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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Tzolias, and a teacher’s right to a private life

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 5, 2008

Since I live in Melbourne, the minutiae of the Tzolias story seems to have passed me by, but today I read the story in The Australian.   It seems that Tziolas, a NSW teacher aged 24, featured with her husband in Cleo (in a discreet pose, according to the paper).  The ensuing publicity and ‘complaints from parents’ brought action from the NSW Department of Education, and Tziolas was sacked from her job teaching Year 1 at Narraweena Public School.  Since they breached all the standards of natural justice (i.e. sacking her first, and then having the investigation) DET has now had to backtrack: they are now offering her job back, but not at Narraweena, and not at anywhere she wants to teach.

The rights and wrongs of this situation notwithstanding,  this naive young woman – on only a year-long contract – seems to have put her career at risk because the publicity would surely deter any school from wanting to employ her.  She believes that she spoke out in a ‘progressive society’ about her personal life because it was relevant for today’s young couples.  Today Tonight & Co will surely track her down wherever she goes…

However, the interesting aspect of this case it that it brings up issues of a teacher’s right to a private life, conflicting with a naive notion that children today can still be shielded from inappropriate content.  Tzolias argues that it’s ok for her to disclose specific details for the article (which I will not specify because of the risk that this blog would be blocked from viewing in schools).  She says it’s a basic freedom and she has a right to do it.  Supportive parents at Narraweena argue that it’s ok because it’s got nothing to do with how she does her job, and the children weren’t going to see it anyway.

I find it extraordinary that anyone – in the age of celebrity-  believes that public disclosures about any aspects of private life could be insulated from the world of the school, and that children in a primary school would not come across it.   While they may be targetted for a particular audience or a particular age group,  magazines such as Cleo are freely available, and are not hidden away in private homes, hairdressers, doctor’s surgeries or anywhere else.   Of course the parents and children at her school were going to know about it.  So would her own parents, her granny and her husband’s employer; eventually her own children will know about it too.

So does it matter? Depending on a child’s age, the reaction could be confusion, (‘whips, mummy?’), lurid humour, titillation, mockery or outrage. Parents and the other teachers confronting it would, presumably, deal with it as we deal with all kinds of uncomfortable questions: teachers with discreet evasiveness, and parents with as much honesty as they can manage.

The real question is: what kind of person does a teacher need to be?  IMO, the answer is that we should always be good role models, and that means that sometimes we shield our students from some aspects of our lives – whether ‘everybody does it’ or not.   We have to be ‘respectable’.   We don’t smoke or drink in front of children, and we keep to the speed limit around our schools.  In a religious school, living in a de-facto or ‘progressive’ relationship needs to be kept private; in any school, divulging episodes of excessive behaviour such as getting drunk is inappropriate.

The fact is that respectable people don’t usually do as Ms Tzolias did (though it must be fairly common since she was only paid $200 for it.)  It was a foolish thing to do.

One Response to “Tzolias, and a teacher’s right to a private life”

  1. Lisa Hill said

    It is somewhat depressing to discover via Google that this whole distasteful sequence of events has been widely reported in Asia – from Vietnam to Taipei…
    I suppose they find it interesting because teachers are respected in Asia, and Tzolias’s actions would not be countenanced by any employer there. Alas, it also confirms the widespread Asian view that Australian women lack self-respect.

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