What Is Private

When I was a child we did not know our teachers’ first names. A better part of the school year was spent trying to find out your teacher’s name and other personal information. If you came up with intel about a teacher’s family you could count on good lunch trades for at least a week. My kids know the first names of all of their teachers, they don’t call them by their names, but they know them. They’ve met the husbands and children of several teachers.

Part of the difference is that I live in a smaller community than I did growing up. My son’s baseball team plays his teacher’s son’s baseball team. Of course he knows his teacher has a son his age. Their art teacher lives behind us. Part of it I think is that teachers and parents are more involved with each other. If you’re going to assign homework to very young children, you become part of their family time, and need to interact with their parents. Part of it is of course, the Internet. Our school has a website, all the teachers are listed first name and last name.

But I think part of it is simply a changing notion of what privacy for a teacher is. When my daughter’s second grade teacher got married, she allowed a parent to plan a bridal shower for her during a class party. When my son’s kindergarten teacher got married, her fiancé came in and brought pizza for the class. Last week, my daughter’s fourth grade teacher not only announced her engagement, she displayed her ring to the kids.

In our little town we’ve had two cases where the public and private lives of educators have become mixed with painful results. In one case, a popular school principal had his contract “not renewed” perhaps in part because of things he said on Twitter. No one knows for sure if that’s the reason, because although the principal helped launch a very public campaign to keep his job, the school board can not reveal private personnel issues.

In another school, a kindergarten teacher not only shared the news of her pregnancy, she also shared the ultrasound and the news that the father was a fourth grade teacher at the school, apparently, the school community already knew he was married to someone else. The kindergarten teacher was fired, her partner placed on leave.

When I first heard the story I assumed she had been fired for sharing the ultrasound with her class. I thought  sharing an ultrasound with a kindergarten class was a horrible mix of the private and public. I thought it showed such bad judgement that it was probably something worth being fired over. But, I wasn’t sure.

I have a friend who is a kindergarten teacher and writes a great blog for early childhood educators (Look at My Happy Rainbow). Matt and I are about the same age. When he got married recently he did not mention to his class that he was engaged or planning a wedding. I asked Matt to ask his readers what they thought of sharing an ultrasound photo with a kindergarten class. We were both surprised to see that a lot of kindergarten teachers had already done so, and even more thought there was nothing weird or overly private about it. “They can see your pregnant,” said one as though being able to see that someone is pregnant is the same as seeing their medical information.

There is a generation of teachers who does not believe that an ultrasound is private information.

There are people who think that it’s wrong to discuss the fired teacher, her partner and their affair. They believe that publicly discussing the situation prevents the teachers from moving on and getting a chance to start fresh at a new school.

I get their point, but I think that it’s better for these discussions to happen in the open. It’s unreasonable to think that two teachers having an affair isn’t going to be talked about, and if I were one of the teachers I’d rather people do so honestly and openly. Personally, I’ve been very happy to see that no one I’ve heard talking about it is out shopping for scarlet cloth from which to make a letter A. People seem to be able to separate a teacher’s love life from his teaching ability. That gives me faith in my community.

Because the affair was discussed publicly, I learned the disturbing news of the uneven treatment of the teachers. How is it that one teacher (female) is fired and the other (male) placed on leave? Shouldn’t that tidbit be discussed? Shouldn’t parents in the school district want an answer to that question? Mainly though I think there’s a huge disconnect between showing a photograph of the inside of your body to five year olds and then asking people not to discuss it.

I like that my kids recognize their teachers as people. I don’t mind that they’ve met their families and played with their babies. I don’t mind that they’ve shared in their happy news about weddings (although I would prefer that the teachers not glorify weddings with in-class bridal showers and ring displays, but that’s not really a privacy issue).

I do not want to go back to a time when teachers were not allowed to have or exhibit their private lives. I think when people say, “I don’t care what consenting adults do but they should keep it to themselves” that’s usually a lie. Usually it means, “I don’t want to see gay people kiss.” Usually it means, “If I don’t approve of your sex life I don’t want to hear about it.” I do not want teachers gay, straight, married, or single to go back in to the closet about their lives.

But today I briefly looked at a middle school behavior handbook. There was passage on sexting. Middle schoolers are being warned about the dangers of sexting. Clearly, issues of privacy are central to our children’s lives. It can not be good that there is an entire generation of teachers who do not think of an ultrasound as private information.












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