HANCOCK - When Carla Strome conducted a workshop for new Copper Country teachers in December, she was surprised at the reactions of those in attendance when she mentioned in passing the possible negative consequences of items placed on social networking Internet sites.
Strome, who is curriculum coordinator at the Copper Country Intermediate School District offices in Hancock, said the teachers were stunned to learn they could be disciplined, or even fired, for entries they made on their own pages, or the pages of other people.
"It set off a such a firestorm of discussion," Strome said.
From left, Copper Country Intermediate School District Regional Educational Media Center 1 Director Mike Richardson, REMC?1 system administrator Scott Sherrill and CCISD?curriculum coordinator Carla Strome look over information about social networking Feb. 4. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Kurt Hauglie)
From the reaction of the teachers, Strome said she realized many of them might have entries on pages, which may have been appropriate when they were in high school or college, but may not seem so to parents of their students.
Because of that reaction, Strome said she showed the teachers examples of what happened to some teachers who had entries on Internet sites which school boards considered inappropriate.
"I showed a few clips of teachers in other states who had been fired or suspended," she said. "That brings up the question, what do you do in the 21st century?"
Scott Sherrill, CCISD Regional Educational Media Center 1 system administrator, gave the example of a teacher in Georgia who had on her page a photograph of herself holding an alcoholic beverage while she was vacationing in Europe. When parents of her students saw the picture, they complained and the teacher was fired.
Strome said even if teachers' pages show adults engaged in legal activity, such as having a drink, it could cause some teachers problems.
"The parents didn't want their children taught by someone who is a drinker," she said of the woman in Georgia who was fired.
Sherrill said one possible way teachers can mitigate having to deal with such a possibility would be to create a separate social networking page just for students and parents to access. In fact, that may become mandatory eventually.
"There are states that are legislating that," he said.
If a teacher has an existing social networking page, Sherrill said it would be a good idea for that teacher to create a new account on that network and make it accessible for students.
"Inside of that (new) account, I can create a fan page," he said.
Of the teachers at the workshop, Strome said about 50 percent thought they would have to make changes to their existing social networking pages. However, she said it might be a better idea to get rid of them completely, if possible.
"That was one of my recommendations to the new teachers," she said.
Mike Richardson, REMC 1 director, said strengthening privacy settings and removing questionable material on pages can decrease the chances parts of it will be seen.
"There's a number of steps they can take," he said.
However, a former social networking page may continue to be problematic for some teachers even after it's no longer used.
"Once you put it on the Internet, it's out there forever," he said.
Richardson said there are social networking sites, which are dedicated to archiving pages, so it would be a good idea for teachers to thoroughly examine their pages just so they can know if they need to make changes.
"They need to know what's out there, and they need to decide what's appropriate," he said. "Teaching is a public profession and it's a public image issue."
Richardson said teachers are increasingly using social networking pages to communicate with their students and parents. He gave the example of a college professor who conducted his entire class using Facebook during the recent snowstorm which hit a large portion of the country.
"If this is where society is going, we need to know how to embrace it," he said.
Some entries to social networking sites can be a serious impediment to getting hired for teacher-job candidates, Strome said.
"Employers are searching for stuff like this before they hire," she said. "It can be something so innocent (which causes a problem)."
Sherrill said he suggests to teachers they inform their students about the problems which may manifest themselves in the future from online activity they engage in now.
"The way you present yourself today may be scrutinized in 20 years," he said.
However, Strome said social networking pages can be useful tools for informing their students, if used cautiously.
"We want teachers to use technology in any way they can to reach their students," she said.