Here’s a question for all of us, teachers, students, parents, administrators; where is the line between one’s professional life and one’s personal life when it comes to issues of propriety on the job?
I ask because someone I respect and admire (and care about) is in some hot water at her job over her blog.
Now, before I go any further, let me get a couple of things out clearly and completely; I’m not going to out this person. Though my friend and I have quite a few readers in common and it’s likely some of you know who I’m talking about, I’d prefer that we not mention her by name, please; she’s got enough stress as it is. Also, I want to let those of you who DON’T know my friend know that nothing – NOTHING – she has EVER written has EVER (at least, in my opinion) been anything but self-reflective, professional and, perhaps most importantly, anonymous. Even though my friend and I email privately, I don’t even know her last name. I don’t know where she lives, I don’t know where she teaches. These are important things to consider going forward.
Here’s what I want to know, and I’m interested not just for my friend, but for myself, too; at what point do our employers have the right to censor – or outright prohibit – teachers’ free and public expression online (well, anywhere, really, but I’m wondering specifically as it applies to blogs and forums and such, since that’s what we’re talking about)?
Please consider this question in the context of the way most of us blog about our professional experiences; we use pseudonyms, we obscure the identities of the students and colleagues who are players in the situations we write about, and we write not as an expression of viciousness but of self-analysis, professional growth, and collaboration. When do our employers get to pull the proverbial plug on our computers and tell us to either cease and desist or find a new position? DO they have that right?
I lost a job because of my blog (I’m not the first and I’ll not be the last. Hell, we’ve even got a new word to describe the thing). Someone I worked with – who was entirely anonymous on my site and about whom I never wrote anything disrespectful – didn’t appreciate my candor and the vigor with which I analyzed and investigated my experiences in the school and, well, that was the end of that. I’m over it, certainly – there was a lot more going on in that situation than just a questionable blog entry, and the Universe saw to it that I landed in a much better job in the end – but the fact remains that the blog was the vehicle through which I was gotten rid of in this case. While I suspect that there’s a lot more than the blog going on in my friend’s world, too, the fact remains that the blog has become a primary source of trouble for her.
My thinking about this is very First Amendment. As long as a) there is no stipulation written into a teacher’s contract that s/he shall make no public statements concerning the school or the students, b) the blogger always and effectively conceals the identity of the school / students / colleagues in the course of writing his or her pieces and c) the blogger makes a reasonable effort to remain anonymous as a blogger within the professional environment, then I don’t see any reason why a school district or institution of higher learning should have the right to limit a teacher’s online expression. Unless a clear case can be made that a teacher’s blog is having a detrimental effect on the learning environment, then it’s none of anyone else’s business what a teacher does or does not write, online or anywhere else.
I’m very interested in your collective take on this question, even if your answer isn’t one I want to hear. I am sure that this is a question that most of us – teachers or not – are going to have to answer for ourselves at one point or another. We’ve got this new reality; now we’ve got to figure out how to manage it ethically, responsibly and legally.