Schools That Snoop

school admin spying a teacher using computer.

Is your school monitoring your online activity? Could they not only be clocking time spent online, but actually snooping into which websites you visit and what you do on those sites? Are they watching as you write a School Review?

ISR has recently noticed that within an hour of receiving a negative Review for a specific school, we sometimes also receive a positive Review for that very same school . In and of itself this could be considered normal. However, when a positive Review is submitted before the negative Review actually goes live, we have to wonder how the author of the positive Review knew exactly what to refute in a negative Review which is still in the queue.

Coincidence? Maybe! What about when the “coincidence” occurs more than once?

School PCs, laptops and campus Wi-Fi connections can leave you vulnerable to snooping. School-issued devices, even when used on campus and if equipped with key-stroker software, can make your online and offline activity an open book.

It is beyond the scope of ISR to point a finger at any one school and accuse them of snooping on teachers’ online activity, or worse. As a 3rd-party venue, ISR provides a space for International Educators to share their experiences at schools around the world. If you suspect your school is snooping, you may want to share that suspicion.

Suggested reading: Reviews written by Admin – Let’s List Them – (an ongoing ISR Member Forum thread w/75+ comments). Please login to ISR as a member and then return to use the link.

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23 thoughts on “Schools That Snoop

  1. I think it’s funny that there is so much discussion and misunderstanding about VPNs. Clearly your traffic is encrypted from your machine to the gateway server. Not your school’s server, nor any other server between you and your gateway, know what the traffic is. Most good VPNs also don’t log any data on the gateway server. So even if authorities had a warrant for them, there would still be nothing for them to turn over. It is true that you can tell a VPN is being used, and you can tell that the data is encrypted, but anyone who thinks that a school can read your traffic has been misled. I suppose someone could place code on your machine that would be able to give up the key or spy on your machine that way, but the traffic is encrypted. (Until quantum computers hit their heyday maybe.) That’s kind of the point of the VPN and what the tech does. If you’re especially paranoid or don’t have full control over a router side VPN in your home or school, you can connect a second VPN from your computer or use TOR. TOR always seems slow to me, but I routinely connect two VPNs as my school uses one and I don’t fully trust the guy who set up my home network. All that being said, I don’t even have anything to hide. Just prefer my privacy and anonymity. I’m even using a temporary email to post this…


    1. Thanks MarvintheMartian. I don’t understand VPNs to be honest, other than knowing if I use one I can then watch BBC iPlayer from abroad. I just accept what my team tell me they ‘could’ track if required.

      But surely the point of this thread isn’t how VPNs work, it’s about trust in your employer and employees… or am I missing the point here?


  2. My school this year used a facebook photo from 2016 as my school ID photo. They did this to a number of other staff members. When I brought it up to them they claimed that the photo I provided was insufficient. However, this photo in question was never used as a facebook profile photo nor am I friends with anyone from HR. They also claimed that this was done prior to my working at the school, but another staff member had a photo taken from their Facebook after they had already started. To me, it was an invasion of my privacy and it was completely ignored. I do not go on facebook on anything connected to the school internet, so how or why they got it will be a mystery.


  3. First things first… I’m a school Principal in a large, high quality, international school. So I accept I’m giving a biased view here.

    I would expect that all schools have the ‘capability’ to see what you’re doing whenever you’re using school equipment or using school servers. The VPN argument is inaccurate, because as another poster has said, you have to access the school servers first, which then in turn connect to the VPN site. This stops outsiders from accessing your history, but inside the school it’s completely possible. Most IT technicians in schools can do this easily (and if yours can’t, maybe there’s other areas of expertise they’re lacking too…).

    HOWEVER… I have never, ever, asked my team to check such things. I trust my staff to know the difference between right and wrong. I DO TELL THEM each year that we have the capability to track usage… because I want them to know and to protect themselves AND the school. We can all name websites/content that would cause a huge issue for everyone if they were accessed on a school device/system.

    Having the capability protects me, the students and the staff themselves, because everyone knows the reality of the situation, and so uses common sense when online.

    EQUALLY, I have no issue at all if a member of staff uses a school device or server to book flights, check football scores, answer personal emails etc. I’d only have a problem if this was when they’re supposed to be teaching, or in assembly/meetings etc.

    As another post points out, I DO expect my staff to be able to access emails/work documents at home (though I don’t have an issue if they choose not to work out of school hours). As such, they’re using an internet connection that THEY pay for to do things that benefit MY school, so it would be hypocritical if I didn’t allow them such freedoms in school.

    I wholly appreciate that Child Protection could be an issue, and with that in mind, our school systems can track back at least six months (online) and indefinitely for items saved on the school device. Again, I tell staff this do that they can protect themselves. If ever the police became involved in a serious incident, I WOULD ask my IT technician to download the browsing history… but that is the ONLY instance. If staff want to post to ISR online about me or my school, then so be it. I’d hope they feel comfortable to raise an issue with me directly, rather than sharing it with the world, but it’s folly to think that nobody is disgruntled in my school.

    SNOOPING is abhorrent. I’d resign instantly if I thought my owners/directors were ‘snooping’ on me. I’d expect staff to resign instantly if I did it to them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You might be a school Principal, but you have absolutely no idea how VPNs work. I would suggest that you leave the IT stuff to the IT Team.


