When Teachers Blog Do Kids Get Hurt?

Do blogging teachers hurt their students?
Do blogging teachers hurt their students?

The NYT has a lovely essay up on what happens when teachers blog. What happens, for the most part, is that they let off some steam and open up a window to the world of public school classrooms. Most do so anonymously, under pseudonyms like Miss Brave and NYC Educator.

Teachers blog about the school administration, the city government’s education policies, collegaues they love or loathe. And of course, they blog about their students.

It’s the last part that gets me. Even doing it anonymously, I wonder how it affects students in their classrooms. My concerns aren’t limited to the big ones like exposing children to unwanted publicity on the Internet, or worse, inadvertently putting them in harm’s way.

Most of these blogs are anonymous, and that anonymity protects not only the teachers but their students. More insidious is the worry that a teacher who blogs might become a blogger first and a teacher second. What will class be like if the teacher is always on the lookout for that next great anecdote, crafting blog posts in her head instead of lesson plans?

The obvious breach of privacy issues are covered by school policy. Per the NYT:

Barbara Morgan, also a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said: “People have a right to freedom of speech. But we expect our teachers and other staff to remember their obligations as public employees and role models to children. While we don’t monitor what people blog or tweet about, teachers must not disclose personally identifiable information about students or cause disruption in the school.”

So you’re allowed to blog about your frustrations and triumphs in the classroom, but you can’t say Johnny D. from your 3rd period English class is a twit whose parents raised him wrong. OK. That seems fair to me. I blog for a living, and I’d be pretty upset if I was suddenly barred from blogging about my kids.

I rarely write about any of the other kids in my life, though. When I do, it’s always with the explicit permission of their parents. That’s not just because other people might have different boundaries about privacy. It’s also about my relationships with those kids. When I taught preschool, I avoided blogging about my preschool kids in part because of the privacy concerns, but partly because I didn’t want to turn them into characters in my story.

My own kids and I have a complex, layered relationship. One that will hopefully span our whole lives. My blog is a small part of that, and shows only a tiny slice of it. Spending only a few hours a day with a kid in one setting is different. It seems to me like it would be too easy to start to see Johnny D. from 3rd period English as the funny, frustrating troublemaker of my stories, and not as a fully realized person who needs my help and guidance.

That’s my subtle worry about teacher’s blogging: that they’ll start to view the kids in their classrooms as fodder for the blog, and lose track of their human needs.

As I say that, though, I realize it’s probably a largely baseless worry. Teachers are accused of treating students like numbers and ignoring their unique needs all the time. Blogs aren’t uniquely positioned to change that. In fact, there are probably few better methods to reflect meaningfully on a person or experience than to journal about it. As long as it’s done anonymously, blogging gives teachers a platform and incentive to journal about the kids they teach, and the work they do. That kind of reflection has to be a good thing.

Maybe I should be worrying about the teachers who don’t blog.

Photo: kpwerker