In the September 2007 issue of Reader’s Digest, an article entitled Is Your Boss Spying on You? (by Kim Zetter) caught my eye. While this article is applicable to anyone who has internet access at work, it is especially valid for educators.
Not only is my district reading my e-mail and following my website history, my e-mail is public record. Thus, you should be extremely careful about how you discuss students in e-mail messages, and you should never disclose personal information that you wouldn’t want to see in a newspaper. In short, school e-mail should be used for school business only. It is also worthy to note that there are inappropriate times to use e-mail, especially when a phone call or face-to-face conversation could be utilized more effectively and privately. See Basics of Online Communication.
Every year we are reminded by our teachers’ union to be careful about our online activities. There are obvious things to avoid, like accessing pornography, selling e-bay items during class time, creating/forwarding offensive e-mail messages, etc. But there are some gray areas to avoid too. For instance, I worry about surfing the web (even education sites) during class time. Even though this may be valid prep work to enhance my curriculum, I am not actively engaged with my classes when I am online.
Mostly, I see internet use at school as a professional issue. If we as educators want to be viewed as professionals, then we must act like professionals. This definitely means that we should be careful of our internet use in school, but we should also be careful of our online presence outside of school as well. The article addresses the infamous ‘drunken-pirate-wants-to-be-a-teacher’ story:
Stacy Snyder was working toward a bachelor of science in education and a teaching certificate from Millersville University in Pennsylvania. Her supervising teacher at the high school where she was doing in-class training says Snyder was inviting students to visit her MySpace page. Among the contents: a photo of Snyder wearing a pirate hat and holding a plastic cup. A caption read “Drunken Pirate.” High school officials called Snyder’s MySpace activity inappropriate and unprofessional. Subsequently, she says, she had to forfeit the teaching certificate and switch to a bachelor of arts degree. She has sued Millersville for what she says is unfair punishment; the university refutes her claims. In any case, her teaching career may be over already.
Whether you agree with the outcome of this case or not, it sends a clear message that people are following and perhaps judging your online presence. While this may not be too concerning for veteran teachers protected by strong unions, it should make any pre-service or probationary teacher wary.