Teachers, just like students, have to be careful about what they post on social media. With the prevalence of technology everywhere you turn, an innocent status update or tweet can cause major damage if interpreted the wrong way.
Many teachers have been fired for Facebook and Instagram posts, tweets, and other social media posts. A teacher’s social media content can impact a school’s reputation, and many cases exist of a teacher being fired for posting provocative content. Unless sharing an opinion on union activity or working conditions, the First Amendment does not protect teachers. Protections exist within the classroom, but online platforms have proven vulnerable.
A suburban Chicago teacher is on leave due to a social media post that used explicit language in reference to her fifth-grade students. She complains about her fifth-grade class in a very vulgar way, which many parents and students feel is inexcusable.
“It is so sad that we are trusting these teachers with our kids, to get an education, thinking they are loving our kids putting them on the right path,” Nikita Moss said.
According to East Aurora school district website, the superintendent met with the employee upon learning of her post and placed her on administrative leave until further notice. “Be assured that we take this matter very seriously,” the district said in a statement. “We are certain that the language used does not reflect the professionalism and attitudes of District 131 teachers and staff, who care deeply for children and work hard each day to build positive relationships with students.”
So what should teachers do? What are the legal guidelines here?
First of all, check to see if your school district has a technology and social media policy. If so, read it and follow it to the letter. Gwyneth Jones, International Ed Tech keynote speaker, author of the award-winning Daring Librarian blog, and the teacher librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Howard County, MD, says “I’m so proud that my district has had a “Responsible Use of Technology and Social Media Policy” since 2002 and has updated it every three years.” She shared the most important portion:
“Any postings by employees will not reference, link or contain: Statements that could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating; that disparage students, employees, parents or community members; or that could be viewed as harassment or bullying.”
According to Anthony Clark, a nine-year teaching veteran and leader of the Suburban Unity Alliance in Chicago, teachers should always use social media with the best interest of their students in mind. Because the rules are often ambiguous and frequently broken, teachers must be prepared for consequences when addressing issues related to their school. For teachers who want to extend their lessons to social media, they very well might find a unique platform for mentorship, but they also should be prepared to sacrifice their jobs and reputation if a scandal breaks out.
Clark realizes that not every teacher will want to adopt his mentorship approach, and he’s fine with that. But he does feel that every teacher has the responsibility to at least be aware of and up to date on the newest trends in social media. “Schools would benefit from allowing and encouraging and providing some level of [social media] training for teachers that find it valuable to build relationships,” Clark said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of it because we can’t control it.”
Sure, teachers might sometimes overreach and place themselves in controversies without knowing all the facts. But many times, teachers have a unique understanding of the issues surrounding young people. They might have the solution in their back pocket. The only way to contribute to the discussion in many situations is social media. We should respect the voice of teachers and allow them the freedom to speak on the issues that are central to future generations.
What’s the best advice for teachers?
If you must use social media, include disclaimers that note that your speech is your personal opinion and not related to your employment. Also, avoid speaking about work-related matters unless the speech is protected as discussion related to working conditions and collective bargaining.