Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Teacher’s 'lazy whiners' Blog

image We’ve all wanted to do something like this.  Maybe it’s been a rough day.  Maybe this year’s group of kids is just really tough to work with.  Whatever the reason, we’ve all wanted to scream our frustrations to the world at one point or another.

Today’s technology can let us do that, through blogs and social networks, but the question is: Should we?

image This story tells of a teacher who gave in to her frustrations and started blogging about the ‘rude, disengaged, lazy whiners’ she felt she had in her high school English class. It seems that she started the blog for her friends and family members, but her reportedly profanity-laced comments were easily found by students. Once it was brought to the attention of her school, she was suspended without with pay. (Sorry for the mistake in my original posting.)  Now lawyers are involved and it seems likely that courts will decide the fate of this case.

The question is: Did she do anything wrong?

Well, according to the story, she did not use her full name and did not identify her students.  That’s smart, both for her own personal and legal safety and that of the kids involved.  But the kids figured out who it was anyway, and the axe subsequently fell.

Was it the public complaining?  Was it the reported profanity?  Perhaps.  As a former Social Studies teacher, I’m a huge supporter of the First Amendment.  However, it’s important to remember the spirit in which it was written.  During the Revolutionary Period, it was important to our Founding Fathers to ensure that public discourse about injustices inflicted upon The People by an Unjust Government.  The First Amendment was never meant to be a shield to allow public mud-slinging in a consequence-free environment.  To illustrate this point, history records that one of those Founding Father said, just before signing the Declaration of Independence a few years earlier, “We must all hang together or we will all hang separately.”  This means, of course, that if their efforts for Independence proved unsuccessful, the consequences would be most dire indeed. 

image The true test will lie in the wording of the teacher’s contract and the interpretations of teachers’ expectations for public conduct.  That last part will be the most difficult – contract language will be a slam-dunk one way or another by comparison.  The area of professional/ethical conduct versus public behavior & acceptance is far more tricky.  That’s why lawyers & judges live in nicer houses than I do.

But what are we as educators supposed to DO or not do? Here’s my advice:
  1. Remember that anything you post on the Internet is probably public – whether it’s on a blog, on a social network like Facebook or MySpace, etc. Sure, you can try to lock it down, only share things with “Friends,” etc.  But, once shared, do you know with whom those “Friends” are sharing?  Besides, as this case illustrates, kids seem to have ways of finding things we think are secure. 
  2. Think before you post!  Did you know that many blogging platforms allow you to delay the publishing date?  Nearly all allow you to save a new post as a draft that you can come back to finish later.  This allows you to type out your frustrations, hold onto your thoughts, and come back to them later with a cooler head.  Then, with a different perspective, you can edit and delete things appropriately.  (Many social networking sites that I’ve seen, however, do not offer this feature, so be more careful on Facebook, MySpace, and what-not.) 
  3. Consider creating TWO profiles or blogs.  If you think you absolutely must share your personal thoughts on the Internet (which I do not recommend!), try this: Put your personal thoughts in a private forum of your choosing, and lock it down as tight as you can.  Then create a public forum that you use with your students.  DO NOT duplicate any information on the two sites, and do not link them together in any way.  (Don’t list your profession or workplace in your private profile, and don’t list any private information in your public forum, etc.)
  4. If this seems all too much trouble, then please, don’t vent your frustrations in a public forum! One of my first school principals once told me that, if I ever needed to vent about student behavior, get a group of friends or co-workers together, visit an establishment outside of your school district (town, county, etc.), and have a conversation!  I use the term “establishment” to allow for personal preferences; I use the phrase “outside of your school district” because you never know whose parents or uncles or aunts or next-door neighbors might be sitting on the barstool behind you.  Look up the definition for the term “plausible deniability” and head for neutral territory. 
Just remember, once you publish something on the Internet, it’s there forever, and your students are probably going to be able to find it. 

Please see related post: The Internet and Our Right to Privacy
Pa. teacher strikes nerve with 'lazy whiners' blog - Yahoo! News

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