The Lives of Others

Today I had to change my Twitter privacy settings to protect my tweets from the eyes of anyone other than my existing followers. Frankly, I’m annoyed I’ve felt the need to do this – not being visible kind of defeats the object of Twitter but something happened today which made me feel I have no choice. Let me explain…

As regular readers will know, I am in my first teaching post since completing a PGDE in June. I have written about some of my teaching experiences in this blog and on Twitter, but I have never mentioned the school I am teaching at, or any of the pupils that I teach by name or even in any detail. I’ve heard stories about kids Googling their teachers and those teachers getting into bother for things they’ve said online, or photos of drunken nights out or inappropriate behaviour. But I wasn’t too worried; my Facebook privacy settings are as strict as they can be, and as the kids didn’t know my first name they weren’t going to get very far in searching for me. Until today that is. I don’t know who was responsible, but today every single pupil in the school was given a newsletter to take home to their parents or carers. And in that newsletter was a list of all the new teachers to the school this year, including our first names.

It was bad enough that I then had to put up with cheeky 14 year olds walking into my classroom saying ‘hello Sarah’, but now it won’t be long before those 14 year olds, and probably some of the other kids, go searching for me online. Maybe I’m over-inflating my importance in their lives here but already they have been asking me if I’m on Facebook, or MSN, or Bebo (although actually Twitter seems pretty low on their radar), and I’m sure there will be a few who go looking for me.

On the one hand I think I have every right to my own life and my own opinions, and why should I feel I have to hide those from the world at large? But on the other hand I know that by taking on the role and responsibilities of a teacher I have an obligation to conduct myself in a certain way. And more than anything else I think that the more personal information my pupils have about me, the more ammunition they have to use against me. So by protecting my identity online, I’m really trying to minimise any impact on my working life.

This is a relatively new phenomenon due to the recent explosion of social networking, not too long ago, the worst a teacher had to fear was being spotted by pupils in the supermarket or even on a night out (incidentally, despite my early moans about my 20 mile drive to school every day, I’m actually quite glad I’m not teaching in the town where I live and am therefore unlikely to bump into pupils outside school), but now there are so many other ways for pupils, and even parents, to find out more about the private lives of teachers. When I was at school I knew most of my teachers’ first names, and I remember a brief moment of hilarity when we discovered our science teacher was called Kimberley; Mr Kimberley Caunt that is. But the worst we ever did was try (usually unsuccessfully) to look teachers up in the phone book.

Throughout my teacher training I was warned of the need to be wary of how much my online presence revealed about me…and now my full name is out there amongst my pupils I am certainly more cautious about what I say. I am also mentally going through what I have said online previously, and I’m seriously considering deleting some of the posts from this blog. Although it makes me sad that it might come to that – I don’t know that it’s really necessary, am I being unnecessarily worried here?

More than anything else I am angry that I had no say in my full name been given to pupils and their parents. The first I knew about it was when I found a discarded newsletter in my classroom, which was luckily just before the third years came in and abandoned their usual form of address in favour of the more familiar, and inappropriate, Sarah.

I suppose this has made me think a bit more about other Twitter users; people in the public eye, or people in other public facing professions. How worried should we be about the cross over between what we say or do in our private lives and how that may affect our careers or working life? Does being a teacher mean I’m no longer allowed to have a life of my own and participate in the online communities which I so enjoy being a part of? I know there are a few people who read this blog who are teachers or in other public facing jobs and I’d be interested to know what they, or anybody think about this issue. Is it an issue at all? 

4 thoughts on “The Lives of Others

  1. Unfortunately, the problem isn't what I write or use now – I've taken my surname off my blog and Twitter – but due to the way Google caches information, it still comes up in searches.

  2. As you know I also work in an “identity sensitive” area and I use twitter an awful lot, although like you I don't really talk about work issues on it (except vauguely or in joking sometimes). I changed my twitter name to Nic as it doesn't come up when my full name is googled so much. But at the end of the day, your private life is your private life, they have no business snooping in it, unless you are saying your school is shit, you take drugs and the other teachers are wankers… you get my meaning.

    This week an (what we believe)ex patient set up a FB account and added many of us as friends, she used a fellow staff members' name who doesn't have an account so we thought nothing of it, until someone mentioned it to the staff member in question. It wasn't her. The word spread and she deleted the account. Scary stuff, but no matter what you do these things will happen when you work in the public eye. I do my best to keep FB as private as I can (friends only and not adding strangers until I know who they are).

    In my opinion you can't hide in a bubble, you just have to be careful in a public arena that you don't come across as incompetent at your job, you are allowed to be drunk and have fun.

  3. It's really awkward. As a rule I don't mention my job online at all, except for FB where I know it's only visible to friends (and I don't add colleagues, or people I don't know).

    But then, I've been blogging for about five years now, always under my own name, so I've got used to the idea of anything I say being out there (and coming back to bite me on the arse on more than one occasion).

    These days I mostly end up feeling bad not adding other comics on Facebook when they add me after a gig, or even when they're just asking for one. Seriously considering getting a second account, just for that side of things. It could be an option for a teacher I guess: have separate social networking accounts that the kids can see to sate their curiosity, as a sort of diversionary tactic.

    Poor Mr Caunt, as if he didn't have it hard enough already.

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