DEAR ABBY: A former student asked me to write a character reference to help her land a teaching job abroad. I agreed, since I thought highly of her potential as a teacher and scholar, and her level of character. However, after she was placed in the classroom, the ministry of education of the nation where she was to teach discovered some inappropriate posting on her social networking site.
Because I had written the recommendation, they contacted me asking if they had a problem and provided me with copies of what they had found. Her posting detailed a history of forging fake IDs to buy alcohol while underage, numerous episodes of binge drinking in high school and college, her marijuana use and several exhibitionistic stunts and sexual activities that I won't mention. I was shocked. None of this matched the person I thought I knew.
When I tried to contact her to let her know she had been discovered, she rebuffed my inquiries and cut off all contact! Her parents' response was denial and to "kill the messenger." I have been left with the problem of how to respond to the ministry's questions.
Ordinarily I would not want my signature associated with someone with those behaviors and attitudes, but this young woman is in legal jeopardy abroad. I still don't know if what she wrote is true, but I find it highly problematic that she would portray herself as she did.
This situation has so shaken my trust in the character and judgment of the 20-something crowd that I'm now reluctant to write recommendations for any of my students. What do you think I should have done? I'm concerned that too many of these young people, however intelligent, lack integrity, character, judgment and common sense. -- HEARTBROKEN TEACHER, OAKLAND, CALIF.
DEAR HEARTBROKEN: You responded appropriately by trying to contact your former student and her parents. If the information on that social networking site is an accurate reflection of her behavior, she could get herself in real trouble if the country she's in is one with conservative social views.
It is intelligent of you to think twice about giving references to students in the future. It's important that you be careful because there could be liability for you if you knew anything about her antics when you wrote her recommendation. If you are wondering how to respond to the ministry of education, what you need to convey is that you had no knowledge of any social networking sites or postings related to her, and that you were basing your recommendations on your personal interactions with her.
Let this be a lesson to all young people who are using social networking sites. Employers are doing background checks and you will be discovered. Any past communications you have on the Internet are there to stay.
This has been a hot topic in the media. But I'm interested to know what you, my readers, both young and old, think about this. You teach me more than I teach you, and this subject is one of great importance.