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Teacher’s Social Profiles; Should They Matter?

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The Washington Post pokes around a few MySpace and Facebook profiles of young school teachers and shares the apparently disturbing results.

One Montgomery County special education teacher displayed a poster that depicts talking sperm and invokes a slang term for oral sex. One woman who identified herself as a Prince William County kindergarten teacher posted a satiric shampoo commercial with a half-naked man having an orgasm in the shower. A D.C. public schools educator offered this tip on her page: “Teaching in DCPS — Lesson #1: Don’t smoke crack while pregnant.”

Shocking, huh?

I know you’re expecting me to now drone on about the importance of ensuring you have a clean online reputation and some bullet-points on how these teachers can protect their jobs, but I’m not going to.

Here’s why.

Should these teachers conduct themselves online with the same high standards they conduct themselves in the classroom? Absolutely! But, in the real world, we often have corners of our lives where we let our hair down and depart from the roles we play in our work environment. I’m sure each of you could name at least one incident in the past 5 years that you’d rather your employer not know about–we all could.

So yes, school officials should pull up the social networking profiles of the teachers they employ. And, if they find something illegal or likely to impact the teacher’s ability to teach and protect the children under his care, they should consider disciplinary action. However, they should also apply some common sense. We do indeed live in a Radically Transparent world, but its not the behavior of teachers that has changed in the past 5 years; its our ability to watch their behavior that has changed. If you think young teachers haven’t conducted themselves inappropriately on the weekends for, say, the last hundred years, you’re living in denial.

So, should we let teachers off the hook? Should we simply dismiss their rambunctious behavior? That depends. I like the sensible approach taken by the National Education Association:

If they can prove that no one at school complained about the page, then they might prevail in a personnel dispute “because there would be no evidence of any real or potential harm to the students or school,” he said.

And maybe the answer is not to judge the teachers. Maybe the burden should be on the parents. After all, if you’re letting your kids view social networking profiles that include a “half-naked man having an orgasm in the shower” then maybe you should be the one who’s role–as a parent–is scrutinized.

In summary…

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?

Likewise, if a teacher posts a photo of themselves getting drunk, and you don’t let you children view it, does it matter?

(Further reading: Over at Capitol Valley, Andrew Feinberg shares his thoughts on why passionate employees should be judged by their work, not their play.)

(image credit)

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