Educators, Technology and Social Media: Tips to Tread Carefully

Michael Nitti

     For the past decade or so, as a school administrator and adjunct professor of school law, I have had the opportunity to talk to educators about the particular pitfalls posed by technology and social media use by teaching staff. Unfortunately, I have been witness to far too many neophyte teachers getting into trouble on digital platforms, and I like to view these talks as sort of a preemptive measure. As I often say to young, enthusiastic educators who have grown up as digital natives, paraphrasing an old appliance commercial that none of them have ever heard of; “You can listen to me now, or you could potentially listen to someone else in my position later.”

     Now, without question, it is essential that teachers are preparing students to be successful in a global digital world, and there are considerable benefits that come from being a wired professional. By no means do I intend to diminish those important points, but our interconnected world of technology and social media seems to give teachers new and innovative ways to get into trouble each year, so I like to share the following fifteen key points with them:

1. Educators can be active, visible and accessible with their private life on social media but it’s kind of like Chris Rock says; you can also drive a car with your feet, but that doesn’t make it a darn good idea.

2. As soon as an educator assumes their duties, they are public figures, they get paid with tax dollars, and people hand over to them what they care about most in the world-their children. There is an expectation that educators will be role models. Some may think that is unfair, and perhaps do not feel the need to carry themselves like a role model, but it is probably not a good idea to broadcast that to the world on social media.

3. It is very hard work, takes a lot of time, and costs a bunch of money to become a teacher. But the brutal truth is that in this modern digital era, a whole career and the work that went into it can disappear in the blink of an eye.

4. Educators who are active and visible with their private lives on social media are a lot like that NFL player who was fooling around with fireworks. It may be fun, and it may be cool, but it is also pretty dangerous, and can have a disastrous impact on your career.

5. On one occasion, I was dealing with a teacher whose inappropriate Facebook postings got them in a bit of professional hot water. The teacher defiantly stated, “That’s my private life!” The wise superintendent that I worked for responded, “I agree, and I wish it stayed there.”  

6. Educators are, of course, citizens in a democratic society, and have the right to have political views and opinions. But if you ever post something that makes a student think that this person does not like me because of how I am, or what I believe, or what I look like, then that impacts your ability to teach that child, and to do your job. That is simply unacceptable.

7. It may not be the best idea to leave a trail of your thoughts, musings, observations, events and festivities on any kind of digital platform. And always keep in mind; a picture is a right-click from being somebody else’s property forever.

8. If an educator is going to be active on social media, they should follow this proverbial smell test before they post: “Yep, my grandmother would be okay with this.” Also, make sure all your privacy settings are appropriate, and remember, nobody has 900 true friends, and some of these so-called social media friends, may not even like you.

9. If you are a teacher of elementary students, the parents will track down and scrutinize your digital footprint, because they want to know all about the person who will be taking care of their babies. By the time kids get to high school and parents just want these darn teenagers out of their house, it is the students who will investigate your internet presence.

10. Remember certain tweets, photos and postings don’t age well. Society changes, values change, attitudes change. To quote the late-20th century philosopher Homer Simpson, “Everything looks bad if you remember it.”

11. Never post anything negative about your students on social media. I once encountered a teacher who shared a student’s writings with mocking commentary on Facebook. It eventually got back to the parents of the child. As you could imagine, the consequences were very bad for that educator. Also, don’t complain about your job as a public servant online. Nobody wants to hear it.

12. Dance like nobody is watching. Email like it one day may be subpoenaed and read in court. Emails live forever on some server somewhere. If global nuclear Armageddon ever occurs, the only things left will be cockroaches and that inappropriate joke you never should have forwarded.

13. Emails are also a treacherous form of communication, As someone who has seen the dreaded misuse of “Reply All,” and witnessed “This mother is as dumb as her kid,” being emailed to said alleged stupid mother, all I can recommend is to look closely before hitting send. It is also very difficult to distinguish tone or sarcasm in an email. Keep things brief, specific and focused on information only.

14. With every student having a camera and recorder in their pocket, it is a dangerous time to be a teacher, and losing your temper or doing something stupid could have disastrous consequences. This “teacherbaiting” ploy, where one student gets the teacher mad while another student records it, is a very real danger. In this day and age, you always have to carry yourself like you are being recorded, because you very well may be.

15. Never hand your personal smart phone, containing pictures and other private information, to a student. I have seen this go remarkably bad.

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