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How are States Handling Teachers on Facebook?

How are States Handling Teachers on Facebook?

In today’s social media-driven culture, there is ongoing debate as to what is considered appropriate online behavior, particularly on Facebook. While it’s true that everyone has a right to privacy and self expression, there is no denying the that there is no privacy on Facebook. Limitations can be placed on who can see your profile, but there are no restrictions on your friends sharing what you post with their network. This in a way makes Facebook a public forum, and users should have the understanding that everything posted can easily be shared with someone it may not have been meant for.

Appropriate Facebook conduct is necessary for all users --- from job seekers whose information may be viewed by potential employers to those working with sensitive information regarding others (counselors, doctors, nurses, etc.), and especially for teachers on Facebook.

As an educator, you should always maintain a professional relationship with your students, but there is nothing wrong with forming connections with the lives you impact. Teachers care about their students, and many who connect with their students on Facebook do so with the best intentions. Still, being a teacher means you have an obligation to behave responsibly on Facebook --- even if you do not have students in your network. It is easy for a school administrator, fellow teacher or parent to stumble across what you post. Teachers are role models, and if something raises questions about your ability to be a positive influence, parents will not be comfortable entrusting you with their children.

Many teachers have already felt the repercussions of their Facebook activity. Here are several examples of inappropriate Facebook activity by teachers and the consequences:

Christine Rubino

Just last spring, Christine Rubino, a 38-year-old math teacher who worked at P.S. 203 in Brooklyn for 15 years, posted a Facebook status that read: “After today, I’m thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts!” One of her friends commented on the status, “Wouldn’t you throw a life jacket to little Kwami?”, to which Rubino replied, “No, I wouldn’t for a million dollars.” The twist? Just the previous day, a 12-year-old girl from Harlem drowned during a class trip to the beach. Outraged, one of Rubino’s coworkers showed the post to the assistant principal, who notified the principal at once.

An investigation began, and six months later, Rubino was summoned to termination hearings for “behavior unbecoming of a teacher.” A Manhattan Supreme Court Judge recently overturned the move to fire Rubino, though the Department of Education is considering appealing the decision to push for her removal.

Jennifer O’Brien

One teacher who was fired for her Facebook activity is Jennifer O’Brien, a first-grade teacher at School 21 in Patterson, New Jersey. Having been placed on administrative leave last March, O’Brien was terminated after a judge ruled that she “demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity for the world in which her students live.” School 21 is a high-needs elementary school, and, in March, O’Brien posted a Facebook status that read: “I’m not a teacher — I’m a warden for future criminals!”

This status was shared with her network, but must have been forwarded to others because the backlash was immediate. Within days, parents were complaining to the principal and demanding that their children be removed from O’Brien’s class. She was suspended and, shortly thereafter, placed in termination hearings. ---

But the intersection of teachers and social media isn’t all horror stories. Consider a string of articles in The New York Times that demonstrate the educational and emotional power of social media. In one, you’ll read the story of Erin Olson, an English teacher in Iowa, who used technology like Twitter to increase participation in classroom discussions by more than 25 percent. Another article recounts how 64-year-old educator Mr. Chemerka never realized his impact on students until he discovered a Facebook fan page called the “Mr. Chemerka Fan Club,” which had attracted more than 450 members. And Alye Pollack’s YouTube video is yet another great example of how social media can sometimes be an outlet for students, allowing, in this case, one to speak up about bullying.

Considering all of these stories, it’s obvious that the combination of teachers and social media isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s up to each educator to what he or she will of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the rest. After all, these are just tools at your disposal. You ultimately decide how to wield each one.