From time to time we all make mistakes. People express opinions and make comments that deviate from those of their employers or even society at large. The question about teacher autonomy and personal rights often comes up and there are those in education who mistakenly believe that freedom of speech is a limitless right. In 1998 the Honourable Mr. Justice G.V. La Forest (1998) ruled in a case against a teacher who chose to supplement her income in an exotic dance club. Her actions were not unlawful and her students were unaware of her activities. Unfortunately it was discovered by an administrator at her school that she was working as an exotic dancer. The board of her division moved to release her of her contract and the case went to court.
In 1998 the Honourable Mr. Justice G.V. La Forest (1998) stated that:
Teachers occupy positions of trust and confidence and exert considerable influence
over their students… As a result, it is not enough for teachers to merely <<teach>>
these values. We also expect them to uphold them, and this may involve their
activities both inside and outside the classroom…However, where teachers, by their
extracurricular conduct, displace the trust and confidence reposed in them by the
community and thereby disrupt the education experience of their students, society has
an interest in intervening.
He also said that
Although teachers, like other citizens, have a right to privacy they also must be aware that activities that occur in their private lives may have implications for their careers as educators. Caution must be exercised when engaging in activities which may erode the trust that is placed in them by the community.
Since this case there have been several tests of teachers access to freedom of speech which depends largely on what the community at large can tolerate. What does this have to do with technology? Everything. Our world and community is more connected than ever. Privacy does not exist on the Web as has been evident with the many Facebook security slips and truthfully we are all one screenshot away from our private lives being shared with the world. What does this mean for teachers as the Honourable Mr. Justice G.V. La Forest said teachers occupy a special position which requires trust and confidence from the students and community. Social media and the permanency of posts on-line lends it self to a catastrophic mix for many educators who are unaware that what they do on-line has serious repercussions.
Some teachers have opted to develop a public and private profile for their web presence. Again this is dangerous because I believe that you should not put anything on-line that you would not put on the board in your classroom. It is also worthwhile noting that teachers need to be examples for their students and model positive behaviours in and out of school. We need to model the responsible use that we encourage in our students.
The Manitoba teachers’ society has developed a brief web resource that outlines some guidelines for ethical and appropriate on-line behaviour for teachers.
Regarding Facebook and blog activities the most prolific of the social media sites, the Manitoba teachers’ society has some advice.
The absolute rule to live by is that you
would be comfortable to have your
Facebook and blog activities appear
on the front page of the newspaper.
If you are not, then changes need to be made before it becomes an issue.
Voluntary presence on the web is one thing but teachers must also be aware that activities that used to have a finite audience can now be captured and broadcast to the world in a few clicks. Smart devices with access to the internet have changed everything. The ease of sharing means that teachers need to be hyper-vigilant and responsible at all times. Unfortunately a few teachers have been caught in compromising positions and have had their careers limited permanently.
I thought about posting a few of these incidents which have been caught on YouTube but have decided not to include them as I believe it does not add to this article and may potentially further harm people who have enough to worry about without me repeating their sad stories.
Community standards and Human Rights can intersect in the actions of teachers in interesting ways. An individual teacher’s actions, although not criminal in nature, may put their character into question. We (teachers and administrators) need to change the way we present ourselves and reclaim our space on the Web so that there is so much good out there that the occasional sensationalized blip in the media is overshadowed by good people doing good things.