|Teacher, You Will Behave! (Image by Tied & Quiet)
A first-grade teacher in Paterson, N.J., was suspended with pay last week for saying on her Facebook page that she felt like a warden overseeing future criminals. She was disciplined after parents complained to the school and starting asking that their kids be removed from her class, the NY Times reported today.
The teacher has not yet commented on the incident. However, her attorney indicated that administrators who care about kids focus on what goes on in the classroom rather than policing their employee’s private comments. My guess is that they never would have known about the Facebook comments had the parents not complained. If there is one thing that will bring administrators to their knees quickly it is being pestered by parents.
This is now the second time in the last few months that a teacher has been suspended for making negatives comments about their students on the internet. A teacher was also fired from Imagine Prep charter school in Los Angeles for having political bumper stickers on her car and another California teacher was recently sued by a student for calling creationism “superstitious nonsense.”
Workers do not have free speech on the job. In fact, we lose many of our civil liberties in the workplace. Bosses can (and routinely do) spy on employees, monitor computer keystrokes, and discipline them for saying things that they do not like (or that students complain about). In fact, teachers are often disciplined for saying things at school that are considered “inappropriate” or “unprofessional,” sometimes based entirely on hearsay or a single student’s accusations.
The problem is that the Paterson teacher’s comments were made outside of work, where the school should not have any jurisdiction. One could certainly make a good case that her comments showed poor judgment or were unprofessional, but the school cannot and should not attempt to control it punitively. Allowing schools to punish employees for their behavior off campus harkens back to the days when teachers had to be men, or young single females. Getting married or pregnant was grounds for termination. Such reasoning would justify firing a teacher for being drunk in public nowhere near school, or for going to a gay bar outside of work hours, or for attending an anti-war rally. It would also justify firing teachers for writing blog posts, editorials or articles critical of their schools, districts or education policy in general.