Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
Not a Joke
It was supposed to be a joke, an Ohio middle school teacher claimed. She took and posted a controversial photo onto her personal Facebook page. However, the “joke” has placed her on unpaid administrative leave by her school district.
The photo in question was of her students seated at their desk with duct tape placed on their mouths. In addition, it had a caption stating, “Finally found a way to get them to be quiet!!!”
While it may sound like a gag -- and was done with students who willingly participated in its creation -- the humor was lost among members of the Akron Board of Education. As a result, she is (at the time of this writing) expected to have her case sent before the school board. She may lose her job over an Internet photo.
This incident illustrates a point often overlooked by many educators; appearance and action in public can have profound effects on their careers. Teachers, more than any group that serves the public, are placed under a microscope. Their appearance, mannerism, comments, and actions – whether it’s in the classroom or on social media sites – are not going unnoticed. Even a teacher’s past actions can fall under close scrutiny by concerned parents, community leaders and school board members.
What are teachers and other educators to do under increased scrutiny? Simply put, they must:
- avoid embarrassing situations that can jeopardize their careers as well as their standing in the community. And,
- they have to realize that the public will hold them to a high ethical and moral code.
Also, they need to realize that in the 21st century, it’s not just the students in the classroom who are watching them; it’s the rest of the world, thanks to technology.
Some advice for teachers, administrators, and other school employees;
- Use common sense;
- Keep your opinions to yourself;
- You’re being watched and taped;
- Think before you act; and
- Technology is everywhere.
These are simple rules, but breaking them can cause a lot of headaches.
Use Common Sense in the Classroom
The "new normal" of education is that teachers do not teach in isolation anymore. Almost any infraction can be taped by students with hidden cameras or cell-phones. Also, a teacher’s words or comments can be posted onto the Internet for everyone to see and hear. Even a teacher’s past can be found by Googling it.
Now, more than ever, teachers must use some common sense: watch what they say, keep a lid on their anger, and always be professional.
Even without the presence of a recording device, reports of their actions in the classroom can spread by word of mouth. In many cases, teachers’ reputations will be slightly tarnished, meaning future students may try to avoid taking their classes or show little disregard for them.
In severe cases, administrators may take punitive actions, such as a write-up or termination of the educator's teaching contract. In a worst case scenario, law enforcement may be called in to investigate; especially if the action had abused a student, physically or sexually.
Thus, it's always advisable teachers must be professional in the classroom. This includes restraint of verbal and physical actions, maintenance of composure, and ideal manners.
Keep your Opinions to Yourself
Too many teachers get in trouble for their Facebook comments. They make the mistake of believing that their personal page is a place to vent frustrations they have for students or colleagues. Often, they don’t realize that the comments can easily be leaked to the public; especially if certain built-in protocols within the social media are not followed (such as sharing the comment publicly).
Facebook is not alone. Personal blogs or web-pages have landed numerous teachers in hot water. Most notably, it centered on comments they made about the teachers, administrators, and students at their school.
Also, some teachers have made the mistake of placing their opinions on the reader comments of an online community newspaper. Today, many of these forums give the readers a chance to post their comments via Twitter, Yahoo account, or Facebook. As a result, the comment goes way beyond its intended audience.
Go to the popular site and type in “teacher meltdown”. There will be countless postings of teachers hitting students, destroying cell-phones, or screaming at children
One example happened In 2010. A teacher lost her job after writing several negative remarks about students in general. These remarks found their way onto a local online newspaper (it originated on her personal blog). The comments she posted were unflattering toward students she observed at her school.
It was quite a list.Some of the comments were as follows:
- “Frightfully dim”;
- “A complete and utter jerk in all ways”;
- “There’s no other way to say this, I hate your kid”; and
- “Dresses like a streetwalker”.
While she received some recognition (she was given “thumbs-up” by some of her readers), she did raise the ire of parents, students, and administrators at her school. It wasn’t long before somebody complained and the teacher’s contract was not renewed for the coming year.
Smile! You're On Someone's Camera
Teacher meltdowns are inevitable. There are simply days when a lesson is not going in the right direction, or the students are extremely rambunctious. The flustered educators may scream, yell, or simply lose their cool. It happens to the best, from time to time.
