Social Media: When Teachers Become The Targets

It was reported in the news today that the number of teachers facing abuse via social media has more than doubled over the last year, with staff being subjected to personal and professional insults and pictures and videos of them being uploaded without their consent. Worse still, 40% of this online abuse came from parents.

Only two days ago, a picture of a very attractive maths teacher went viral – one of his students at UCL had discovered that he also worked as a model and the student had taken a picture in the classroom and uploaded it to his social media sites. It seemed to be taken in a light-hearted manner and jokes were being made about suddenly developing an interest in algebra, but I was really annoyed on his behalf. The poor teacher may have been absolutely mortified. The question I asked that day to my Facebook friends was this:

What if he had done this to one of his students?

Teachers and staff have now become ‘fair game’ in the world of social media, particularly when using Facebook. From the outset of starting a teaching career, the rules are simple. Don’t add the students, don’t post anything embarrassing and watch what you say. Granted, over the years I have become ‘friends’ with a select group of former students who are now adults and have their own careers and families, but I am so conscious of the risk that having a Facebook page entails that I use an alias to stop my current students finding me, as many of my friends in the teaching profession now do.

I remember a conversation that I had with a former colleague a few years ago. This teacher is, to be frank, an extremely handsome man, and he had done some modelling in the past. He told me that when working at a previous school, a parent had secretly taken pictures of him on her phone because she thought he was ‘hot.’ There were a number of students who had pictures of him too, and they were shared around Facebook. Another colleague of mine is on YouTube – it is a perfectly innocent video of him conducting a choir a few years ago, but the fact is that someone has filmed him (and lots of students) without his consent and posted the video to one of the biggest social media sites in the world where anyone could write anything about him at any time.

This isn’t uncommon. It’s easy to find videos of teachers on YouTube. I’ve seen pictures and videos of former colleagues on Facebook groups, and read the disgusting abuse that has been written underneath. One set of comments about a colleague were particularly awful, to the point where I went to my line manager about it and reported it to Facebook. Funnily enough, the student who had posted those comments returned to the school a year later for work experience, and I refused to work with him.

It angers me that we are no longer seen as human beings, and the state of play is less than fair. Can you imagine what would happen if we took pictures of our students and their parents, uploaded it to our Facebook pages and made comments about them? Or secretly filmed a child in the classroom, put it on YouTube and then encouraged others to mock them?

We’d be sacked and potentially prosecuted for cyberbullying.

Of course, there are a number of questions that are being asked in response, and of course they imply that it is the teacher at fault. How has the child been able to take a picture in a lesson? What was the teacher doing? Why don’t teachers just get rid of their Facebook pages and stop complaining?

As a teacher, I have a question.

At what point did the respect for the profession become so low that children, and indeed their parents, feel that they have a right to embarrass and humiliate someone because they are a teacher.

It’s no wonder that 40% of teachers now leave within the first year.

What about you? Do you think that students and their parents should be made accountable for their actions on social media?

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34 thoughts on “Social Media: When Teachers Become The Targets

  1. I completely agree. Others should be held accountable for what they put on social media. What’s said on social media is no different than what was said about teachers before social media, it’s just now the offenders have a more efficient way to spread their vile thoughts.A lawsuit or two and maybe a few expulsions from school might slow that kind of cyberbullying. If I were a principal I’d be tempted to announce a policy that if a student or a parent post inappropriate content about a teacher online the student will be suspended or expelled. I live in a town where over the last few years two particular cyberbullying incidents made national news.

  2. One was about a bus attendant that was bullied by some middle schoolers who then put the video on social media. That was two years ago. It was a huge national story for weeks. Then about three weeks ago one of those same kids, after being sent to a school for kids with behavioral issues was allowed to return to his home school and the kid bullied a mentally challenged kid and someone posted it on social media. That kid has sociopath/serial killer written all over his actions.

    • That’s awful! We had a teacher in Scotland who was stabbed last year. A 15 year old boy stood up, stabbed her, sat back down in his seat and said “good times.” Scary stuff.

  3. As the wife of an attractive (but academically rigorous) university professor, I’ve fielded decades of giggling calls at bar closing times and other malicious acts. (I remember telling one little chippy who asked why he had missed their “date” that he’d been taking care of two sick children but that I was sure he’d be delighted to have her come over and join him.) He had an industrial strength doorstop to make sure he’d never be trapped behind a closed door. And to this day he hasn’t dared to try a single element of social media.

    You are so right. Who tells anyone this behavior is okay? Apparently their parents do.

    • Really?! That’s disgraceful! You must be a very patient person – I know a number of people that would have responded to the chippy with a smack in the face. I think your husband has the right idea!

  4. Online slander or libel issues present a legal field that seems ripe for action. Print and broadcast media have long been held to standards that appear to be routinely ignored in the “social” media, especially when the author remains anonymous.

    • I totally agree. I think that if there were more serious sanctions for this sort of thing then there would possibly be fewer of these sorts of libellous attacks. I find it more disturbing that it is the parents that are encouraging and joining in this sort of thing.

  5. Our school makes parents and children sign an agreement with the school focused on behaviour and expectations. This covers all parties, including teachers (I’m a parent, not a teacher). There is a zero tolerance policy in place at all times. It seems to work very well, from what I’ve seen over the last 18 months.

    Parents & children need to be made aware of boundaries and expectations, and I think the schools & state need to take a harder line protecting teachers.

  6. I agree. And yes, we will soon have no teachers. It is exactly the same in amateur football where abuse and even violence have led to there being a huge shortage of referees.

