My kids started school last week, and all three of them are at new schools. I don’t know any other families whose kids attend these schools, and so in order to get some information about the teachers that they’ve been assigned to, I quickly turned to Google. I jokingly stated on Twitter that I was Googling the teachers in order to see if I found any photos of them beer-bonging, but in reality I really just wanted to put a face to their name, and get a general sense of who they were. A couple of my teacher friends reacted, telling me that I shouldn’t do that. “Teachers are people too,” one friend reminded me. Some of them also suggested that I be careful not to judge, seeing as how Facebook pictures can turn up from years ago.
Another friend pointed me to a post by Ali Martel, who had said something similar on twitter a few days prior. She was immediately reprimanded by a number of Twitter followers, and ended up writing a post about this issue. In it, she said:
And yes, I did google their names—I make absolutely NOT A SINGLE apology for this. With no warm-blooded, real-life person around me to ask and with the world at my googling fingertips, why shouldn’t I? Why WOULDN’T you? To me, it seems like the more responsible to thing to do.
(you can read the rest at her blog Cheaper Than Therapy).
Similar, my friend Heather wrote a post about searching for teachers online here at Babble. She says:
Nowadays, when parents are considering a doctor, dentist, or babysitter for their kid, one of the first things they do is Google them to learn more. You can bet I spent a lot of time online researching prospective doctors before I took Madeline or Annabel to see them. I read patient reviews, perused their websites, and clicked on any other prominent web presences. And, if after doing that I felt confident that they were the right person to care for my kids, I made an appointment. Frankly, I don’t see how teachers are any different. They may not be in charge of the medical care for our kids and I may not be directly paying them, but they are in charge of something very important my child’s education and well-being. Even more, whereas our kids rarely spend more than a few minutes with their doctor, they spend hundreds of hours in the presence of their teachers.
I am actually a little surprised by the harsh feedback that both posts garnered. I am a teacher as well, although I teach college students. But I automatically assume that some of my students have been Googling their professors. In fact, many admit it to me (because in doing so, they find my blog). We live in the age of the internet, and I think it’s quite common for people to Google the people that they’re going to be interacting with.
The idea that Googling a teacher is “going too far” is a bit funny to me, because we are generally talking about finding social media here. Very few people are going to have something come up in a Google search that they didn’t have a hand in putting on the internet. At its core, social media is a public presentation of ourselves. All of us are carefully curating how we present ourselves on social media sites, and all of it is within our under control. As a college professor, I am always mindful that anything I write can be seen by students. For that reason, I keep my Facebook account private, and only friend students after they have graduated. On Twitter, which is always public, I am more judicious with my words. But I don’t think that looking at someone’s social media accounts (even a teacher’s) can in anyway be construed as an invasion of privacy. It’s not like you’re looking into someone’s windows, or peeking through their diary. I also don’t think that someone being in a teacher role makes an exempt from this kind of curiosity. If anything, I think it makes sense to want to know more about the person who your child is going to be spending half of their day with. I have most certainly Googled all of the babysitters we’ve ever hired as well.
My interest in looking people up online is not so much because I’m looking for dirt. In fact, I’m assuming I’m not going to find dirt. I just want to know more about these people who have been charged with shaping the minds of my own children. What are their likes? What are their dislikes? In Googling my son’s kindergarten teacher, I found out that he attended the same university where I teach. I also found out that he’s in charge of the school garden. I like him more already. I also found out that my daughter’s kindergarten teacher is similarly obsessed with Emily Maynard and Jeff Holman from the Bachelorette. Again, just a random detail, but it made her seem more human. Knowing these little things made that first day just a little bit easier. I didn’t feel like I was shipping my kids off to total strangers.
Ali made a good point in her post as well, in that she didn’t know other parents at the school. This is true for us as well, so it’s not like I could just call another parent and ask about the teacher. I know this kind of parent-to-parent consulting happens, though…and has happened for years, without a lot of judgment. I think it’s rather common for parents to call other parents and ask about the scoop on a teacher. I didn’t have that option, so I Googled. And I really didn’t think anything of doing it.
At the end of the day, I feel fine about having Googled my kids’ teachers. It’s really more about me than it is about them. I wasn’t looking for anything damning, and didn’t expect I would find anything. I was just looking for some human touch points. I’ll admit, I’m an anxious mom sending two kindergartners off to school. It’s uncomfortable to send them off to a new school where we don’t know anyone. And now I know a few things about their teachers…even if they are really random facts like what music they like our way television shows they prefer. Those little things were comforts to me. I don’t think it was an invasion of privacy, I think it was me trying to get them to know them better, and trying to feel just a small sense of control over a situation that feels out of control.
What do you think? Have you ever Googled your children’s teachers? Or if you are a teacher . . . what do you think of parents who scope out a teacher’s online profile? Do you think it’s an invasion of privacy, or too nosey? Or do you think that it’s par for the course in the age of social media?