US Department of Education

Are the social media lives of teachers fair game for schools?

A Texas teacher is in trouble for her funny Pinterest page. But is that fair?


Marisa Kabas


Published May 27, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 5:54 pm CDT

My old elementary school principal also lived in my town, and we would often run into him at the local diner on weekends. Even though we were there with family and friends, chowing down on pancakes and eggs, and he dining with his wife, he was still the principal. He was always being watched, and he knew it: If we had overheard him saying something inappropriate, it was our principal, and not an adult man, saying it. But at the time, there was no concrete record of any possible indiscretions.

Oh, how times have changed.

A Texas teacher is under fire because a parent found her Pinterest account and was not amused by the teacher-related someecards that she shared. The parent reported the teacher to the school district and plans on taking disciplinary action. Welcome to 2015.

Was it inadvisable to post this on a public social network? Sure. Should she have known better? Probably. But is this grounds for firing?

Nicole, a middle school special education teacher in New York, tells the Daily Dot that her school district has policies in place when it comes to teacher’s social accounts. But the basic premise is this: “They tell us at the beginning of the year to be cautious of what we post, because essentially nothing is private.”

And to my earlier point about my school principal, Nicole realizes that she is always a teacher, even when she’s off the clock.

“Regardless of where we go, whether it’s to the local beach, library, or Instagram account, we are still public figures that are respected inside and outside of the classroom,” she says. “While my accounts are privacy protected, because I use them purely for social purposes, many colleagues of mine have social media accounts such as Twitter, so they can access their students via virtual classrooms and beyond.”

Laura, a teacher at an urban, Title 1 school in Oklahoma, says that the parents in her district are not so concerned with teacher’s personal lives and social media presence. But nevertheless, she recognizes the importance of exercising discretion.

“I’ve never personally gotten in trouble, but I think if I taught in a different setting with more helicopter parents I’d be more at risk of scrutiny,” Laura tells the Daily Dot. “Regardless, I have all my privacy settings and social media accounts pretty locked down and try to be careful.”

She adds: “On account of inappropriate interactions between a teacher at my school with some students on Facebook, we have been told not to be friends with kids on there.” But similar guidelines have not been set for Twitter, Instagram, and like in the case of the Texas teacher, Pinterest.

Another middle school teacher in New York who chose to remain anonymous says that he only maintains a Facebook, and does his best to keep his distance. “Very few students have tried finding me, and I ignore the requests,” he tells the Daily Dot. “It is not worth the controversy, and in the teaching realm, professional distance is a good thing.” 

But he does feel that personal social media accounts are just that—personal—and that they shouldn’t be held to the same standards as a teacher’s work ethic and product.

“We are citizens like anyone else, and I don’t think opinions or other postings should be heavily scrutinized or tied into our jobs.”

“I and many of my fellow teachers don’t use social media for exactly this reason,” one 7th grade teacher, who chose not to be named, told the Daily Dot in regard to the Pinterest story. “It’s difficult to police everything posted and to edit all your comments and remarks.”

This particular teacher is over 50, and points out this is predominantly an issue for newer, younger teachers. She says she and her peers “are not necessarily married to social media to begin with, so it’s easier for us to make that choice.”

“It sounds to me like this teacher was just trying to have a laugh, and unfortunately got caught by a very vigilant parent,” she added. “It was probably not the smartest thing to post these e-cards, but I’m sure this teacher never thought a parent would investigate her online activity to this degree. But I guess that’s exactly my point. You never know.”

H/T Jezebel | Photo via US Department of Education/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: May 27, 2015, 10:10 pm CDT