    2. Fair point AnonAng… I just trust my team and they assure me that even with a vpn they can still access things if needed… I’m not an IT expert.
      However, if you are in a school that trusts it’s staff, then you don’t need to use a vpn… unless you’re trying to hide something…


  4. It’s an interesting one. If you go back 10 years or so, it wasn’t uncommon to see statements about use of school network in contracts.

    If you are a google school, your school admin has access to the vault where they can view all your emails, including drafts, messenger conversations – nothing required other than admin access from the back end. They can set holds on specific people for a period of time so that nothing is deleted by any auto archiving, deleting side of things.

    There was something it could do with meet calls, but I’m not sure what that was exactly.

    One assumes the other providers have a similar tool.


  5. While I concur with those holding the opinion that school computers are uniquely for legitimate work related activities, we cannot assume that the admin. or owners have legitimate concerns about your computer use and therefore a “right” to spy on your computer usage. There are enough corrupted and vicious administrators and owners out there who don’t care about your rights and will use whatever they can to harass you. It is always wise to avoid any personal use of your work computer and restrict your activities on your work computer to your professional needs, for that reason alone.


  6. Actually, there is no privacy at any workplace in the world and has been that way for decades. Using the school’s server, Internet connectivity, etc. to post on ISR is just a bad idea. This has been the case for at least 20 years in the USA and most likely just as long in the rest of the world. Sure, go ahead and post on ISR, but do it from home on time away from school. Make sure you are in a country that has laws about privacy. USA and Europe does, but many many countries do not. Let’s face it. Most of these anonymous postings are negative from disgruntled teachers that most likely are mostly legitimate, but can’t be verified or from school administrations that post overly optimistic portraits of their schools. Either way, know that your online work at your school could be monitored and is not private.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “can leave you vulnerable to snooping”

    Why are we demonising a completely legitimate and valid requirement of using the school network and /or a school computer?

    A school anywhere in the world has an absolute right, and mostly a requirement to monitor your activity when you access material through their servers or on their computers because ultimately they are responsible for all of that activity if the authorities come knocking.

    I am not sure why we would expect anything else. Yes, this monitoring could be used against you for possibly legitimate, but school discouraged, use, but that depends on your school.

    If you do not want your computer activity monitored, do not do it on a school computer or on the school network.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My reply to Odaly also applies to you as well. You sound that the kind of admin I had a prior school who was the reason why I left (and the reason I started to always keep my vpn on). Luckily he stayed out of my way after I gave notice, long enough for me to finish the school year. That same school tried to hire me back a few years later after he moved on, but already had a better job by then so told them no thanks.


  8. The case for most teachers in China is that you must use your own laptop (many schools don’t even provide one. If they do, they are garbage) and you need a VPN to access most resources anyway. I do not think this is an issue for these reasons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you live on campus, or on school controlled property, you can’t even be certain that your own private communications aren’t monitored. Most international school employ, everywhere in the world now, has become a bad, risky proposition for many, many reasons. This is just one of them. Stay home and make your own national school systems better.


    2. I think it is perfectly normal to check my personal email, facebook, and other sites while at school using their network, as long as I am not in the middle of teaching a class. Just like I think it is normal to use my home internet to do school work while I am at home. One basically balances out the other. If I really had a school admin telling me I couldn’t do that anymore, then my reply would be “ok, so do you want me to quit now, give a month’s notice, or at least finish the school year? Either way, I will continue to conduct myself the same way as I have been for the last 23 years that I have been teaching. I do my job and I do it well. If you snoop on me or try to micromanage me, then I am not a good match for you and your organization.” I had to say this twice so far in my 13 years in China, although about other issues and was asked to finish the school year which I did, but they left me alone and I found a better job for the next school year. I will have no problem doing it a 3rd time if necessary. Luckily there is a shortage of qualified western math teachers in China (especially with an MS in math and experience teaching AP and other advanced math) so I don’t have to put up with the BS that I would if I taught high school back home, which I never plan to do in the future. That being said, I use my own laptop instead of the one offered by the school, and I always have my vpn on, so it is not a problem even though I am writing this from school right now.


    1. Mike, assuming you connect to school wifi, if you connect to a VPN, you have to connect to the school router first to actually get to the VPN so connecting to VPN does nothing. In fact you are drawing more attention to yourself since school can see you are connecting to a vpn.


    2. I think I am still safe from snooping. One reason people use VPN’s for security is for when they use public wifi. And I certainly don’t need to hide the fact that I use a VPN since almost all the expat teachers and admin at my school use one, as it is needed in China even to use google or youtube videos (which I use for class).


    3. If what Pete is saying is correct, it would mean Express VPN is guilty of false advertising and open to lawsuits. I’m no systems engineer, but I somehow don’t think what Pete is saying is technically correct.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Ignore what Pete says. They will be able to see that you are using a VPN but the traffic out is encrypted and only the VPN and you have the key. Even your ISP can’t tell what websites you are visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. If you have technical proof that a school in China or Vietnam can crack Express VPN, sue Express Technologies Inc. The average judgement for false advertising is $500,000. If you don’t have technical evidence, it may not be the best idea to accuse a billion dollar company of false advertising on a public forum.

      Liked by 1 person

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