Classroom cell phones land unwary teachers online

There's a whole new meaning to the idea of a teacher being on his or her game when teaching. Now, in front of a class, or anywhere else in school, teachers may be on camera. Last week, Education Week reported how some students are using camera phones to secretly videotape their teachers (see here). Students post the files online at social networking sites like YouTube and MySpace. Images of teachers being angry or happy, clowning around, and singing or dancing are being captured and distributed widely. I mean, what's with that? Education is in crisis, right? What's to dance about?

Some teachers also may be disturbing the educational process with their own personal web postings. It's unclear how many Ohio teachers have posted online profiles at social networking sites, according to The Columbus Dispatch (see here). But the issue poses risks for teachers, James Miller, director of the Office of Professional Conduct at the Ohio Department of Education, told the newspaper.

A Dispatch MySpace search yielded three profiles of people who say they are teachers, one of whom described herself as an animal in bed, another has taken drugs and likes to party. Pranksters could post the files or they could be legitimate.

If genuine, such postings could get a teacher fired.

As far as students secretly recording their teachers, well it's not reality TV. Students edit the files and add soundtracks to poke fun at teachers or to try and belittle them. In Washington state, a teacher found herself the subject of a video titled "Mongzilla," shot by students in her classroom over several days, which made fun of her appearance.

"It is disturbing to the educational process," David Strom, the general counsel for the American Federation of Teachers, told Education Week. One worry is that the concern over being videotaped could change how teachers interact with students. Or it could deter class participation by students who fear being ridiculed if they ended up raising a hand and answering a question.

While students have the right to make the online postings, laws in several states prohibit the recording of a person without his or her knowledge. What complicates the issue for teachers are some court decisions indicating teachers do not necessarily have privacy rights in the classroom.

Schools that require students to turn off cell phones could discipline students for breaking that rule, Education Week says. In the case of the videotaping of the Washington state teacher, the student was suspended, not for his online posting but for disrupting the classroom.

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