being a teacher, Decisions

Do Teachers Have the Right to Privacy?

I owe this post to the excellent comment left by Jennifer Diaz on my So You Want a Teacher Job.  Thank you for bringing this up!

With an onslaught of teachers seemingly caught bashing their students on Facebook or being reprimanded by their school boards for sharing pictures of themselves drinking, I am starting to wonder whether we as teachers have the right to privacy?  Now don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should be careful what they post publicly and bashing your students is just idiotic.  But what about the more innocent pictures of you holding a drink?  How about you actually drinking at a public venue?  Or riding a motorcycle with no helmet (even if it is not breaking the law)?  Or smoking, swearing or wearing lowcut clothing?  Do teachers have a right to do this in public or is that considered morally corrupt as well?

I agree that as a teacher, we are instant role models for all children and that we must behave, dress and act accordingly.  However, what about in our free time?  Are we still expected to follow the same code of conduct outside of school walls as we do within?  Should we as teachers live the life of a seemingly flawless adult and do anything that could be viewed as “bad” by children only within our own houses?And don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about anything crazy here.  Just the act of having a beer at a bar or heaven forbid actually getting drunk.  What about pictures of you showing off you new tattoo?  Is that considered morally reprehensible?

As new teachers get ready to interview and ask for advice, I always tell them to check their privacy setting on Facebook and to Google themselves to make sure they like what they find.  View it through the lens of an employer and make sure their path is clean.  However, is it right for society to place teachers on a moral pedestal that no other professions, not even politicians, have to attain?  I don’t have the answer but I would love to start the discussion.  Are we as teacher allowed to have “a life” outside of school doing normal adult stuff that in any other profession no one would even think twice about?  Are we indeed allowed to have a private life?

14 thoughts on “Do Teachers Have the Right to Privacy?”

  1. Interesting that you posted this today. We had the exact same discussion in church today. Should our leaders (I see teachers as leaders) be held to a higher standard than the general population?I guess my question is, "why wouldn't one want to be held to a higher standard?" The only answers I could come up with are purely selfish. "I want…" "I should be able to…" "I…".The only problem is that no one is perfect. I think the more disturbing thing is how we ostracize people for making mistakes, even though we all do.I guess the biggest question is this: is getting drunk at a bar a mistake or a choice. That changes the consequence.

  2. Well, teachers are human beings, entitled to certain pleasures such as a drink or body art, if that's your speed. It's one thing to be "caught" in public. It's another totally to advertise your foibles on Facebook or other sites. That's just stupid. Our world has evolved very rapidly to the point where, sadly, very little is kept private anymore. People need to have some discretion when they broadcast the saucier details of their lives.

  3. I believe you gave up your rights to a private life — when you brought your life online.Or perhaps I should qualify that with — you give up your rights to expect to have a private life once you brought your life online.~~~I find no reason to NOT wish to be a good example to my students. And I agree with Trevor when he said "I guess my question is, "why wouldn't one want to be held to a higher standard?""I think everyone — not only teachers — once they bring their life online need to realize that EVERYONE could be watching and ANYONE could be a part of their privacy being no longer being private.I tend to sway toward the more conservative life-style and honestly feel that I would rather be boring — and respected — than crazy — and having to explain.I enjoyed your post. Good thoughts to think.

  4. Must be Murphy's law, we were just discussion this EXACT thing over lunch on Sunday! Initially I was the side of 'teachers have a right to privacy', but after hearing someone else's opinion, I'm not so sure I am anymore. What about viewing this from the other side? Instead of bemoaning what the employer is or is not expecting, why not look at the ethics of the teacher's behaviour. Some people feel the need to behave differently in different circumstances, but surely we should be sufficiently true to ourselves to behave the same in all circumstances? Surely we should be true enough to ourselves to behave the same way irrespective of who might or might not be watching? I don't think this is just an issue of whether or not teachers can be given permission to "be human". I also see the other side, that all people (and this discussion could apply to ANY coroporation, not just to teachers) should behave, at all times, in an ethical and responsible manner.Some will say that's pie in the sky, and that no-one could adhere to such high standards. My response is that if you aim at nothing, you will achieve nothing, but if you aim for the sky, you might just achieve something great. Is it wrong for any employer to raise the bar on the behaviour it expects from its employees, especially if they can be linked back to that organisation in some way, and will therefore reflect upon Joe Soap's impression of said organisation? Is it wrong for us to expect adults (irrespective of their training or job or position) to be leaders in their homes, in their families, amongst their friends and in their communities?And when others DO raise the bar, and ask us to behave ethically at all times, is it fair of us to complain about it just because it shows us up as being less than ethical? or would the correct response be to suck it up, admit we fall short and modify our behaviour?I haven't made up my mind yet, but I've certainly realised that it isn't as simple as whether or not teachers have a right to privacy. There's a lot more to consider here.

  5. Wow! This conversation is just making my head spin. Love these comments.While I agree that we shouldn't post stupid stuff online because then we are absolutely giving up our right to privacy, i am wondering more about the being seen in real life type of stuff. An example: I ride motorcycles with my husband and we choose to not wear a helmet, which is legal here in Wi. Another teacher admonished me for not wearing a helmet since that was setting a bad example for the kids. So in this situation, are we required to constantly be role models in everything we do?What about having a beer at a bar? Some parents may frown upon that even though it is perfectly legal. Where do we set the line of what is appropriate or inappropriate teacher behavior?And can districts mandate what they consider appropriate behavior or not?

