We don’t belong on teachers’ social media

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Asking teachers to refrain from posting certain photos on their social media exercises an unfair degree of control over their personal lives, especially those of female teachers.

A handout prepared by the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) for teachers with social media guidelines recently came under scrutiny as it suggested teachers not post photos of themselves on their social media in which they’re “scantily clad.”

The OCDSB’s overarching address to all teachers seemed to be disproportionately targeting female teachers.

A male teacher’s revealing outfit is often not described in those terms, topless or not. Even an article in the National Post covering the issue primarily spoke about female teachers, beginning the article with the example of a female teachers “frolicking on the beach in a swimming suit.”

It’s valid that teachers — whether they’re teaching fifth grade or whether they’re professors — should be considered professionals and therefore held to a professional standard.

But phrases such as “scantily clad,” are often used to implicitly refer to female bodies. Using this term negatively in relation to teachers’ clothing, in turn, teaches the lesson that female bodies are inappropriate and male bodies aren’t. 

It’s also worth noting that clothing deemed inappropriate on women with larger body types may be more likely to be called out for being “scantily clad” than a similar outfit on a woman who’s conventionally attractive. This possibility poses the risk of body-shaming in an environment filled with students who’re especially susceptible to it.

It’s generally a safe precaution to avoid social media ties between people who share professional relationships, such as the relationship between a teacher or professor and student or a boss and worker. Most professional positions require this distance.

But even teachers who add all their students on Facebook shouldn’t be kept from living their lives, and definitely shouldn’t be vilified for doing so. Female teachers have always gone to the beach and worn bathing suits — social media is just the new phenomenon that allows us to witness it in a way that’s never been possible before.

That’s not to say social media activity of teachers shouldn’t come under scrutiny. For instance, a professor at St. Lawrence College was understandably fired after his homophobic rant surfaced on social media in 2015.

But it’s worth comparing the harm that could be done by a teacher posting a bathing suit picture to a teacher posting a homophobic rant — one sexualizes the often female subject simply for going to beach, while the other directly impacts students by reflecting the kind of environment that teacher fosters and encourages.

It may be a safe practice for teachers to stray away from adding their students on Facebook, but adding them isn’t permission to have their clothing and personal lives policed. 

Journal Editorial Board

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