A looming personnel issue is the use of social media by educators. Newer teachers seem to fallinto the trap of using social media inappropriately because that is how they have grown up withcommunication. Because of their fluent use of social media, they are prone to be too comfortable withwhat they post and don’t seem to have appropriate boundaries when it melds with their professionalworld.The National Education Association (NEA) reports Social Networking Nightmares in acompilation of articles. The first one starts with, “Want to get fired from your first teaching job?” Thearticle debunks the free speech myth. Many teachers feel they have free speech rights. The court saysotherwise. Thanks to Facebook and My Space, what used to be private is now very public. Theexploding popularity of these sites has created an interest in teacher’s “private life,” by both schooladministrators and the media. This has become a particular problem for young teachers. But is therereally free speech? Do First Amendment Rights apply in the education profession?In 1968, the court case, Pickering v. Board of Education determined that freedom of speech doesnot keep a teacher safe from losing their job. In this case, a teacher wrote and published a newspaperletter criticizing the Board’s allocation of school funds between educational and athletic programs and theboard’s and superintendent’s method of communication of informing the taxpayers of the real reasonswhy additional tax revenues were being sought for the schools. The appellant’s claim that his writing ofthe letter was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendment was rejected. He was dismissed on thegrounds that the content of his letter was detrimental to the interests of the school system and wassupported with substantial evidence that the interests of the school oven-ode appellant’s First AmendmentRights. Pickering’s claim that his letter was protected by the First Amendment was rejected on thegrounds that his acceptance of a teaching position in the public school obliged him to refrain from makingstatements about the operation of the schools “which in the absence of such position he would have anundoubted right to engage in.” The Board contends that “the teacher by virtue of his public employmenthas a duty of loyalty to support his superiors in attaining the generally accepted goals of education andthat, if he must speak out publicly, he should do so factually and accurately, commensurate with hiseducation and experience.The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) Professional Code of Conduct (2008) outlines thateducators are entrusted by the public with the responsibility of providing a high-quality education toevery student. Through various roles, these professionals devote themselves to providing a safe andnurturing environment in which all students can learn. In alignment with the Standards for OhioEducators and the Ohio Academic Content Standards for Students, our state educators strive forexcellence through high expectations that they hold for themselves and their students. The professionalconduct of every educator affects the attitudes toward the profession and share with the broadercommunity the responsibility of providing high-quality public education. Violations of this Code ofProfessional Conduct for Ohio Educators can lead to reports provided to the state and ultimate loss oflicensure.In the NEA Report, “Social Networking Nightmares,” The Charlotte Observer reported that anafterschool staffer from Charlotte was fired for his Facebook comment that he likes “chillin’ wit my (racialslur)” and a “suggestive exchange” with a female friend. Two teachers on probation faced termination for theirFacebook musings that “I’m feeling pissed because I hate my students,” and I’m “teaching in the most ghettoschool in Charlotte.” The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch ran an expose entitled, ‘Teachers’ Saucy Web ProfilesRisk Jobs.” One 25-year-old female bragged on her MySpace site about being “sexy” and “an aggressive freakin bed.” Another confessed that she recently got drunk, took drugs, went skinny-dipping, and got married. TheWashington Post published a front page “investigative” piece entitled “When Young Teachers Go Wild on theWeb,” quoting one DC teacher’s Facebook page: “Teaching in the DC Public Schools-Lesson #1: Don’tsmoke crack while pregnant.” A special ed teacher wrote on her page to a student, “You’re a retard, but I loveyou,” and posted a photo of herself “sleeping” with a bottle of tequila. A San Antonio newspaper reported thatcollege student “Mahka” posted pictures of herself in various stages of drunkenness with the catchy caption,”Can U say wasted?” She also wrote: “Drinking and partying is my life. I’m gonna be a high school Englishteacher one day.” In the Ohio Code of Ethics, these are all violations of Section 2: Professional Relationshipswith Students; specifically 2d) Disparaging a student on the basis of race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status,gender, national origin, sexual orientation, political or religious affiliation, physical characteristics, academicor athletic performance, disability, or English language proficiency.Until they acquire tenure, most beginning teachers can be non-renewed for no reason at