Still, those meltdowns can have dire effects on teachers, especially in the age of You Tube and cell-phone cameras.
Go to the popular site and type in “teacher meltdown”. There will be countless postings of teachers hitting students, destroying cell-phones, or screaming at children. In one memorable post, a teacher literally destroyed his desk and threw several chairs against the wall. The situation got so bad that students fled the classroom.
Through it all, a student recorded the event and placed it on You Tube for the entire world to see. The public saw – even if the teacher was a model of exemplary behavior most of the time – was somebody out of control and unfit to teach children.
Think Before You “Act”
The Internet has a way of exposing one’s past. Take the story of a teacher in southern California whose past “job” was exposed.
Students of the Oxnard science teacher discovered that she was once an adult film actress. The acting career had been brief and had taken place a decade earlier when she was a struggling college student trying to find a way to make ends meet.
Although her discretion were not illegal, she broke an unwritten law pertaining to a community's concept of morality
Word quickly spread until it reached the school board. She was promptly removed from the classroom. Although her discretion were not illegal, she broke an unwritten law pertaining to a community's concept of morality.
The school board voted to terminate her employment.
A Personal Story
It’s one thing to report about these events. It's another thing to have experienced it . Several years ago, I ran afoul with my school and district administrators. And, it was due to a student taping an incident that happened in my classroom.
The course I taught was a special education government/economics class that was hastily created four weeks after school started. The course replaced my study skills class in order to:
- keep class size down in a similarly titled course at the time;
- Avoid hiring an extra teacher; and
- Prevent the creation of a sixth period assignment in which a teacher may get extra pay for teaching an extra course;
Also, my study skills course was deemed expendable since it was just a class allotted for extra time for students with learning disabilities to complete classwork. In addition, the administrators were aware that I taught special education social studies in the past (even though I did not like teaching any courses within this field).
This class was a disaster in the making. All but two students added to my new class were formally from an ED (emotional disorder) program that had been disbanded the year before.
ED courses (sometimes referred to as the behavioral class) often required :
- a teacher with a moderate to severe credential (which I didn’t have),
- two to three paraprofessionals (was never assigned one) , and
- some expertise in dealing with extreme behavioral problems (which I was barely trained to do at the time).
I think you can figure out what it was like on a daily basis. Not a lot of teaching happened due to constant disruptions. To top it off, there was not a lot of support coming from administrators. In fact, the students learned early that an inept assistant principal took their words over mine.
Ultimately, a student known for compulsive lying filmed two students play-fighting one another in the classroom. It appeared to show me walking away from them as if I was not going to do anything about it. What wasn’t shown was that I was heading to the phone to call security to have them removed. Still, it was damning enough for the assistant principal.
This student (who was also chronically absent to her classes) turned the cellphone video over to the administration as a way to justify why she wasn’t showing up to class (and for the record, she only showed up for four classes before making this video. She never showed up after she gave it to them).
As a result, I was put on administrative leave for two weeks.
Eventually, my name was cleared of wrongdoing. A DIS counselor revealed that the student that made the accusation was a compulsive liar with a known history of making false statements against teachers.
Also, log records revealed the two “play-fighting“ boys used to do the same thing in the ED classes the previous year. Finally, logs I made on the two revealed the day and time I called security on them. This perfectly countered the accuser's claim I did nothing to stop the "fight".
How to Keep Safe
A colleague once told me that you log everything and keep emails. In this instance, that helped to clear myself from accusations I allowed two students to fight in class. It was my way of keeping myself as transparent as possible.
For the other teachers mentioned in this article the solution to their problems were simple, they needed to realize that technology is at the touch of a button -- and that’s all it takes to ruin one’s reputation.
Other tip to teachers:
- If you have a blog and want to complain about students, wait until you retire or just keep it to yourself in a hand-written diary.
- Think before you act;
- Be aware that students have smartphones with cameras and apps for social media.
- Don’t bring up your past or make sure that your past isn't scandalous;
- Find another profession if the stress gets to you.
It’s not a perfect list; however, knowing some of these tips may help you to be more vigilant when you are in the classroom.
- Superintendent: Ex-porn star fighting to keep Oxnard teaching job lied about her past
The Oxnard School District superintendent said during a Wednesday morning hearing that eighth-grade science teacher Stacie Halas continually lied about her past as a porn star.
