You work really hard as an educator. Most of the people in your broader social circle probably don’t totally understand how tough your job is and also how fulfilling it is. One way to show them what you do and how great/tough/funny/heartbreaking/inspiring/frustrating/cute your students are is by posting pictures showing that on social media. Right?
Wrong. So wrong.
Look, I understand it; it’s totally natural for humans to want attention, respect, sympathy, “likes,” and to want people to be impressed with you. It’s not wrong to want those things, I mean, social media is almost entirely about fulfilling our need for attention and affirmation, right? You go on a dope vacation and you post a picture of you in front of some majestic vista in the hopes that your mom, or your cousin, or that jerk who stood you up at the 10th grade homecoming dance will see you as a functioning, better yet, thriving human being.
So what’s wrong with posting a pic on the ‘gram of you and your students goofing around or doing other generally awesome things? I’m glad you asked: so much.
Let’s start with the optics. Ed Reform is overrun with white people teaching and serving mostly black and brown students. A photo posted on social media by a white person standing next to a small black child serves to turn that wonderful little human into a prop, a 2-dimensional cardboard cutout. You are basically saying, “Look at me. Also, look at the kind of student I teach. Aren’t I awesome?” You may very well be awesome and well-meaning when you take a snap of one of your students and send that to your friends with a caption of “Nice moves, DeMarcus!” This type of behavior serves to exoticize your student, their skin color, and their culture. To to do it in the quest for “likes” and comments is pretty shitty.
To further illustrate just how shitty, let me paint you a picture. I once taught with a white man who was a reasonably nice and well-meaning guy and a good teacher to boot. For a time his profile picture on a social media website that rhymes with “basecook” was a photo of him with several small black children with their arms draped around him. He was literally wearing black children like a necklace! That’s not good. Also, these weren’t even students he taught! Look, this was clearly a thoughtless mistake in an effort to look awesome that lots of good people have made. I only bring up this example to point out that white privilege and white supremacy puts blinders on white folks. I/we as white people have a responsibility to deeply examine choices like this and to call each other out about it.
The second thing that is wrong with this kind of blatant opportunism is that kids can’t give consent for this kind of thing. Even if you say to a student, “Wow, Tricia you balancing that fidget spinner on your nose is both impressive and cute! Can I take a video for my snap story?” a child isn’t going to be able to fully comprehend the implications and problematic nature of doing something like that. There’s a reason schools send home a consent form to families at the beginning of the year asking for permission to use their child’s image on official school media stuff. Some parents say “no” on those forms for lots of different reasons. If a family is saying no to the school they are probably not okay with you posting a picture of their child working hard on a math test on YOUR Facebook page with a caption like “I’m so inspired by these scholars every day #blessed #teacherlife.” This is the same issue with white foreign aid workers doing great work all around the world who can’t help themselves from posting a picture with them centered and surrounded by black and brown children.
Let me be clear: I don’t think this kind of social media behavior subtracts from the great work being done in schools. But you can be an awesome teacher and not use your students’ images for your personal kudos. This is an issue I have thought a lot about and have worked really hard to be cognizant of.
So without further ado:
The Definitive Guide to Using Social Media to Make Your High School Boyfriend/Girlfriend Be Impressed With, and Admiring Of Your Life Choices
- Post about what you did, not necessarily what a student said or wrote. I have gone back and forth in my own mind with quoting students on social media because like using a photo they still don’t know you are taking a picture of when they spelled ‘sit’ with an h in the middle accidentally. I think it’s better to err on the side of caution.
- Use photos that promote yourself and not you and the kids. Remember, this is about YOU getting attention and love from your social media followers, so if you are doing something awesome, you can show off without literally using the children you work with. Personal (not perfect) anecdote:
In January the film Hidden Figures was released. I saw the trailer and was inspired and thought that seeing the movie might inspire some of my students to pursue careers in math and science if they saw heroic people on-screen who looked like them. Or at the very least, I figured going as a class could be a good team-building experience! So I made a deal with my class: if a student brought me $5, I would pay for the rest of their ticket to see the movie on a Saturday. I did a permission slip and talked with nervous and excited parents about what we would do. The Saturday rolled around and we had 17 kids plus a few siblings and some parents show up. Watching that movie as a team was one of the happiest moments in my career. It was a great movie, the kids had fun, and it took a lot of work (and a decent chunk of money) to put together. After the movie was over I was SO TEMPTED to take a group shot of everybody who came along and post it on Facebook. But I didn’t. Was this whole excursion a good thing to do? Of course. We had a blast. Did I want some form of recognition and kudos for pulling it off? Hells yeah, I’m a millenial! But I refused to turn my wonderful and 3-dimentsional students into carboard cutouts in order to get that recognition.
So here’s what I did instead: I took a picture of my hand holding the movie tickets with a description of what we had done that day. 60 likes, 6 comments, and 1 share later (that’s a lot for my minimal social media presence), I had my kudos. So you see you can still do awesome things with your kids and post about it without feeling icky about using images of your students to prove how great you are.