Education, just like any other profession, has been impacted by the pros and cons of technology. Just as the internet, social media and Web 2.0 tools have provided an invaluable convenience to educators, they have also added an additional layer of caution and awareness to school districts as they work diligently to implement these technologies. Ethics can be defined as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. Just as school administrators work with their teachers to improve the instruction in their classrooms, they also must make sure there are safeguards in place that protect their schools and districts from what may be posted by staff on these social media platforms. It is important that staff be made aware that what they post on the internet will inevitably reflect on the reputation of the school in which they teach. It’s even more important that teachers are aware that inappropriate, or unethical decisions, regarding what is posted on social media can result in dismissal from their teaching positions.
There have been numerous news articles that have plastered the front page of every major newspaper and website announcing the dismissal of various staff members for the inappropriate use of technology. Recently, there was the teacher this past May that was fired from her middle school teaching position for posting lewd tweets on her Twitter account. Students came across the pornographic picture and reported her to administration. Then, there was the popular substitute teacher in New Hampshire that was dismissed from her school district in April for not “unfriending” her students on Facebook. Carol Thebarge, the substitute teacher, stated, “I will continue to stay in touch with all of them here. No man or institution will dictate my relationships here, or otherwise that are within the range of my own consciousness. This is not rebellion. It is standing up for my beliefs…for silence and compliance is agreement” (Downey, 2014).
Ethically speaking, educators must follow board policy. If they choose to stand up for their personal beliefs then they must, in turn, face the consequences. Perhaps Carol Thebarge only posted appropriate content on her Facebook page, however, where should administrators draw the line? In the end, it must be all or nothing. Consideration on a case by case basis does not work.
It seems as though many teachers believe that “they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about their boss” (Simpson, 2010). Unfortunately our courts say otherwise. Thanks to social media, what used to be private has become quite public. In fact, newspapers across the U.S. have begun searching through sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. looking for embarrassing and inappropriate posts by local teachers (Simpson, 2010). Here are examples of posted comments that they have found that, in the end, have resulted in the dismissal of the teacher that posted it: “Chillin’ wit my niggas,” “I’m feeling pissed because I hate my students,” and I’m “teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte” —all uncovered by the Charlotte Observer. The Columbus Dispatch ran an article about a teacher stating she bragged about being “sexy” and “an aggressive freak in bed” as well as a post stating she got drunk, took drugs, went skinny-dipping and got married. And the list goes on…
In one particular case Pickering v. Board of Education, the “Supreme Court held that it’s not a First Amendment violation to dismiss probationary [non-tenured] teachers for what they say or write, if their speech involves merely personal things…or if the speech might disturb the workplace” (Simpson, 2010). Since this case, there have been many more cases brought before the courts by teachers that have all lost as a result of the precedent set by the Pickering case.
Lesson to be learned: do not post anything on a website or social media platform that you would not want your parents or future employer to see. It has become way too easy for school administrators to “find” their teacher applicants on these sites and use the information they uncover to influence their hiring decisions. In fact, one Missouri superintendent actually requests job applicants to pull up their Facebook page during their interview process (Simpson, 2010).
Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing or a possible infringement of privacy. When hiring a teacher, I want to be confident that the successful candidate will represent my school in a positive light both in and outside of the classroom. Social media has become a great way to help determine this. I believe that when you sign up for an account on these different websites, you have an ethical and moral obligation to post appropriate content.
Downey, K. (2014, April 4). Claremont teacher says she was dismissed for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. Retrieved from http://www.wmur.com/news/claremont-teacher- says-she-was-dismissed-for-refusing-to-unfriend-students-on-facebook/25325064#! btlrVM
Sczesny, M. (2014, May 20). Teacher at local school district fired for lewd tweets. Retrieved from http://www.kmov.com/news/local/Teacher-at-local-school-district-fired-for-lewd- tweets-260050271.html
Simpson, M. (2010). Tomorrow’s Teachers. Social Networking Nightmares. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/38324.htm