewise, if a teacher posts a photo of themselves getting drunk, and you don’t let you children view it, does it matter?

(Further reading: Over at Capitol Valley, Andrew Feinberg shares his thoughts on why passionate employees should be judged by their work, not their play.)

(image credit)

  • I am one hundred percent with you on this one. For God’s sake. Teachers are human beings too. You are again right that parents should take appropriate steps to protect their children.

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  • Depending on your page settings, others can put some raunchy stuff on your Facebook page without your knowledge and if you’re bad at deleting some of that stuff, an outside observer could think that you’re promoting bad behavior.

    Being human on social networking sites is OK…you just have to keep it in check.

  • Perhaps if people would teach their little brats some respect for elders and common civil behavior then teachers wouldn’t have to hit the bar to bend a few elbows to cope with the headaches of babysitting your rotten spoiled kids every day!

  • Dean

    Are teachers just like everyone else? Yes. The difference is that public employees are MUCH more susceptable to critisism than employess of private firms.

    If John Doe from Ford decides to post about his night of debauchery, he can only really damage his own career. If John Doe of the XYZ Elementary School does the same (and parents find out about it) then things can get wacky.

    In either case its not about whether or not you can go out on weekends and have a good time, its about exercising good judgement in communicating about the good time you had. It may be a double standard but public employees (teachers, cops, politicians) are held to a higher standard.

    I really don’t care, for example, if John Doe of Ford passes out drunk on his personal time. But I care a whole lot if Joe Doe (my kid’s teacher) does.

    Finally (and maybe you need to be a parent to understand this), try as you might, you cannot police your kids 24/7. Raise your hand if you did bad things when you were a kid that your otherwise respectible and caring parents didn’t know about. You do the best you can and hope that your kids exercise good judgement when your back is turned (knowing full well they will screw up now and again along the way). I might also add that some people complicate things by wanting to introduce social media to our kids in 6th grade ( Exactly how do we police that?

  • @Dean – maybe it just highlights that expecting your kids not to browse unhealthy web pages is about as unrealistic as expecting young teachers not to party. 😉

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  • tanya

    Here’s what I find interesting. We are supposed to understand that some teachers are very young, and responsible parents should be protecting their own children.

    But teachers. . . are the first line of defense for a child who is abused or neglected in at home. I’m supposed to understand that somebody with a crazy Facebook page has got the wisdom and maturity to handle a situation with a (younger!) child that may be very, very serious?

    We don’t need kids standing in the front of the classroom. We need fully functioning grownups there.

  • @Tanya – unfortunately, with many classrooms, we do actually just need teachers–it’s a profession that doesn’t attract many.

  • Two Montgomery County teachers made a film to enter a contest – they wrote directed and star in the rather “risque” film which was shot on location in the magnet school classroom during the weekend. The film was discovered online by my students (easy when movie is titled “Career Day” starring their own media teacher in class:)and most of them find it offensive – but send it around the net like crazy – As a teacher, how should I respond to students or parents regarding the film ?

  • @Monica – I’d hate to offer advice without knowing all the details. It sounds like it could be a bad case of judgment on the part of the teachers.

  • While I find it incredibly poor judgement for these teachers to post questionable content on their pages, I also feel that it has nothing to do with their professional lives.