I recently received an email from a website visitor who, understandably, would like to remain anonymous:
Angela, since you have taught in many places and in large cities and school districts, I was wondering if you have ever taught with classroom surveillance cameras? What do you think about them?
Let me explain. When I returned to school to work in my classroom before school started, my colleagues informed me that we would be having surveillance cameras installed throughout the school: hallways, parking lots, and all classrooms.
I haven’t heard the “official” administrative word on this. I teach in a fairly large district that will have them in rural, urban, and suburban areas. The janitor told me that our school would monitor us, and also that the county’s administrative offices would be able to monitor us as well. I am feeling a little overwhelmed and invaded here!
What experiences have you had in this area? How do teachers in other districts feel about having cameras watch (and listen) to their every move, all day long and even after school?
Perhaps I am just being paranoid. I’ve been teaching for over two decades and have always had good evaluations, but this really scares me. I am fine around children, but I don’t like being scrutinized by a committee of adults watching me on TV.
This email left me stunned. My first thought was, How in the world are they affording this while laying off teachers? Did they sacrifice teaching jobs for a video surveillance system? And my second, even more cynical thought was, What (or who) are they hoping to catch?
To be fair, I do love the idea of having cameras in the parking lots and hallways. I begged my former school to install them after my wallet and car were stolen from school, but alas, no funding was available. (The school did have some cameras, but, inconveniently, none of them were installed in the hallways and stairwells leading to MY room.) All of the schools I’ve worked in have been pretty regular targets of non-violent crime, and video surveillance around campus just seems like a smart move to me. It’s important to monitor who’s on the property for the sake of the students, especially in warm climates like Florida where school buildings are not typically enclosed.
In the classroom, however, I’m extremely wary about how these cameras would be used. A statement from the school district about their purpose and use is definitely needed before I could make a decision about whether or not I think it’s a good idea. Is the intention to protect the district from lawsuits arising from accusations made by students and parents against teachers? To increase accountability for student behavior? To make sure teachers aren’t cheating during standardized tests?
Or, is the primary reason for camera installation to monitor how teachers are teaching? If the principal can watch classrooms from his or her office, there’s no need for frequent walk-throughs: just sit back and watch the screen to see who’s sitting at their desk, who’s giving worksheets all day long, and who’s screaming at their class.
My classroom always felt like my private home, my sanctuary from whatever chaos was happening elsewhere in the school. I went to great lengths to make it cozy and warm for both me and my students, adding couches, lamps, curtains, and decorations. The idea of a camera being installed in the room would have felt like installing a camera in my living room. Of course, it wasn’t my private property, but I can’t imagine ever feeling totally comfortable in my classroom knowing that my every move was being watched.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you know of any schools that have video surveillance in the classroom? What was the stated purpose of those cameras? Any experiences with this, or opinions on what this teacher should do?