“Will I ever get to be a real little boy (on SM)?”

When I was 11, I met my grade 5 teacher at the grocery store.  It was a very exciting moment.  I felt 3 things: 1) I felt lucky and excited to see her; she was a favourite of mine and I struggled to be a favourite of hers. 2) Very awkward—without our familiar context, I didn’t know how to act or what to say to her.  3) Unsettling—I had to deal with the fact that my teacher was a real person who didn’t live at the school or cease to exist when I left.  This might not be universal.  If you live in a small town you might see your teacher outside of school so much that it is no longer exciting or surprising.  If you live in too large a city, you might never see your teacher in “real” life.  However, for some of us, particularly those of us who idealized our teachers (I certainly was one), seeing them as real people can be uncomfortable—it can challenge our perfect notion of them among other things.

With teacher’s increasing use of technology, my students are bumping into me more and more in the real world—how should we handle it?

At the faculty I was advised, if we were ever going to do something embarrassing or “inappropriate” for a professional, then we should make sure we do it hundreds of kilometres away from where we work(we all were, it wasn’t personal).  Well, that isn’t possible with social media; there is no hundreds of kilometres away.

And what if it isn’t embarrassing or inappropriate?  What if it is simply adult?  Back a few years, under memo s33 “how do deal with controversial issues in the classroom,” we had a concise guide of how to deal with our personal opinions—hide them!.  With the OCT’s recent(ish) discussion on using social media and other sources we have a directive to be professional and conservative with what we share.  But how far should we take that?

What ever flaws S33 had in what it regarded as controversial, and what ever opinion you have about the recent OCT comments, they have at their base an awareness of a teacher’s influence on their students.  They have an awareness of what sharing a teacher’s opinion might do to student autonomy.  If we share our opinion, students might not be able to critically assess it; they might be overly influenced by it—such is the supposed power of our position.  Much like the reading of Miranda rights in the States, checks must be used to insure we don’t suppress autonomy by our awesome presence!

However with students being able to access my real life–with my presence continuing in their lives outside of the classroom thanks to SM, what do we do?  I have shied away from taking about my religious beliefs, political beliefs, and say, drinking habits, in the classroom for the reasons above – need I exercise the same caution on social media?

In my real life, I want to stand up and be counted for my political and religious beliefs.  I want to share these beliefs because these beliefs make up the real me–it is by my opinions and thoughts that I am knowable.  I want to share, promote, advocate but I haven’t as yet (much) because I am mindful of my students (once the invisible audience, now 22/24 follow me on twitter).  Must I be?  I have seen people like @mbcampbell360 talk at length in twitter about their atheism, political support of the Green party, and liberal use of profanity—but he teachers adults—can I join him?

Do I suffer from a lack of integrity for this hidden side of me like the Zuckerbergs suggest?  Am I being overly cautious?  Like Pinocchio I am asking, “Can I ever be a real boy?” and share my opinions more freely on twitter?  Where would you draw the line?

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  1. #1 by Matthew Campbell on February 14, 2012 - 1:54 pm

    You raise some excellent points here with this post. Although I must contest that I only use profanity when discussing conservatives and hence my usage can be deemed conservative.

    I have never liked the tacit gag order that teachers are placed under; however as a parent myself I can understand the belief that it is necessary. Yes there are teachers who would wield their power in unscrupulous fashions but I truly belief that they are the limited exception to the rule (as much as being plugged into a worldwide endless media stream may attest otherwise). There is the risk that a handsome, rugged, muscular, godless, leftist, and brilliant educator may share their opinions in class (in a deep James Earl Jones like voice) that contradicts the beliefs of a student (and with children that typically means the beliefs of their guardians) and therefore cause offence. However, we must remember there is a difference between being offensive and being offended; often what is said is not offensive but people choose to take offense. If we permit those who choose to be offended the right to silence those who they perceive to offend we have lost the cornerstone of democratic society: the right to free speech.

    Instead we must learn to trust teachers with their personal beliefs and ideals and provide them with the right to share as is appropriate in their professional opinion; the same professional opinion we allow them when educating our children. When I was a kindergarten teacher in Korea, I kept many of my views private in the classroom. Now that I teach adults I do not shy away from discussion however I also do not flaunt my views.

    If you believe, as I do, that the purpose of formal education is the instilling and training of critical faculty, what better topics to cut your teeth on than the topics most educators are denied (whether outright or tacitly) from speaking on. These are ‘black-listed’ because they are controversial, because they are emotional, and because they are often viewed as sacred. When we are denied the right to speak on these topics, we too are tacit in declaring discussion of such knowledge to be taboo. No knowledge and no discussion should be outside of our purview. This does not mean all things should be discussed in all grades; but to stifle a conversation out of fear of losing your livelihood is wrong and damaging to the education of our students.

    I have seen many cases where parents’ (and teachers’) offense has caused harm to the safety, sensibilities, and education of our students. When there is outcry because a teacher has labelled their room a safe-haven for students of all gender identities and sexual orientations, we all lose. When it is believed that saying the word gay in a classroom is indoctrination, we all lose. When a school permits the distribution of the Bible but denies the distribution of other works, we all lose. When a school library has to remove all of its copies of Harry Potter because it may turn the students into witches, we all lose.

    Democracy is built upon the free exchange and debate of all ideas. If you feel your beliefs are so easily contested that a teacher freely expressing their own ideas will undermine them, perhaps it is time to scrutinize your own beliefs for yourself.

    That being said, as an educator I made a choice that I would make my beliefs and views public. This was not done easily (I still remember the day when I was asked in class “Are you an atheist?” I was sure I would find another teacher in my room the next day). I knew that by sharing my values I may lose my job and I may never hold a job in a high school (which is what I trained for). No teacher should feel as though they have a lack of integrity because they have chosen job permanence over free expression. My situation allows me to be more vocal as I do teach adults so my chance of finding myself unemployed is low. That is not the case for many of my colleagues. I too have a family to feed and if I were in another boat, I know I would choose to keep my views silent to ensure ongoing gainful employment. What saddens me the most is that that choice even has to be made.

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