Let’s be honest. Everyone from my generation has something online that we would rather wasn’t discovered by our school, whether it’s a drunken photo, an angry tweet or a saucy article written for an erotica magazine.
What followed was a scary email from my university, summoning me to a meeting to discuss “a concern raised by your placement school about an article you have published online in Erotic Review”.
'Raunchy and full of smut'
Did a student find it? Did a parent complain? Was I going to get kicked off the course? It was terrifying. If I was being summoned to a meeting at less than 24 hours’ notice with both my subject lecturers present, it was clearly serious – very serious. And it was.
For the record, the article in question was raunchy. Raunchy and full of smut. It was all about the rhetoric of sex. It used expletives, it spoke of some of the more intimate moments in a romantic relationship, and thus explored themes which some readers might not have been emotionally developed enough to fully comprehend.
However, it is worth noting that this is almost always guaranteed to be the case for any article which features in a publication with a name such as Erotic Review. I will hasten to add that there was nothing immoral, unethical, degrading, sexist, personal, or divisive in the article – it was in these regards completely kosher. The article had been professionally commissioned, it had gone through the editorial process, and was well received online – for most writers, it would have been considered quite the achievement.
The meeting was savage. I was intimidated, I was patronised, and I was threatened. I was told that it was completely unacceptable to have an article of this nature published under my name, and if I was serious about continuing on the course and becoming a teacher I should have it taken down.
As a writer, the freedom to write what I want is something to which I cling dearly. Yet here I was being told to censor my work by people who didn’t agree with the content. It is true that the content might cause offence because of its sexual nature, but I would argue that those who are taking offence are harbouring outdated values in which sex is still seen as a taboo. I like to think that we have moved on from the institutionalised prudishness of the Victorian era to a more liberal age where it is both OK and healthy to talk about sex, whether that is a conversation in a café, a discussion in a classroom, or a slightly naughty article for an erotic publication.
Not wanting to be kicked off the course, I gave in to the pressure and asked the editor to change my name on the article to a pseudonym – a request which they were under no obligation to agree to. However, they kindly obliged. The name was changed and the fiasco was over.
But the experience raised many questions for me about the relationship between teachers’ online rights and their professional responsibilities. As teachers, are we expected to live a certain type of life? Are we allowed to write freely for magazines or newspapers? Are we allowed to be openly gay? Are we allowed to express political opinions? Are we allowed to post controversial articles online? Do we have to surrender civil liberties in order to become “professional” teachers?
The official answer is yes. We should not write articles about sex; we should not be openly gay; we should not express political opinions; we should monitor and censor what we post online; we should surrender certain civil liberties; we should do as we are told. At least this is the case in the eyes of the education system.
Could it be possible that my article would make me a worse teacher? Perhaps. Though I would argue the opposite. I would argue that it makes me a better teacher – it makes me an English teacher who has professional experience applying the very same skills we teach children in the classroom.
Teachers today are facing a modern-day online witch hunt. Out of fear and anxiety, countless teachers have self-imposed Stalinesque regimes for censoring their online presence: names are changed, photos are removed, and every effort is made to remain invisible. And for what? Essentially, it is to avoid the critical judgement of colleagues and parents who would wrongly deem us unfit to teach.
My experience highlighted to me that the education system doesn’t side with us: it sides with those who are pointing their finger and yelling: “Witch!”
My university likes to boast that it has the best faculty of education in the world. It is saddening to think that such an influential institution, instead of championing progression and a move away from these outdated conservative values, chose to enforce them. They should be championing teachers’ online and digital rights as well as promoting teachers who challenge the status quo, inspire students, and are able to think and live outside the box.
After much consideration, I have decided that, if being a teacher means that I have to live in the shadows, censor my work, and pretend to embrace outdated values that I don’t, then perhaps teaching isn’t for me. Sadly, I feel that there are probably many people in my position; people who want to be teachers but don’t fit the mould that is imposed upon us.
Perhaps one day I will find a school that will choose to accept and celebrate my writing achievements rather than attempting to hide and censor them. It might never happen, but I am happy to wait.
The author works as a professional speechwriter in Cambridge. Before training as a teacher, he wrote for politicians, scientists, business leaders and CEOs. On one occasion he was even asked to write a speech for a hamster