Why Teachers Shouldn’t Use Facebook

I’ve already blogged about Facebook. This is part 2, you might say.

article-0-0D1335F0000005DC-930_468x286_popupOf course educators have the right to use social media, like everyone else. The problem is, so many teachers use it for stupid reasons. That is, they Book to complain about their employers, students and school community. Or they Book to show off drinking and carousing whilst on vacation. “So what?” you may ask yourself. “Everyone does.” Well, not everyone.

The problem with teachers Booking is this: like it or not, we are public figures. We are role models for students. And as such, we can’t reveal our real lives when we get to act like everyone else. Most of you have heard of Ashley Payne, the American secondary schoolteacher working in Apalachee High School, in Winder, Georgia, who posted a picture of herself in 2009 holding a mug of beer and a glass of wine whilst on vacation in Europe. She wasn’t actually drinking the alcohol as you can see in the pic.

Back at school the head teacher called Payne into his office: ‘And you know, I’m confused as to why I am being asked this, but I said, “Yes”,  and he said, “Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?”‘ He then offered her an option: resign or be suspended. Foolishly, she chose to resign. I should imagine she reacted in a moment of shock and shame. School officials also objected to her use of the “B-word” (bitch? bastard? boobs? booze)? In hindsight I am quite certain Payne learned that she always has another option regardless of her situation: a lawyer. The lawyer she eventually retained, Richard Storrs, correctly said: ‘It would be like I went to a restaurant and I saw my daughter’s teacher sitting there with her husband having a glass of some kind of liquid. ‘You know, is that frowned upon by the school board? Is that illegal? Is that improper? Of course not. It’s the same situation in this case.’

originalThis case, although obviously more offensive, angers me because of the preferential treatment of the male teacher in the photo. An Idaho high school basketball coach, Laraine Cook, 31, was fired after the school district discovered a photograph of her fiancé, Tom Harrison, grabbing her chest and deemed it as “immoral.” I am inclined to agree that this was a stupid picture to take and even stupider to post online, although I don’t think it warranted her dismissal. A suspension perhaps, but not a dismissal. Harrison, the school’s varsity football coach, kept his job. Say what? The school insisted it was her Facebook page that also got her fired. Cook removed the offending photo less than 24 hours later after the school’s athletic director told Harrison he should have Cook remove it from her Facebook account. That’s all the time it took, however, to do the damage.

“Obviously, I don’t want to see my fiancé to get into trouble but I was a little bit discouraged. They told me it was because it was on my Facebook account that I was being terminated…..District policy says anything obscene or immoral is fireable and they consider the photo immoral. I don’t consider the photo immoral. My players have never said anything about the photo.  The parents had never seen the photo until it came out and blew up here recently.” I agree with Cook. The picture is neither obscene nor immoral. Just stupid. And so was she for posting it, but I’m on her side. I hope she gets her job back.

Keith Allison, Smithville, Ohio (finally a male teacher who gets sacked) was fired from his job teaching second grade after he posted a comment about being a vegan on his Facebook page. Seriously. The comment went thus: “As someone who grew up feeling parental love and support, and now as a parent who gives love and support, I reject the claim that separating babies from loving mothers to raise them isolated in boxes can ever be considered humane.” Alright the comparison of human babies to animals is a bit odd, but what the heck is wrong with his view?

Vegan-Facebook-PostWhen it came time to renew his contract, Allison says he was told that the farm had complained about the picture, and as such, he wouldn’t be re-hired. “During the meeting with my superintendent, I was informed we live in a large agricultural area, which is true, and that a lot of our money for the schools comes through residents of the community. And that I needed to be very careful of what I put on [Facebook] because I might offend the community and the economic interests of the community… I was also told that I could have any personal beliefs I want to have, but if I want to be a strong vegan advocate, I might want to look into doing something other than teaching.”

That is a reasonable viewpoint, considering much of the school’s funding comes from the farmers in the surrounding community. I can see the conflict of interest. Personally,  I can’t see not re-hiring the teacher. A warning during his employment was warranted if this was going to be an issue. If Allison had the type of teacher unions we have in Ontario, Canada, his dismissal would never be tolerated. In fact, the board wouldn’t dare fire him over that minor escapade. I say make Allison remove the photo, retract the statement, and print an apology to the agricultural community of Smithville, Ohio, but let him keep his job.

grand-chief-derek-nepinak-april28I’m less sympathetic about a Winnipeg, Canada case involving Brad Badiuk, a technology teacher at Kelvin High School, who was suspended during an investigation into his Facebook posts about local aboriginal people, wherein he stated that aboriginals were lazy people who sought money from non-aboriginals. Ouch. Pure stupidity and racism is the foundation of Badiuk’s comment. How could anyone have the audacity to post such bias on social media?

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs also said he is planning to sue for defamation.  Nepinak’s comment was, “To think that there could be children being subjected to this kind of thinking is appalling, and we have a responsibility to seek the full scope of available sanctions against persons making racist and hateful statements towards our children.”

This Facebook post has a dual impact: it encourages racism among non-aboriginal children and it has resulted in a lawsuit by a powerful aboriginal official against the Winnipeg School Board. I can only speculate that in Ontario, the teacher might be suspended, have his/her teaching certificate revoked for a period of time, sent for sensitivity counseling, have the information posted to OCOT (Ontario College of Teachers), which indicates whether or not a teacher is in good standing with the college, and have the matter reported in the teacher’s industry magazine Professionally Speaking. I could be wrong. It’s possible an Ontario teacher who posted racist views would be dismissed.

socialnetworkingFrom the article Social Networking Nightmares, published by NEA, Mike Simpson explains that information about teachers belief that the First Amendment right to free speech leaves us legally able to post anything we want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss, is completely wrong.  Worse, newspapers are trolling social networking sites for embarrassing and titillating postings by local teachers. You have to wonder why that is. Admittedly, many of these posts are idiotic. And it would appear these are the stories that earn pathetic paparazzi their income:

  1. Two probationary teachers faced termination for their Facebook musings that “I’m feeling pissed because I hate my students,” and I’m “teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”
  2. One 25-year-old female bragged on her MySpace site about being “sexy” and “an aggressive freak in bed.”
  3. one DC teacher’s Facebook page: “Teaching in the DC Public Schools—Lesson #1: Don’t smoke crack while pregnant.” A special ed teacher wrote on her page to a student, “You’re a retard, but I love you.”

In the Pickering v. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court held that it’s not a First Amendment violation to dismiss probationary teachers for what they post about personal matters, or if the speech “[disturbs] the workplace. The First Amendment as a defense applies only to probationary teachers, however. Permanent teachers don’t have to rely upon the Amendment to secure their positions after posting ambiguous opinions or pictures.

I used to have a Facebook profile. Now I don’t. I just didn’t think it was a good idea. There are so many seemingly trivial matters that a teacher can post that will result in conflict, discipline, suspension or dismissal that I didn’t want to tread in dangerous waters. When you think about it, is it really worth risking your job as an educator to hop aboard the social media train like everyone else? Maybe many people don’t have as much to lose as educators. That’s a chance I’m not willing to take.

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