Managing reputation

As teachers, perhaps we need more than most to manage our  privacy.

But rather than having our privacy traduced, we seem increasingly willing to have limitations put on it by others.

I recently learned of a school whose contract stipulated that teachers employed there must agree not to have a Facebook account. This wasn’t advice. This was in the contract. I’ve also read reports of headteachers running job applicants through Google to see what their ‘online profile looks like’.

This seems to me to be an intrusion on personal privacy.

In my view, any responsible employee, professional or otherwise, should agree to refrain from actions that might wilfully bring their employers in to disrepute. And that is especially true in teaching. We should have a responsibility not just for our own reputation but for the reputation of our school and indeed, our profession.

But is what we do in our personal and private lives really the business of anyone else – as long as it’s legal?

A new teacher said to me recently: “Yes… but putting photos on Facebook of you getting drunk or going naked in Ibiza or wherever might be personal but it’s no longer private if you’ve put those pictures on the internet..!”

Of course we should manage our reputation cautiously. But why shouldn’t we share our photos, however embarrassing they may be with our friends, even on Facebook? It is after all a network for you and your friends. It’s not intended for the whole world, even if it has the power to reach it.

We must manage this. We must make it clear to our friends that they may be compromising us by doing something like that. If not, we may need to re-evaluate who our friends are.

‘Friends’ sharing our embarrassing pictures on the internet is no different (in principle) to ‘friends’ sharing our personal photos, gossip or private letters in a pub or club to people we don’t know or trust. We soon stop being friends with people whose discretion we can’t rely on.

So in my view, employers should not be googling us or checking our Facebook profiles to ‘inform their judgement’ about us as teachers any more than they should be contacting our friends ‘for a reference’ about what we do in pubs or clubs on a Saturday night.

Making a judgement about our personal and private lives is not a professional judgment, it’s a moral one – even if our idea of relaxation includes going to a football match on a Saturday afternoon and shouting obscenities at the referee.

Not all of our personal life can be private. Nor should it be. Much of our personal life is lived out in the public sphere.

We should know not to wilfully put our own (or the school’s) reputation in jeopardy.

But parents, students and especially employers should know when not to intrude upon our personal privacy.  And if they don’t, it’s part of our responsibility to tell them.

Nicely of course and without resorting to a super-injunction.

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9 thoughts on “Managing reputation

  1. I’ve often wondered, before I started training to be a teacher and since, how people can say “It’s disgusting. My child shouldn’t see their tracher drunk.” My question to those parents would be “Why is your child in a pub/club?”

    1. That’s a good question Lyndsey. When I was at school (many years ago) I went drinking with some teachers (on school journeys and such things) and to be honest, I think I learned a lot about how to drink responsibly from them. The last thing I wanted was to get ‘pissed’ in front of a teacher, so I think it was an instructive experience to be in the company of teachers doing something like that. Can’t imagine there’s much of that going on these days, sadly.

  2. I think a lot of this has to do with what the children can get hold of. I wouldn’t want the my students to be able to ‘google’ me and find information that they could use against me.

    I have my facebook account really well locked down to the point where only people who are have a mutual friend can even find me. I actually started doing this before I decided to retrain as a teacher. I like to maintain as much personal privacy as is possible in this day and age.

    I often google myself to see what others can see. I don’t think googling someone is an invasion of their personal privacy as anything ‘personal’ in my opinion, you should not be able to find through a search engine.

    I do think it’s funny how no one questions the privacy of twitter and only seems to worry about facebook, but I think that is for another discussion…

    1. Thanks for that LittleMissPip. You are clearly someone who knows how to manage your reputation online, but I would question your comment about anything ‘personal’ should not be searchable through Google.

      How about this: let’s say my cricket club puts cricket club fixtures, scores, match reports and statistics up on the web and maybe a few YouTube clips of matches etc. Now I agree that’s not private material (how could it be) but I would argue that it’s ‘personal’ to me and my club mates. If there were some pictures of me drinking beer or celebrating after a match win that weren’t terribly flattering, then either I accept the risk of embarrassment or I ask the club not to post any with me in – that’s managing my reputation.

      But it just seems to me unreasonable that I should have to do that. The idea that someone might Google me and then make a judgement about my professionalism on the basis of such material seems to me that it is they who are crossing the line and confusing the boundaries, not me.

      What do you think?

      1. I do see your point. I guess my opinions are already jaded by wanting to control what people are able to see of my life – that’s any people, my Mum included. I’m not talking about my career specifically, this is just in my general life. I try to keep my blogs fairly vague so people can’t tie it to me.

        I think whether or not googling people before an interview is morally correct, it is a reality today. I will also have googled the person who is interviewing me!

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