Should teachers be disciplined for online lives?

Note: This post is edited from one I recently composed for our district's Professional Learning Network. Since this is my "personal" blog (I say that a bit sardonically), I added in a few of my own thoughts, some "one-two punches" as my dad calls them.

Should teachers be disciplined for online lives? What a question! This contentious issue was one of the topics on NPR's Talk of the Nation today. Two college professors, Jonathan Turley (Prof. of Civil Law) from George Washington University and Elizabeth Meyer (Asst. Prof. of Education) from California Polytechnic State University, discussed the issue with callers on today's program. I listened to the podcast of the episode today and found it incredibly relevant for teachers even in a small, rural district like ours.

As the title implies, teachers across the nation have been disciplined for online activity. One teacher was disciplined after he posted a blog entry containing his opinions on the topic of gay marriage (by the way...this same guy was previously awarded Teacher of the Year in Florida), others have been let go for posting photos on social networking sites of themselves drinking alcohol, and the infamous Philadelphia teacher who blogged about her students being "rude, disengaged, lazy whiners" was also fired. Though this may seem to some like immoral behavior, as one caller (a pre-service teacher) points out, it's all perfectly legal and within each teacher's right as an American citizen under the first amendment.

"Teachers are denied the full range of freedoms adults have" states Turley. Turley's argument throughout the show is that teachers work long hours for low pay, and they should be allowed the full freedoms that every other citizen is allowed. Meyer argues that there is no separation between a teacher's career life and his/her personal life. "Schools are public compulsory, therefore it's essential that teachers are held to a higher standard," she states.

While I agree that teachers should model social media responsibility (as well as civic responsibility), I completely disagree with disciplining teachers for online activity if the activity displayed is within that teacher's legal rights. When I moved to a small town to teach, I understood I was moving into conservative country. I understood that my privacy probably wouldn't exist anymore. Like both professors mention in the radio show, teachers have to know their communities and live responsibly in them. But if we start limiting what teachers can or cannot post on social media sites, should we begin policing grocery stores or other public places to monitor conversations teachers have with community members? And who will be tasked with this monitoring? Who will ensure that discipline is issued equitably? If morality clauses are introduced into teacher contracts, who will define "morality"?

I've only been a teacher for 4 years...technically, if you're familiar with my crazy student-teaching experience, 3.5, but already in this short time, education has changed radically. It will be...interesting (for lack of better terms) to see what other crazy policies, bills, and changes wiggle their way into the world of education.....


Danielle said...

To follow up...here's a related article that is just as controversial, especially for us Jesus types, I ran across on Twitter today: http://edinsanity.com/2012/04/10/twitter-professional-identity-and-the-1st-amendment/

Stu said...

I couldn't help myself. I was thinking about this and decided to post a more full version my thoughts on my blog.

My short answer to the question of whether teachers should be held to a higher standard is:

"Any time the public's perception of your beliefs or behavior matters for your job, you will be held to a higher standard; there is little you or I can do about it." Of course there are some lucky-duckies with tenure who can afford not to care.