Let me get straight to my point: If you are an Arizona teacher engaging in a public space right now, I think you have a responsibility to behave professionally. And if you are an Arizona teacher right now watching other teachers interact in a public space, I think you have a responsibility to request that they behave respectfully, too. Things are getting increasingly nasty, and there is too much at stake for us to blow it.
Last week, I saw a frustrating thing on Twitter: A person tried to discredit a teacher candidate who I deeply respect by posting a tweet from another (unprofessional) teacher and suggesting that teachers, in general, should not be trusted. First off, there’s a lot going on here. It’s not fair for the words of one individual to be used to represent the entire profession of teaching–and it’s even more unfair to say that the words of one individual represent the feelings or behavior of the candidate that I respect. But here’s the bottom line: This is happening and teachers need to be on guard.
We have been under attack for some time, and operating like we aren’t is just naive. If teachers are going to tweet about being a teacher, post pictures of their classroom, or use a Twitter handle that involves the word “teach” or a grade level, then they should operate with extra discretion. Profanity is unacceptable. Saying negative things about parents, students, and the community is unacceptable. Even if people antagonize us with negativity or criticism, we have to keep it classy when we respond.
There is too much at stake for us to act like these things don’t matter! We have #NoProp305 on the ballot as well as many excellent teacher candidates who deserve a fair chance. We don’t want people retweeting unprofessional remarks from a teacher’s profile with words like this: Another charming example of who’s actually teaching Arizona’s kids. I can’t think of a better argument for charter schools then this.
#schoolchoice. (direct quote from Twitter)
Seeing this message made me furious. The worst part of all? I could trace it back to a real individual who seemed very much to be a classroom teacher (even though we have to be on guard for fake profiles, too). When I contacted the teacher about it, she insisted that she had a right to say whatever she wanted to say because it was her personal account. This is true, but when a “teacher” lacks professionalism while ALSO taking a stance on candidates or issues, it ties their unprofessionalism to those candidates and issues. And we just can’t have that out there. It’s a huge mistake.
Perhaps this feels like unfair, extra responsibility. But we aren’t the only profession that has to operate with extra discretion. As a friend of mine mentioned on Twitter, “We are held to a higher standard because children look to us as an example of how to behave. The same applies to coaches, ministers, prominent athletes, etc. Whether or not you want it, that’s part of the job!” And I totally agree.
In general (and especially right now), teachers need to operate with the high standards the public expects from us–near perfection. And when we see teachers who aren’t choosing their words wisely, I think we should address those individuals in the public space. One of the criticisms I have seen on Twitter is that these unprofessional “teachers” are going unchecked. Well, those of us who are trying to create professional, respectful conversation can address those individuals to make it clear how REAL teachers operate. People have a right to free speech, but I also think that teachers have a right to ask other teachers to protect our image.
We also have a right to participate in public spaces without being attacked. If you feel that someone is attacking you on Twitter, there are options to report accounts. Reporting individual tweets is easy, and Twitter will send you updates about the report. You can read more about Twitter user expectations and violations here.
Most importantly, teachers must continue to engage in the dialogue even as things heat up in these final days. You might think that it’s not worth writing back to people who post misinformation, colorful language, and strong opinions. I disagree and offer a different way to look at things: I don’t write back for “them.” I write back for everyone who comes along after them. I write back to provide the counter dialogue. I write back to show that teachers are classy, professional, and informed about this coming election. I hope you will do the same.