Finding out a student recorded you without your knowledge is the stuff of teacher nightmares. Overall, teachers are caring, dedicated people doing their very best each day. But we’re human! Who can’t think of at least one classroom moment they’re glad wasn’t recorded? But students recording teachers without permission is a growing issue in the world of education, so it makes sense to prepare ourselves for it now. Sometimes, just having a plan in place is enough to make the possibility a bit less scary.

From teacher-baiting to political fall-out

Students recording teachers without permission isn’t a new concern for many educators. In the past, however, “teacher-baiting” was the biggest culprit. In those situations, students deliberately misbehaved until their teacher lost their temper, and then a student recorded the aftermath. Recently, however, students recording teachers without permission has taken a turn toward the political. Now, we’re seeing videos taken to expose teachers expressing or endorsing political views in the classroom or for disrespecting their students’ political beliefs.

While the videos that wind up in the news obviously show the most extreme (and rare) examples of this, it doesn’t seem to matter to some students and their parents. And some parents, like the one in the Facebook post above captured on #teachertwitter, are now actively encouraging their kids to record teachers without permission anytime they choose.

What the law has to say

We’ll address this quickly because, at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter. If a student uploads an unflattering video of you teaching, people are likely going to watch it whether it’s 100 percent legal or not.

Currently, classroom recordings are handled similarly to wire-tapping phone conversations. Some states require all participants to consent to be recorded; others only require one. Further complicating the issue are variations in state and local versions of these laws. These can make it easier (or more difficult) to record conversations legally. And some states, like Florida, are even considering legalizing students recording teachers without permission, as long as it’s for their own personal educational use, or if they want to use the recording as evidence in a civil or criminal case against their school.

When you’ve already been recorded

If you already know you’ve been recorded, try to stay calm. Reach out to your administrator, and (if you have one) your union representative, to ask for a meeting. Write down everything you remember about the class on the day of the recording, and gather any documentation you have about communication with the student and their parent(s).

When you meet with your team, be honest. If you said something questionable, admit it. There’s no point in saying you did nothing wrong if they might disagree once they’ve seen the video. Conversely, if you don’t think you did anything wrong, say so. Don’t be afraid to ask outright for support from your administration. And finally, remember that although they’re annoying and occasionally scary, rarely do student recordings amount to much of anything.

Avoiding being recorded in the first place

This is the big question for most of us. While students recording teachers without permission is something that could happen to anyone, there are a few things we can do in our classes to minimize our risk. Luckily, most of them are activities many teachers are already doing or could start doing easily and without much effort.

Review potentially sensitive topics carefully

laptop displaying news website talking about war in Syria

Planning on talking about politics, religion, race, gender, or any other subject that people have strong opinions about? Take an extra minute to review those lessons. Are you introducing them and discussing them in a fair, truthful way? Are you being clear about what are opinions and what are facts? Do you have evidence you can provide students who have questions? What questions might students ask, and how will you respond to them in a fair, unbiased way? By doing a little more prep work before introducing these lessons, you’ll feel better able to avoid problems when teaching your students.

Check out some of these great resources on topics that have been getting a lot of heat lately:

Take stock of your own strong opinions

It can be tough to remain calm when debating issues about which we care deeply. Think you might struggle to keep your cool if a student disagrees? Make sure you prepare well ahead of time, so you can approach the issue calmly. Developing students’ critical thinking skills so that they can recognize fact from falsehood is one of our most important duties as educators.

But be vigilant on how you approach these issues with those students who hold strong opinions without the facts to support them. We would never mock or deride a student for not solving a math problem correctly. And we should strive to show that same level of professional compassion and respect to students who hold incorrect views on other topics as well.

Set the stage for safe, vulnerable discussion

By creating a classroom culture where students (and the teacher!) feel safe, listened to, and supported, you’ll be able to have challenging conversations more successfully. Be honest with your class about topics that are controversial. Teach your students to see that while not all opinions may be equal, all people are. And most importantly, make sure you model that belief yourself. Students need to know that they can share an opinion with us that we may disagree with, but that we’ll still like and care about them. Only then will they be willing to really listen to the facts we can teach them about the issue.

Know when to walk away

Teacher standing in front of classroom of teens - students recording teachers without permission

The proverb goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” We can create classrooms that are welcoming and supportive to all. Our lessons can be implemented carefully to present a fair, unbiased view of controversial issues. We can facilitate productive discussions between disagreeing students. We can help students support their opinions with facts and solid reasoning. What we can’t do, however, is make every student see things just the way we’d like them to all of the time.

When faced with a student who is unable or unwilling to accept facts that contradict their opinion, we may have to choose to walk away. This doesn’t mean giving up hope or that we’ve failed as their teacher. There will be other opportunities to reach out. Other teachers or people in that student’s life might have more success for any number of reasons. Or, perhaps this student will hold onto a point-of-view you disagree with. That’s life. But when trying to avoid students recording teachers without permission, we need to be aware when a productive and respectful conversation has reached its end.

Has a student ever recorded your class without your knowledge? Come share your experience on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

My Student Recorded Me Without My Permission! What To Do if it Happens to You