Monday, August 4, 2008

What standards do we hold teachers to inside and outside the classroom?

I had a huge argument with a family member today who was offended by a joke I had made. I was on the receiving end of repeated declarations of, "You're a teacher!" with such righteous indignation that I couldn't help but think about the meaning behind that simple sentence. While I've been visiting my family, I've also endured several comments about how my language is also inappropriate and unbecoming a teacher. I understand that teachers are held to a near-impossible standard of behavior, far above politicians and just below Mother Teresa. But I don't necessarily think that standard is fair outside the public sphere.

Full disclosure: Outside of school, I use a lot of language that wouldn't be appropriate there, probably more than the average per capita. Also, and you might want to sit down for this, I'm not a saint! If I wanted to aspire to sainthood, I would have joined a monastery or otherwise sworn myself to a life of poverty. I know what is expected of me in the classroom, and in my community, and I adhere to those standards. When the joke in question was made, I was thousands of miles away from there, with an audience of people I had never met and will never see again. If a teacher curses in a forest and no one is around, does he make a sound?

There's been many cases of teachers fired recently for posting their indiscretions and inappropriate conduct online, in public forums where they were visible to all (i.e. MySpace, Facebook, personal blogs). In the offline world that we inhabit most of the time, where do we draw the line? How much freedom do we have, and how much should we have?

I'm sorry for offending the afforementioned family member, and I'll certainly choose my words more carefully around them. However, I myself was offended at the presumption of how I was supposed to act and what I was allowed to do in private because I am a teacher. I feel like this is an issue teachers are dealing with more and more in today's culture, and I wonder if I am completely wrong.

What do you think? Are teachers resigned to live every moment of their lives as if they were in the classroom, no matter what? Or is there a point where we can stop worrying and learn to love the (occasional) f-bomb? Please post your thoughts.