all. They’renot entitled to know why or to have a due process hearing. The only catch is that they can’t be let go for adiscriminatory reason or in retaliation for free speech activities. Teacher free speech rights are fairly limited.Their speech is protected only if they speak out as citizens on “matters of public concern” and their speechdoesn’t disrupt the school. Teachers on continuing contract have far greater job security than probationaryteachers: they can’t be fired except for “just cause,” and they don’t need to rely on the First Amendment forprotection. To date, there have been only three court cases involving teachers who claimed that their FirstAmendment rights were violated by being punished because of their postings on social networking sites. Theteachers lost every case.Connecticut teacher Jeffrey Spanierman was fired because of two cyber conversations with studentson his MySpace page. In one posting, he teased a student about his girlfriend, and the student responded,”don’t be jealous cause you can’t get any 101:)” Spanierman replied: “What makes you think I want any? I’mnot jealous. I just like to have fun and goof on you guys. If you don’t like it. Kiss my brass! LMAO.” He alsojokingly threatened another student with lifelong detention for calling him “sir.” Pretty mild stuff, really.But a federal court ruled that Spanierman’s termination didn’t violate the First Amendment because his speech”was likely to disrupt school activities.” The court faulted the teacher for failing “to maintain a professional,respectful association with students” and for communicating with students “as ifhe were their peer, not theirteacher.” Such conduct, “could very well disrupt the learning atmosphere of a school,” the court said.Spanierman would have clearly violated the Professional Relationship with Students Ohio Code of Conduct.Tara Richardson was a mentor for beginning teachers who sued the Central Kitsap (Washington) SchoolDistrict claiming that she was demoted because of comments she posted on a personal blog. She described oneadministrator as” a smug know-it-all creep” who has “a reputation of crapping on secretaries.” Last June, afederal appeals COUlt rejected her First Amendment argument, finding that her nasty, personal commentsinterfered with her job because they “fatally undermined her ability to enter into confidential and trustingmentor relationships” with beginning teachers.The last case involves a college senior Stacey Snyder who was dismissed from her student teaching positionbecause of “unprofessional” postings on her MySpace site, which she urged her students to visit. Her siteincluded comments criticizing her supervisor and a photograph of her wearing a pirate hat and drinking from aplastic cup with the caption “drunken pirate.” Because she did not complete her student-teaching practicum,Snyder was forced to graduate with a degree in English instead of Education. The lack of student-teachingexperience also prevented her from applying for a Pennsylvania teaching certificate. Snyder sued, but a federalCOUlt found no First Amendment violation. Applying the Pickering case, the court ruled that her MySpacepostings dealt only with purely personal matters, not issues of public concern. The lesson from the Snydercase is this: Unprofessional and inappropriate Internet postings by college students can be used to prevent themfrom entering the teaching profession.The implications for school districts are these. New teachers need strong mentoring programs. Theyneed colleagues who understand the importance of professionalism and how educators present themselves 2417publicly and privately. Additionally, districts could implement orientation programs that include positive usesof social media and the Professional Code of Conduct. Josh Ochs sponsors a website, Smart Social; How toShine Online. His website primarily focuses on teens and how they should conduct themselves online, “Light,Bright, and Polite,” but also gives many tips on how to have a positive image online while still enjoying thesocial media benefits.Cindy Long has a great article about how educators can be extremely cautious online, but still usesocial networking sites to make connections that can enhance careers. One of her suggestions is to seek out.networks that are developed around specific professional interests. She says conversations that used to happenin the hallways and in the staff workrooms are now happening online. Ning.com is a site where one can createa social network around a specific topic such as, “Video Games as Leaming Tools.” Other positive socialnetworking sites for educators include, The Apple, Classroom 2.0, Classroom Earth, Educate Interactive, andEnglish Companion, to list a few. The bottom line is that educators are professionals and need to act as such.It should not take a Code of Professional Conduct to promote professionalism, however, when new educatorsare hired, there ought to be a screening process that sifts out candidates who do not filter their social media.Educators are held to a higher standard in our society. Free speech will not protect candidates who cannotuphold those standards. Districts should keep their bar high and use social media as a strong indicator of how ateacher receiving a hypothetical 35 year contract will conduct themselves.