A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, November 14, 2008


CHARLOTTE -- A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher faces firing for posting derogatory comments about students on Facebook, while four others have been disciplined for posts involving “poor judgment and bad taste,” school district spokeswoman Nora Carr said Tuesday.

WCNC, The (Charlotte) Observer's news partner, turned up questionable pages on the social networking site by searching for people who identified themselves as Charlotte-Mecklenburg employees.

Superintendent Peter Gorman has recommended firing a teacher who listed “teaching chitlins in the ghetto of Charlotte” as one of her activities and drinking as one of her hobbies.

In her “About Me” section she wrote: “I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”
Thomasboro Elementary, where most students are minorities from low-income homes, lists that teacher as a faculty member on the school Web site. She has been suspended with pay, Carr said; the dismissal is not final because teachers have a right to appeal. The Observer is not publishing her name, pending the district's final decision in her case.

Reporter Jeff Campbell of WCNC said he showed district officials pages involving seven CMS teachers. Carr said four faced unspecified discipline that is less than suspension or dismissal. She would not provide details about the offensive material, but the pages Campbell submitted included photos of female teachers in sexually suggestive poses and a black male teacher who listed “Chillin wit my n---as!!!” as an activity and had a suggestive exchange with a female “Facebook friend” accompanying a shirtless photo of himself.

The school district is reviewing the case of a high-school special-education teacher who used a Facebook “mood box” to post “I'm feeling p---ed because I hate my students!”

District officials are working on a memo reminding all 19,000 employees that information they post on the Web can be viewed by the public and should be appropriate. “When you're in a professional position, especially one where you're interacting with children and parents, you need to be above reproach,” Carr said.

The teachers in question chose to identify their employer and skipped an option that blocks public viewing of their pages. “I think they just didn't think these things through,” Carr said. “That's kind of mind-boggling.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has an investigator who specializes in online issues, including reports of inappropriate material posted by students about teachers. Carr said “several” employees a year are disciplined for inappropriate posts. The district generally responds to complaints, rather than randomly viewing pages.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other districts also check Web pages, especially popular networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, before hiring, Carr said.

Teachers across the country have faced similar situations – enough so that NEA Today, the journal of the National Education Association, published a roundup this year. It included a Colorado English teacher fired for posting her sexually explicit poetry on MySpace, a Florida band director fired for a MySpace profile that included “his musings about sex, drugs and depression,” and a Virginia art teacher fired for posting photos of his “butt art,” done by painting his private parts and pressing them onto canvas.

Last fall, according to NEA Today, the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch found teachers writing about sex, drugs and drinking on their MySpace profiles.

“There's an old lawyer's saw that goes something like this: Never put in writing anything that you wouldn't want read in open court or by your mother,” concludes the article, written by Michael Simpson of the NEA's legal office. “Maybe it's time for an updated adage: Never put in electronic form anything that you wouldn't want viewed by a million people, including your colleagues, students, and supervisors – and your mother.”

No matter how many times I try to explain it, my students don't get the fact that their emails accessed from school are then stored on the school server, that emails sent from school are then stored on the server, and there just is not any such thing as a privacy right at school. Then there's the whole facebook idiocy: even pages marked "private" can be accessed and published all over the place. For teachers not to get this drives me crazy.



At 11/14/08, 6:47 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

We were told specifically by admin and the union (the union actually raised the topic first) that to have a Facebook or Myspace account was the height of idiocy.

It is also, IMHO, a big time waster. I'm lucky I can get through my regular reading and email let alone dealing with a social networking site.

At 11/14/08, 6:47 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I've been trying to have a conversation about this over at my place, but I'm surprised (and disappointed) by how few people are biting.

Facebook scares the crap out of me, frankly, and I'm considering deleting my page - I never use it, and it hasn't found me any long-lost friends, so I don't really see the point in exposure.

My blog, on the other hand, is anonymous. I'm still trying to determine where the line is between MY rights of expression and my students' rights to privacy. It's a tricky business, and one which I don't feel anyone has adequately addressed quite yet...

At 11/14/08, 8:15 PM, Blogger Ms. George said...

I would love to be on Facebook, if only to keep up with my goddaughter at college who rarely writes actual letters (but I do get awesome thank you cards).
However, the thought of students finding it and posting randomness or worse...
My blog is anonymous and I really try to change the particulars of anything I've commented on that is school related (genders, no names, etc.). I've even removed some things that were probably fine, but were written from a negative place that I just don't want to keep out there anymore.
Looking at what has happened to one cyber pal recently...we just have to be careful.

At 11/14/08, 10:11 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I too, completely change details and my blog is as anonymous as I can make it. I do not discuss this blog at school. But furthermore, to call your students "ghetto" and "chitlins" much less to use the n-word (which I hate hate HATE) just tells me to get that person the hell out of the classroom.

As much as my kids frustrate me and appall me with their behavior sometimes, and as squirrelly as some of the alleged adults with whom I work are, I still love my students and love teaching and mostly like everyone else. Call me Pollyanna.

At 11/15/08, 10:42 AM, Blogger Kate said...

Does anyone else find the "only a fool would have a facebook account" sentiment depressing? Exciting, useful, fun technology...that professional educators are advised to avoid outright? We're expected to be guiding our young charges toward responsible citizenry and adulthood, but also be completely ignorant of the new conduits of public expression?

I think there's a better way - get a facebook presence, if you want one. Learn about the privacy settings, and use them. Be careful who you allow to view your page by only friending people you know and trust in real life. Don't allow access to friends of friends. For goodness sake, don't friend students. And, finally, don't write or post anything that you wouldn't want the local news seeing, even if they could.

At 11/16/08, 7:41 PM, Anonymous Em K said...

I agree with Kate. It is so important for us to model responsible use of technology even if our students never see it.

The fading line between professional and personal lives can be somewhat disconcerting as a teacher. There are times when we need to vent, but using discretion about where, when and to whom are so important.


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