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.