Teaching teachers about social media

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


5 thoughts on “Teaching teachers about social media

  1. As an educator, I see the benefits of technology in the classroom. However, when it doesn’t work the way you want, this poses another problem. I agree that when staff members or teachers post about a school, it can damage a school’s/teacher’s/staff’s reputation.

    A couple of years ago our school district developed a Facebook account. It was initially to provide parents, students, teachers and the Bellevue community information about the district. However, it turned into a soapbox that parents and the community utilize to attack the district and teachers. I agree with free speech like everyone else, however, where does one draw the line?

    As I’ve posted before, my district has failed to create a technology policy. This is unfortunate because there are no rules or regulations. Sure there are sites that are blocked at school, but tech savvy teenagers simply use their phones and post whatever they wish about teachers. There is no policy or systems in place for teachers, students or staff. This often leads to ethical issues.

    As an educator, I realize that everything I post on social media is a reflection of me. I don’t want to send the wrong messages or post pictures that compromise my morals or ethics. Thus, my Facebook is usually pictures of food and my dog!

    Thank you for your insights this week! I enjoyed reading your perspectives!


  2. I could not agree more one needs to be very careful about what information they are publishing, whether it is through a professional or personal role. I have found this topic to come up a great deal when working with college students, who are quickly posting information without thinking of how it will affect them in the long-term. There are even areas in which information is not intentionally sought out that come into play with hiring decisions. I have seen e-mail addresses or phone messages that may be considered “inappropriate” and caused an employer to withdraw a candidate from the running for a position.

    I went back to my legal and finance class materials, where we had a lot of discussion around social media and employment. In that class, it was suggested that employers do not look up social media, such as Facebook pages of applicants until after an offer has been made (Bredthauer, 2013). There is a slippery slope when it comes to hiring and employment practice and the more information that is obtained outside of the professional role, the more likely we are to hear the word “discrimination

    A great deal of the arguments around this topic go into protection, whether that is clients, students, employers, the public, or any other “group.” I agree that it is extremely important for teachers, or any other employee to be aware of what types of employee behavior is legally protected. A key part of this is also for employers, whether it is a school district or a different field, to make it very clear what is considered “inappropriate.” I used to train new employees on various topics and the one that often had the most discussion was around technology. There were an overwhelming number of employees that appeared shocked that it was not considered to be appropriate to “friend” clients.

    The Electronic Communication Privacy Act (Bredthauer, 2013) prohibits “covert” surveillance of employee activity, therefore it would need to be very clear what information an employer is monitoring. Another point is that the monitoring cannot be “selective” as this also may lead to discrimination claims (Bredthauer, 2013). Just as it is with employees, these issues also need to be discussed around those we serve, whether it is students or another type of “client.” I worked for an organization in which it was found out that a director of a residential program for teens had set up a fabricated profile on Facebook. She “friended” individuals in the program as a way to monitor behavior, specifically citing that she was looking for “bullying” behaviors. This was against organizational policy and gave way to numerous issues, especially due to the residents and their legal guardians not being aware of this monitoring.

    Your post makes an interesting point. Just because something is “legal” does not mean it is “ethical” when taking it into context. Unfortunately, things are not typically clear cut. The domain, the comments, those involved, company policy, implementation of policy, and execution of enforcement are all factors that go into figuring out what is protected and what is not. One thing that is apparent is that this is not an easy issue to navigate.


    Bredthauer, T. (2013). Overview of the labor and employment law: Employee statutory rights (Blueline). Retrieved from https://blueline.instructure.com/courses/866917/wiki/legal-week-2-power-point-2?module_item_id=5840946

  3. I can appreciate your thoughts on this topic but I have to disagree with some of the comments you bring up. First and fore most I believe that they is no such thing as total freedom of expression on the internet if you are not anonymous. What you say through your cyber persona is something that you definitely are responsible for, but like the administrator that asks interviewees to pull up their Facebook account I think that they may be asking for serious repercussions. I would like to know if anyone can give us a legal opinion. I can say from my experience getting access to anyone’s personal accounts or asking them for the info is a slippery slope and may even violate the person’s privacy. I sort of agree with one of the respondent’s comments that just because something is legal it may not necessarily be ethical but that dilemma is what an ethical consideration is supposed to prevent. It is very unfortunate that instructors that what to protect their individual rights have to worry about being terminated if they stand up for those rights. It should be incumbent upon the district to provide guidance to the teachers if they are going to take such serious steps. It is unfortunate that a few bad apples create a dangerous situation that may cause administrators to violate teachers rights whom are not violating ethics but this may be the result of administrators jumping the gun.


  4. Good summary. You commented correctly that “Ethically speaking, educators must follow board policy.”

    One wonders, though, how digitally literate board members are. For me, banning teachers from being on Facebook or Twitter is akin to book burning. Who decides which books to burn?

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