When Will Principals Start Taking the Side of a Teacher Over a Parent?

Those who read my blog know how nervous I am about teachers who have readily accessible Facebook pages. I have read too many stories of teachers whose careers and reputations have been jeopardised by an update status or cheeky photo.

But the story below story reminds us that there is another important factor at play here. Teachers are people like everyone else. We have every right to enjoy the sorts of pleasures that non-teachers do. Teachers should be able to, within reason, use their Facebook page without the need to have it monitored or vetted by a superior.

And if a parent complains about content on a teacher’s Facebook page, or any other matter that doesn’t qualify as extremely serious, I’d love to see the hierarchy defend their teachers.

Principals and superintendents seem far too reluctant to back their teachers in the face of controversy. A healthy school culture requires parents to be involved in the running of the school. An unhealthy school culture has the parents actually running the school.

When a parent complained about a PG-13 photograph on a teacher’s Facebook page, the superintendent should have defended his/her teacher:

When Kimberly Hester of Cass County, Mich. posted with permission a photo a coworker sent her on Facebook, she didn’t think it would offend the public school where she taught, or lead the superintendent to demand access to her Facebook page.  But a photo of her coworker with her pants down did just that.

Hester, 27, was a full-time peer professional, or teacher’s aide, at Frank Squires Elementary in Cassapolis, Mich. for about two years. In April 2011, a coworker texted a photo showing herself with her pants around her ankles, with the message “thinking of you” as a joke.

“She’s actually quite funny.  It was spur of the moment,” Hester said, adding that there was nothing pornographic about the picture, which only showed the pants, part of her legs, and the tips of her shoes.

“I couldn’t stop laughing so I asked for her permission to post it [on Facebook],” she said.  The coworker agreed.  Hester said all this took place on their own time, not at or during work.

Hester said a parent (not of one of her students) showed the photo to the superintendent, calling it unprofessional and offensive.  Hester said the photo could only be viewed by her Facebook friends.  The parent happened to be a family friend.

In a few days, the superintendent of Lewis Cass Intermediate School District, Robert Colby, asked Hester to come to his office.

“Instead of asking to take the photo down and viewing it from my friend’s point of view, they called me into the office without my union,” she said.  Hester is a member of the Michigan Education Association, which represents more than 157,000 teachers, faculty and support staff in the state, according to its website.

The superintendent asked that she show her Facebook profile page.

“I asked for my union several times, and they refused.  They wanted me to do it right then and there,” Hester said.

Hester’s story echoes reports of employers asking job applicants for access to their Facebook pages.

Hester said she and her coworker pictured in the photo were put on seven weeks of paid administrative leave, and they were eventually suspended for 10 days.  She said the coworker, who was up for tenure, was forced to resign.

Hester said she returned to work in September when the school year began.  While Hester previously worked assisting a teacher for emotionally impaired students in kindergarten through the fourth grade, she was assigned another program and was placed under a strict directive.  She said she was instructed not to speak with coworkers unless it was about a student and could not go to the bathroom before asking.

She said her contract allowed her 14 paid days off but the school would not let her use them.  She said she was also directed to read books about communication and to take 49 online classes.  She said that and the work environment at school took a toll on her emotionally in November 2011.

“I had a nervous breakdown, went to hospital and was put on medication,” said Hester, who has been on unpaid leave since November.

I greatly respect parents who are actively involved in their childs’ progress. However, if they ever raise concerns over a teacher, that teacher should be given the support and assurance they deserve.

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One Response to “When Will Principals Start Taking the Side of a Teacher Over a Parent?”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    This is pure bullying. It’s not a nice feeling to be undermined by the very people who are there to support you. All I can say is make very careful use of social networking sites. Not everyone sees the funny side of things the same way that you do and the more diverse the moral base becomes the more likely there are to be misunderstandings. Not too many years ago there was a general consensus about what was right and wrong because of reference to the same external source. For many reasons this no longer obtains and ideas of right and wrong vary according to individual preferences. There is no longer any sense of absolute right or wrong. It’s now subject to the shifting tides of the Gallup Poll. Things that were considered wrong in my early days of teaching are commonplace today. I can’t say there is any improvement, just a gnawing sense of loss.

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