- 'Frightfully dim': Teacher suspended for blog insulting students | National Post
Akron, Ohio middle school teacher Melissa Cairns faces possible termination after a photo was seen on her Facebook page showing students of hers with duct tape across their mouths.
© 2013 Dean Traylor
collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on February 02, 2013:
The classroom has changed a lot since I was a kid. Back then teachers were respected and parents were feared. By feared I mean that you hoped that your parents were never called, because they would back the teacher and deal out unthinkable punishments. By today's standards a walk to the woodshed is "unthinkable."
As far as social etiquette and the teaching profession, maybe we should step back to the 1800's. Take a look.
Rules for Teachers in the Late 1800s
1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barbershop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.
Retrieved from: http://blog.ivman.com/teachers-rules/
Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on February 02, 2013:
Life, overall, is becoming more and more complicated. The problems in the schools are in the communities as well. An educator can make a statement that is not really wrong, but offends someone, and finds truckloads of trouble. Your mention of your stint in the Navy is a good example of this.
Educators need to exercise the utmost care when on the Internet or on the job. A downside is that many good teachers are becoming overwhelmed with the stress of growing problems and leaving the classroom for other professions.
One teacher said that she was reprimanded for locking her classroom door with only one student inside. She explained to her supervisor that she was losing teaching time because of unnecessary disturbances. Yet, the teacher was asked not to do it again. After several school shootings, locking doors became part of their school safety plan. That same teacher forgot to lock her door once because of the new practice and was reprimanded again. Even though each incident was necessary in their own times, such can contribute to teacher burnout. Whose fault is it? No one here is at fault. Sometimes life serves us lemons. The old toughies make lemonade, but some take a hike. Many schools are presently struggling to keep excellent, highly qualified teachers. This is becoming a problem in many areas.
Thanks for sharing a hub that I hope many educators and parents will read.
Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on February 02, 2013:
This is a very useful hub and it is so true that a teacher has to be very careful about his actions in class. I teach EFL at a private school in Thailand and I know that many students bring cameras into the classroom. At times, I have almost blown up like the teacher in the video, but have caught myself. When you have an unruly class in which many students make noise and don't pay attention, it is really easy to get angry. It is also important here to be careful what you tell your students about your past. When I first got here, I told some parents and students that I was in the U.S. Navy when I was younger. This turned out to be a "no-no", and I was warned by my supervisor never to mention my Navy past again. It seems that the Navy got a bad reputation here in Thailand in the 60s and 70s when many servicemen from Vietnam came for R&R and others were stationed here. Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning.
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 30, 2013:
Voted up and interesting. You are right teachers in this world of modern technology have it so much tougher. Even though what you post on FB may be part of your personal life when you're a teacher there can be a much too thing line between what is personal and professional and you always have to be aware of what you do. Passing this on.
Brenda Durham on January 28, 2013:
Both teachers were very unprofessional. I dunno how old she is, but the female teacher seems very immature herself and lacking in common sense, ergo....not very good teacher material at all.
The second video.....I dunno what preceded the part of the video that's shown. Why was the teacher telling the kids to shut up? Why didn't he call security or send the troublemakers (if they were who started it) to the Principal's office?
Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on January 28, 2013:
There really is no excuse for the behaviors of the female teacher with the joke gone bad. None whatsoever.
The video, I really don't know what to say about that other than the fact that he was obviously out of it. I mean, I've worked at an alternative school and I've seen teachers get so close to losing it when students make fun of the teachers. It's a thin line.
Great hub. Voted up and useful. Every teacher should read.
Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on January 28, 2013:
Wow, the example you opened with was of a teacher who use terrible judgement. What the heck was she thinking? Any why wasn't she doing something productive in her classroom? She deserved to be fired, I am sorry to say. As for the video, I am speechless. That man should have been removed in handcuffs. As a teacher, we often want to scream and shout and shake students up, but in reality, that is just not effective or professional. I am going to have to google other Youtube videos now to see what other nonsense my so called collegues are up to. I hate when a few bad apples spoil it for the rest of us... Great discussion here, and important for these times. We must think before we post, as everything can go public, no matter how many privacy settings we think we have put in place. Voted up!