It took me longer than I would have liked to get this post up and running but I had quite a bit to sort out in my own mind before setting it all down in type. Now more than ever, teachers are public figures. Social media can be advantageous and useful, but it can also get us into trouble. This article outlines the story of a teacher who got herself into some hot water when a parent caught sight of her social media page and didn’t appreciate the “off color” memes regarding the teaching profession she had posted.
Rather than dive right in with my own take on this hot issue, I’m going to start by examining several ways of looking at things using a four corners graphic:
My younger self would have fallen stoutheartedly into the “Strongly Disagree” corner. I would have railed against The Man. I would have insisted that teachers have a right to privacy and work-life balance. We have the right to express our opinions in whatever way we see fit. I would have been outraged that a parent had the audacity to complain over some innocently humorous memes. Clearly, this teacher was just blowing off some steam and who could fault her for that?!
Luckily, I am no longer my younger self. Self-righteous and a bit irritating, wasn’t she? The person I am today just finished her 13th year in urban public education in the town where she herself has lived her entire life. The “me” I am today falls into the “Strongly Agree” corner. I know this may not be a popular opinion among my colleagues but I’d like to take the time to explain how I’ve come to this conclusion.
I was a relatively late arrival to the social media game. I didn’t bother to join Facebook until 2009 and even then it was really just so I could communicate with friends and family who lived in far off places. My best friend was in Japan for a while, a former student with whom I’ve remained close joined the air force and was stationed in Yemen, my dearest aunt and uncle live in Florida–you get the idea.
In 2012, I lost 90 lbs. using a popular health program and for a time, worked as a coach for the program. It was then that I realized the raw power that exists in social media. I learned a great deal about advertising and using social media with purpose through seminars and workshops within this program. Somewhere along the line, I stopped coaching for the program and figured out how to use what I’d learned in my teaching life.
All humility aside, homegirl’s social media skills are on point.
I made my Facebook page public five years ago and I’ve never looked back. That being said, with great posting, comes great responsibility.
I am a lifelong member of the community where I teach, I went to school there myself, I reside within the district, and there are even students who live in my neighborhood. My next door neighbor was in my class two years ago AND I went to high school with both of her parents. I gave up on trying to keep my personal life to myself YEARS ago. Beyond that, I’ve come to believe that giving up most of my anonymity in my personal life is part of what it takes to do my job effectively. My community is economically depressed and for better or worse, I am far more involved in the lives of my students and their families than the average bear.
I’ve started several outreach initiatives outside the regular school day–a Friday night program in which teachers, students, and parents do social activities in the community, a free book crusade to provide as many community members as possible with quality reading material to foster a community-wide love of reading. I need my social media outlets–they are a massive ingredient to my success. Because of this, I take my social media posts very seriously. I would never post anything that might detract from my mission.
So, how exactly do I use my social media page with purpose?
The special projects I do require community and parental support. I use my social media to keep the community informed and to ask for help.
My most recent project is my reading initiative. Research shows that students who read for pleasure have a significant advantage over those who don’t–and that advantage increases astronomically when the adults in their households are readers as well. On that front, I’ve got two awesome things cooking this summer: a free book room for the students required to attend summer school in my building, and a stand at an outdoor community market where I give free books to community members. My social media has been crucial to my success. Here is a post from Facebook about the summer school book room:
I updated again when the book room was ready (I find it especially powerful to include photos and use humor when I can):
I definitely sprinkle some very intentional humor to get my followers to pay attention:
This has proven incredibly effective for me. My community knows what I’m up to, where my heart is, and what they can do to help or get involved. I’m not interested in jeopardizing that because I’m feeling extra free-speechy on any given day.
I do still CAREFULLY pick hot button issues to weigh in on
Sometimes, there are controversial topics that, as a human, I feel I can’t stay silent about. In these cases, I do comment but I am still very careful with what I say and how I say it. I recently spoke my piece about family separation at our southern border:
This post generated some backlash from a follower or two, but at the end of the day, I felt justified in expressing myself. On other occasions I have exercised extreme restraint. This year I had a student born female who identified as male (I’m going to use the pronoun “they” because that is what the student prefers). The student had recently shared this realization with their parents and it did not go well. I was a huge part of this student’s support network as they worked through this extremely difficult time. Because all of this was going on, I have not posted ANYTHING on my social media about LGBTQ rights recently even though it is an issue near and dear to my heart. I made this choice because I felt a deep responsibility to my student. If their parents saw a pro-LGBTQ post on my social media page, they could have requested their child be removed from my class and I no longer would have been able to provide the student with the support from a loving adult they so desperately needed. This more than any other reason is why I do believe we check some of our own free speech at the door when we become educators.
But, hey, I can’t be expected to be serious all the time…
Part of the joy my followers get from my page is that sometimes, I’m just one purely funny lady:
Most of all, though, my social media is my outlet to tell the world I’m proud of what I do.
During the final two weeks of school, a 6th grade student at my school was tragically hit by a car and killed. Our entire school grieved together, and a group of my 8th graders did something impressive beyond their years. Proud teacher that I am, told the world in this post
Similarly, after a very successful experience with my free book stand, I decided I wanted the world to know
After this many years of doing what I do, I truly believe that yes, we as educators give up some of our rights to free speech for the good of our communities. As Kermit would say:
Where do you fall on the four corners of this issue? Leave it in the comments!