I don’t post pictures of myself online for a few reasons. 1) I don’t think anyone really wants to see that. 2) If, for some reason, there is someone who does want to see that, then I don’t want them to be able to. 3) I’m a distant cousin to Medusa, and sometimes looking into my eyes turns people to stone. Despite my care in keeping my face off the internet, I’ve learned I don’t actually have as much of a choice as I’d like because, unfortunately, I am a tiny and bitter cog in a very large, totally uncaring machine.
Recorded lectures are a great way for students to access materials they might have missed or just re-watch their teacher explain difficult concepts. I’ve had a student even ask if they could record a portion of class because their friend wasn’t there that day. I felt weird, but I let the student record the lesson, and I think it might have worked well for the student who wasn’t there that day because they didn’t send me any last-minute emails begging for an explanation. What a wonderful situation in which the worst thing that happened was one party feeling weird and kind of like when you hear yourself on a voicemail.
However, there’s an interesting law in my state–where I teach–called a “one-party-consent law” which says that only one person involved with the class needs to know that someone is recording the whole room. This same thing applies to phone calls, conversations, secret whispers between you and an exciting anonymous partner in a bathroom stall. In every case, only one person involved needs to know the recording is happening. Or, if a third party is involved, then that third party only needs permission from one person involved in the thing being recorded. So if The Flat Earth Society wanted to get a recording of me lambasting their garbage logic in my class, they’d need either a student to record me for them, or a student’s permission to hide a recording device in the classroom. The effect of this law is that any teacher in the state can be recorded at any time as long as at least one person in the room knows about it, and that person absolutely does not have to be the teacher.
Some might look at this law and say “well, why should you worry? You shouldn’t be saying anything bad in front of students anyway.” And those people are right, but those people are also silly and have apparently forgotten about the televised version of Snakes on a Plane. Anyone who has ever seen even the reflection off Samuel L. Jacknson’s glorious glistening head knows he has to punctuate every 5 words with some form of “motherfucker” or the witch he stole his immortality from will be released upon the world of mortal men. Everyone knows this. But in the televised version of Snakes on a Plane, Samuel appears to say “I’ve had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane” which does not fit with the Samuel L. Jackson vernacular we all know and love.
So to the people who say I’ve got nothing to worry about as long as I don’t say anything incriminating, I would like to calmly point out that if digital technology and editing software has come far enough to take the curse from Samuel L. Jackson’s mouth, and if I can see the thread on Mr. Incredible’s shirt in the trailer for The Incredibles 2, then I have something to worry about the second there’s footage and audio of me. I leave my political beliefs outside of my classroom, but I have my students analyze a lot of political texts when we’re learning about rhetoric. It wouldn’t be hard to edit together a few lines and have it look like I’m the left’s prime idoctrinator of America’s youth.
But there’s also no way to fight the possibility that students could record me in class. Academia is great for a lot of things, but giving attention and a voice to one little teacher isn’t really one of them. The only solace I really have is that I teach pretty small classes and get to know my students really well. I couldn’t imagine any of my last group actively trying to sabotage me, and I doubt any of my next group will really want to, but it’s the possibility and the legality of that easy attack that makes me worried. Something doesn’t need to be true to get onto the news.