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Your Online Profile - Does It Matter?

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We live in an online world, and you have chosen a public profession – a potential precarious combination. Online social networking sites provide education majors and teacher candidates a challenge to balance online activities with the realities that just about everything in the life of a teacher is public. A recent survey of employers by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) revealed that 29% of the employers use social networking sites as part of their recruitment effort, an increase from 17% the year before. An unflattering online presence can lead to a job candidate being removed from the employment consideration. As long as the employer consistently uses this process for all applicants, online searches for candidate information are fine.

School district administrators may or may not search for your online profile when you are being considered for a job, but that doesn’t stop school board members, students, and parents from doing so. Should a student find your online profile, count on it being circulated around the school within hours. That’s nothing to worry about if your Facebook, My Space, or another online site provides a profile that is consistent with your role as a teacher. Should the “discovery” provide some embarrassing photos or posts, you may find your ability to maintain the respect of students to be compromised. Still, this is something that you should be able to overcome, although it would be better to avoid such a situation in the first place.
However, should a parent find something about you online that causes them to doubt your professional or personal judgment as a teacher entrusted with the welfare of their children, your career could be at stake. You can count on that information being passed on to your principal if it already hasn’t made the rounds at school.

Social networking sites are not inherently bad. In fact, they can be quite useful for you to stay in touch with friends and to make new ones. Used wisely, social networking sites do exactly what the name implies – allow you to network with colleagues both personally and professionally.

Too many college students and young professionals, however, allow their online profiles to get out of control. Even if you set your privacy settings on your site, posting photos or comments that are questionable is unwise. Establishing a professional online presence also means monitoring where you are tagged on the pages of others. It won’t matter to a principal if a compromising photo of you is posted on someone else’s page. He or she will still have to deal with the parent demanding, “How can you hire a person like this to be a teacher of my kids?” Perhaps your friend who posted the photo and tagged you as the one who is passed out by the toilet after an all-night party will be able to assist you in finding another job outside of education.

As you maintain your online site, ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable posting this material on the wall of my classroom?” If not, don’t put it online even with the strictest of privacy settings.

A colleague of mine commented succinctly on how online profiles are different from what we had “back in the day” when he said, “There are photos of me doing things when I was a college student that I do not want my employer to see. But my photos are stashed in a box in my basement and not posted online for the world to see.” You’re smart enough to be a teacher; be smart about your online profile, too.

John F. Snyder

Co-Director, Office of Career Services

Slippery Rock University of PA

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