  6. Do teachers have a right to privacy? Absolutely! Just as politicians and movie stars do! They have a right to watch their children play sports without being distracted with questions, they have a right to buy groceries without stopping to hear comments, and they have a right to make mistakes like making unrealistic assignments or jumping to the wrong conclusions. Teachers have a responsibility, however, to behave ethically and above reproach. As leaders of children and others in emotionally formative situations, teachers have an obligation to society and to future generations to be examples for others to emulate.

  7. Great conversation, Pernille. For one thing, I am glad YouTube and Facebook were not around when I was first starting out as a teacher. I did not make the best decisions and if it ever came public, I would have had a hard time sticking up for myself. My view is different now than it was 10 years ago. As I have matured and reflected more upon who I am and what I stand for, I do try to model the behaviour I want to see in kids. This behaviour is not perfection – we all have our faults and things we do that may be questioned by some. My only advice is: only do what you are prepared to defend. If you believe it is the right thing to do and you are prepared to have this conversation with kids and parents, then do it. I want to teach like I parent. If it is something you do not want your children to know about… then I would think twice about it. Larry Cuban said "how you teach becomes what you teach" and to me, this does extend beyond the walls of the classroom and school. We cannot say "don't do drugs" and then go home and smoke a joint. If you want your children and students to wear their seat belts, helmets, appropriate clothing, avoid texting and driving – then, in my opinion, we model this. Having said this, I still make errors in judgment… and I always have to prepare myself to defend my decisions. Although there are are some standards that are for most workplaces (ie. dress), we do not have a 9-5 job. We are held in higher regard by society. Whether or not this is right is not for me to say. When we are judged by the way we act in public, we do lose the respect of some; if you are ok with this, then that is your decision and you live your life accordingly.So, I guess my answer is: we are held in higher regard by society and people may believe this is good or bad… but I believe it is true. We DO need to act respectfully and ethically in public. I would not want to see my kids' teacher completely wasted or acting inappropriately in public (even though this may be legal). I made some poor decisions as a young teacher and I had to respond to some questioning but I had a supportive principal that guided me to make better decisions.What we cannot do is SAY that students and society should be one way and then choose to ACT a completely different way.PS. Please wear a helmet. My mom lost a close friend when she was in university for this very reason. 😉

  8. Again, what thoughtful conversation that is happening here. This is obviously an important question and one that many struggle with and contemplate. Chris, thank you for sharing your story. I think you are right when you say that we are held in higher standard by society and with good reason. We should think of this when we live our lives.Kathy – I think you nailed it for me; Yes we have a right to privacy but we also have a responsibility. There in lies the power of us; we have a responsibility to our students and communities to uphold a certain standard. And if we don't like that then perhaps we should not be teachers.

  9. This is an interesting topic and I like the thoughtful post and comments. However, there is another side to consider too. Being a teacher gives one an inherent access to the private lives of other families. In general, this may not be a big deal – but what about when a student is having trouble in some way? One of the first questions asked is "What is going on at home?" or more directly "Where are the parents?". Hopefully as the questioning continues discretion is used, but let's recognize that at this point the family is not really allowed privacy, and they probably feel judged.

  10. I posted on the original post, and voiced a concern about unfair hiring practices. The concern was that employers may not hire someone after checking their Facebook page. I feel two ways about the right to privacy.First, a teacher is in a position of power and therefore has the potential to influence children. So it is important to remember that power comes with certain rights, responsibilities, privileges, and obligations. I absolutely understand and agree with this and everyone else who has mentioned this. I do believe in privacy. Some teachers keep theirs by not working near the school that their kids go to. It's harder to keep your privacy when you run into your students at the grocery store because you live across the street from the school you work at. The internet makes that nearly impossible. For that reason I don't friend any current parents on FB.The gray area for me is the values… Different groups of people have different values. Some conservative families don't drink, smoke, or use birth control (as another poster mentioned) even though those things are legal. You aren't going to share the values of all of your families. Therefore someone is going to be disappointed. Great conversation!

  11. Great post Pernille!As I thought about it more, the words "respect" and "trust" kept playing in my head. There are things that are legal that I do not respect (I won't outline them here in an effort not to offend anyone). There are also legal activities that might cause me to lose trust in someone. (For example, talking on a cell phone while driving is still legal in Virginia, but I wouldn't trust that person to drive my children.)It is important that the parents and students trust and respect their teacher/administrator. Any breach in trust or respect will result in a less effective learning environment. Because of that, I hold myself to a high standard in order to maintain the trust and respect. Do I mess up? Of course. But we all…then we talk about the word "forgiveness".I work at a Christian school. We have some who believe drinking is okay and permissible, while others think it is flat out wrong. So those of us who are okay with it (in some contexts) choose not to drink at all in order to maintain the trust and respect of everyone in the community.The same may go for not wearing a helmet. You have every right. But when that parent who lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident sees you on a ride, it may stir up emotions in them that can compromise your relationship and impact your effectiveness as a teacher. Ultimately, the decision is yours as to which is more important.

  12. I love the extra thoughts being added here. Yes, I agree that we have to be very consistent and thoughtful with our choices but I am worried with where the line is drawn. It seems that some school boards will downright intrude into private lives, such as the birth control decision, and then punish. I also realize that we are adults and that all choices we make, whether we are teachers or not, always have ramifications. As Trevor said "respect" is huge in all of this. We want parents to be able to respect us so we have to keep our end of the deal up. I want to be able to respect my child's teacher someday.I love the aspect of parent privacy! Often as teachers we do not seem to think much of the privacy of a parent and whatever they share with us. I think we need to extend the same courtesy to them as we expect for ourselves.

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