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Phoenix news team "investigates" new teachers' MySpace pages

Here comes the online networking generation gap, moving from college into the working world.

Here's the lede from a Phoenix local news story: "CBS 5 Investigates discovered some Valley teachers making their private lives public by posting them on the Web."

Is it really a news flash to learn that recent college grads who are now teachers use MySpace? And that teachers have content on their MySpace pages that they don't want their first-graders to see?

Here comes the online networking generation gap, moving from college into the working world.

Most college students use online social networks, so most new teachers will have social network profiles. And yes, some of the MySpace and Facebook pages will still bear traces of sophomoric behavior on them, given that these new teachers are only a few years removed from being sophomores.

Am I concerned about this issue as a parent? Yes, of course, potentially. But this particular "investigation" looks like a low trick (or height of FARK) as the CBS 5 team decided to systematically snoop into teachers' pages. The news program says they "took a list of teachers who just started teaching in Arizona and searched for them one at a time on MySpace, checking to see which ones have profiles and what they might show."

What disturbs me most is that the CBS 5 story moves to the question of what kind of "higher standards" we hold teachers to and is more than willing to keep raising the bar to create wildly unrealistic standards of off-duty conduct.

A consultant interviewed for the story looks at a photo posted by a teacher and says, "That, I think, if you were driving down the freeway and saw that on a billboard, you would find it offensive."

Then school superintendent Tom Horne, responding to a different set of photos posted by a first grade teacher, evokes an even tougher standard:

"If you were to ask her, 'Would you do this in the class in front of your students?' the obvious answer would be, 'No, I would not,'" Horne said.

I think it's only fair to remember that teachers are entitled to private lives. I was a teacher and it's ludicrous to worry that a student might bump into you in public seeing you do something that you wouldn't "do in the class in front of your students." I wouldn't swear, pop open a beer, and sit down to watch an R-rated movie in front of my students, but it doesn't mean that I wouldn't do it in my private life.

Contrary to many first-graders' beliefs, teachers do not live the in the cupboard in the corner of the classroom. I would hope that school superintendents would have more realistic worldviews than a 7-year-old who is shocked to see his teacher shopping in the supermarket.

We are brought back to the problem that we haven't really decided what is public and private when it comes to online social networking. Fair or unfair, it's clear that each as these standards evolve, each of us needs to be prepared for our online personae to be subjected to ongoing public scrutiny.