    • It’s awful isn’t it! You’re right, very soon there won’t be any experienced teachers in the profession. If it carries on the way that it currently is, most classroom will be filled with Newly Qualified teachers who have no idea of what is to come, who will undoubtedly leave within a year or two. It took me ten years to hit breaking point, but I know many who last for just a third of that time!

  7. When I was in school, teachers were the people you learned from and were to be respected. Today it seems like teachers are meant to serve children and their parents. It’s the teacher’s fault a kid takes a photo of him in class? Geez. I’d like to see whoever said that manage a group of 30 kids and teach them something at the same time.

  8. I never cease to be amazed by the abhorrent behavior exercised by “normal” every day people while they are on social media. It is like they completely forget themselves and every manner or behavior ever taught to them. The most relevant point as you made it is that it is oftentimes the parents driving these actions. How can we expect better from the children? Sadly it is by no means limited to teachers. As a law enforcement family we see this type of thing constantly. Most of the officers in my husband’s department now use aliases or have removed themselves from social media altogether. What is the solution? I wish I knew…

    • It seems to be one rule for the general public and another for anyone working in a service role – some of my doctor and fireman friends have done the same thing!

  9. The abuse is older than facebook or twitter or any social media. I got out of teaching quickly because of something like this. When I first starting teaching I was apparently seen as an attractive guy. One of those rugged types. No idea where girls get taste, but boyfriends would follow me to my car, behind me, and groups of students who had caught word of an attack or saw it coming would intervene. I wouldn’t even know it until the next day. I would be followed home, or attempted to. I would take an extra twenty minutes to drive all over either making certain no one was following me or losing the car that was. I had my phone number changed and unlisted and unpublished after offers of sex from girls with already high marks would call.
    I left the profession I loved, the subject I loved, because I was harassed out of it. If there had been social media I am afraid of what it would have been like.

  10. Accountability is so important, whether it’s a government employee or a student. I see the same problem in social services where the government has made it so that it’s the providers who are blamed and fined when we can’t keep up with the inhuman restrictions and paperwork. . When one group bears the brunt of accountability while the other group is not allowed to understand the consequences of their actions, it creates an unequal power base.

    When it comes to teaching our children, it feeds the monsters of entitlement and denial of responsibility.

    • I totally agree with you. Please forgive my late reply – I am trying to catch up on all of my comments and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Accountability is such a big issue in all areas of life. In my current profession, the teachers place the parents and the parents blame the teacher…

  11. My children attend a relatively small charter school in the states. Last year one of the middle school students took a picture of his substitute teacher, unbeknownst to the teacher, and posted the picture on FB, and captioned it “Hot Sub.” The principal caught wind of the post, suspended the child, and made him remove the post. I appreciated the swift action. As far as the woman who found it ok to film or take pictures of her child’s male teacher, I’m confused and concerned! Accountability should NOT stop at administration with regard to social media responsibility, and should most definitely extend to students and parents.

    • I totally agree with you Nashona! That’s awful – I’m so glad the head teacher took swift action or that could have developed much further. Please accept my late reply to your comment – I am trying to catch up on all of them and have missed some because of the new wordpress system…

  12. The widespread bullying and abuse of teachers is disgraceful and unwarranted, and I firmly agree they should use legal avenues against parents and children who ignore accountability for their actions. For some insane reason, parents seem to think that they know more about teaching than the teachers. So do politicians and business moguls who institute such ineffective programs as No Child Left Behind and The Common Core. Education is at the mercy of “theory” non-teachers.

    • I totally agree – there seems to be so little in place to protect teachers in this sort of way. We have become targets for all… Please forgive my late reply to your comment – I, trying to catch up on all of my comments and have missed so,e because of the wordpress system.

  13. Wow, what a subject and so many incredible comments! As a university lecturer, I have not had any problems yet. However, I know and have seen sites such as “Rate your Professor” where students review their professors like Yelp. One colleague of mine was ridiculed about her teaching style and assignments by some idiot students who didn’t “like” her class. Professors and lecturers count on constructive feedback from their students. Once items get posted online, they never go away and permanently tarnish an educator’s reputation.

    • Hi Terri! Please forgive my late reply to your comment – I’m trying to catch up on all of my comments and have missed some because of the new wordpress system. I have had to deal with that sort of thing too – I put so much work into planning good lessons and feel I have had to justify myself at times for my work, not because I am rubbish at my job, but because the child isn’t in the mood to work…

  14. I wish teachers were more respected. A teacher in the states was fired because she posted a Facebook picture of herself fully clothed and holding a beer. She was fired for promoting drinking. I think this is unfair, but it’s made me careful of what I post on social media.

    • That’s disgraceful – it’s as if we are not allowed to have a personal life once we enter the profession. Can you think of any other jobs where someone would be fired for doing the same thing? Please forgive my late reply to your comment – I’m trying to catch up on all of my comments and have missed some because of the wordpress system.

  15. I am a student who finds your post extremely strong and thought provoking. There have been instances of spoof profiles of our school teachers going viral on Facebook but I never have condemned them so strongly for which I now feel regretful. You have raised excellent questions and I hope you will be able to transform many young minds for the better 🙂
    Keep up the good work dear teacher. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your comment! Please forgive my late reply to your comment – I am trying to catch up on all of my comments and have missed some because of the wordpress system. Fake profiles? That’s awful!

  16. I just recently found your blog, and I’ve been enjoying catching up on your posts. I really enjoyed your viewpoint on this issue for teachers. My husband is a teacher, and I also have taught (I’m staying at home with our little one for now). It astounds us the abuse teachers have been facing in the media recently, and it amazes me how often social media is the culprit. I don’t know what needs to be done for kids to understand the permanence of social media posts as well as the impact it can have (positive or negative), but something needs to change. Thank you for highlighting such wonderful points!

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