Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Censorship & Teaching {Part 2}

On Saturday, I wrote this post about how the media often portrays teachers and how teachers might be censored from sharing their opinion about some things if it doesn't make their school and/or district look good. 

When I wrote it, I hadn't intended for there to be a "part 2" but I had an email from a very long-time reader about it. She didn't comment on the blog, opting instead to send me an email because she didn't want her name associated with her comments publicly.

She said that it bothered her that teachers, who are people first and employees second, have to be scared of sharing their own personal feelings on a blog, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media because they could face sanctions from their school district. She said "what about the First Amendment? Don't we have the right to Freedom of Speech?"

It's not a question I can really answer. I'm not a lawyer so I don't know what the interpretation of the First Amendment would be in a court of law. I do know, however, that many teacher contracts have provisions about representing yourself in such a way that reflects positively on your employer. (Don't quote me on the exact wording but it's something to that effect.)

In fact, ten years ago when I was finishing my undergrad, in our classroom management course, my professor shared that when she had been an assistant principal, she and her husband had a party. They bought adult-only beverages and they were bagged by a student from her school at the store. That student shared with his parents that the AP had bought those sorts of drinks and on Monday, she was called into her superior's office and written up because of "conduct unbecoming of a school administrator"...yes, for purchasing adult-only beverages on a weekend, on her own time, for a party she was having. She shared this story with us because even back then, before social media had grown to what it is today, you could be taken-to-task for conduct your district didn't think fit your position.

The wording is intentionally vague (from what I recall my professor telling us) and therefore can cover pretty much anything. 

If I recall correctly, I do believe my own district just recently passed a social media policy. It isn't because they don't want us to talk at all (at least I don't think it is lol). I have been told the "powers that be" in my district are aware of this blog and monitor it and that's fine. I don't write anything that I don't believe to be true and I'm definitely not dumb enough to come online thinking it's in any way anonymous and spout off about things happening in my district that I might not agree with. (I wrote on this blog for almost four years completely anonymously--not even once using my own name and guess what, they still figured out it was me.)

Let's be real, there is no such thing as a utopian district where everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time; anywhere that people work is going to have some things happen that people don't like or agree with and that's fine. I don't love every policy we have (and I guarantee that sometimes they wish I would just shut up already!)....but that doesn't give me the right to go online and rant and rave like I'm the queen of the world. NO ONE CARES if I don't like or agree with a policy. It's not up to me to like or agree with it. My role is to do what they ask me to do...because teaching IS a political job and your district definitely does not want their employees out there spouting off drama.

So my very long answer to her question is, because we are public employees, because whatever we do and say that is made public could even potentially be associated with our school and/or district, yes we do have to be careful of what we say and what we share.  I know that answer is probably going to make this reader mad and I'm sorry.

The fact of the matter is, with teachers being so scrutinized by the public anyway, why would you want to behave in any way that would give the media fodder for saying "see?! Those teachers...."? Why would you want to not only add fuel to the fire but light the match as well?

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