January 30, 2007

I already know some bloggers who are or have been teachers, so this is no surprise to me.

After long days of grading papers and disciplining rowdy children, a growing number of tech-savvy teachers are creating online journals to vent about the stresses of the profession.

Educators who have already embraced the technology -- called blogs (short for web logs) -- find themselves walking a fine, virtual line of conduct. They strive to entertain and inform, but can't violate their school districts' ethics policies or federal laws designed to protect students' confidentiality.

Most teachers who blog have opted to do so underground -- refusing to cite their names, workplaces or other identifying details -- to avoid potential professional pitfalls.

"School administrators tend to be pretty vindictive and they don't like people with different ideas from them. People who speak out are not regarded very highly," said Mike in Texas, an elementary school science teacher from East Texas, who started an online diary two years ago as a way of defending public education.

Obviously, any blogger who writes about what happens at work faces the same risk. Teachers are more visible in some ways, and writing about kids or certain aspects of their personal lives, even in a well-disguised manner, can certainly generate a strong and unsympathetic response to someone who gets caught at it, so anonymity is probably a necessary choice for them more than it might be for the average blogger.

Some teacher-bloggers predict that their districts may soon draft rules outlining what employees can and can't say online.

Most Houston-area districts have remained silent on the issue of what teachers may post on their blogs, although the Katy school district issued a stern warning to employees last fall after some expressed concern about educators and students chatting online.

"While the district does not have the authority to prevent district employees from subscribing to these types of applications from their homes or from exercising their rights to free speech, employees are held accountable for adhering to the state code of ethics for educators," wrote Lenny Schad, Katy's deputy superintendent for information and technology services.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said districts can't restrict teachers from commenting on public matters.

They can, however, forbid teachers from revealing students' identities or from using taxpayer resources for personal pursuits.

"They have an absolute right to blog," Fallon said. "Just not on school time, not on school computers -- even if it's lunch, it's still a school computer."

Again, no different than it would be for any other wage slave, though I daresay the computers at schools are monitored more closely than they might be at many businesses. Bottom line, whatever you do for a living, blog wisely.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 30, 2007 to Blog stuff