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Uncategorized   |   Aug 20, 2011

Video surveillance in the classroom

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Video surveillance in the classroom

By Angela Watson

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?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I just heard our superintendent talk about his new idea for evaluating teachers. One of the things he said is that it “involves good videography”. The idea is in the testing stages now. I’ll be interested to see what happens when it’s applied to all teachers. Like your original correspondent, I’m not so very keen to be identified with my district.

  2. My word. What had the world come to? I love the idea for safety by cameras in locations such as stairwells and parking lots. But, classrooms? I’m not so sure. I’ve been a part of research projects (MET) where videotaping was required. And, of course, for national board purposes. But those legitimately have a wholesome purpose. I can see the link between “he said vs she said” of parents and teachers (like surveillance on buses). However, I’m not convinced of the idea. I HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE, but I just don’t think it’s necessary. If teachers and principals are doing their job, a “gotcha” isn’t needed. Where’s the money coming from?? Use it to send “those” teachers to PD in the areas of concern instead of installing camera equipment. Ugh…people are losing their jobs because of the budget- the budget that includes serveillance. Ridiculous!!

    Your wallet AND CAR stolen?! My goodness. You have been through it all!

    1. Let me tell you, the day that stuff was stolen from me at school changed me forever. I never quite felt safe in a school again. I suppose it has been good, though, because I’ve been more cautious and probably protected myself from even more violations.

  3. Angela, my wife is a substitue teacher in several districts around our home…K-12. She frequently comes home frustrated by the experiences she witness in the various classrooms she visits. Some of her stories involve the behavior of students, but most of them involve the behavior of teachers and aids. She is often flabergasted by the unprofessionalism she encounters with regards to how adults treat and speak to the students! In a recent conversation with her I queried whether video surveillance in classrooms would make a difference. I searched the topic and came across this thread. I don’t know how it would end up working out if tried, but my thought is this…if everyone in the classroom knows they are being monitored (or at least video taped) might it make a difference in how they speak to each other, how they act and how they choose to behave….both teachers and students? Just a thought!

  4. I would LOVE to have video surveillance in my classroom. Students have become increasingly disruptive in comparison to the already troubled population of which I was a member during my public education. I often am challenged by students whom I attempt to discipline because they truly see no harm in speaking out of turn during class as long as their outburst is content related. Offering visual proof of classroom disruptions would force the student and sometimes their parents to see exactly how difficult it is to teach a group when there are multiple remarks occuring simultaneously. Furthermore, a video observation from administration would be welcome! I would much prefer an administrator see an accurate picture of classroom behavior than the polished version that occurs when a watchful eye is present.

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