Should Teachers And Students Be Friends on Facebook?

Absolutely not, says one state

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Should Teachers And Students Be Friends on Facebook?
[ Social Media]

My 20-something-year-old friend is a high school history teacher. That means that he is not that far removed from high school himself – and definitely not that much older than the students in his classes. It also means that some of his students feel more comfortable with him; he’s young and seems more accessible than many of the older teachers.

So naturally, kids want to be his friend on Facebook. And his decision so far has been to decline every request that he receives from students. We’ve talked about this before, and when I asked him why he chooses to say no to the requests, this was his answer:

“Sometimes I drink too much on the weekends.”

Maintaining a respectable image is incredibly important as a teacher. And let’s be honest, social media is a liability. Even the most conscious social networkers are bound to post something or share something that could cause controversy. That’s why many educators say no to student interaction on social sites.

The state of Missouri has taken steps to remove the choice from educators. A new bill will forbid teachers and students from having any sort of private or personal connection on social media sites.

SB 54, which will “Create the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and establishes the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children,” has been signed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. That bill has many provisions, most of which deal with the issue of sexual misconduct when it comes to public schools.

Section 162.069 prohibits non-work-related websites that “allows exclusive access with a current or former student.” According to Missouri ABC affiliate KSPR, this means that teachers and students cannot be “friends” on Facebook but students can “like” a teacher’s public page. The teacher could still use that public page to disseminate information to his class.

Here’s the exact language of the provision –

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.

The language of the bill would also ban students from following teachers on Twitter and vice versa.

Sure, there are plenty of things that can go wrong from online communications between teachers and students. Does a teacher really want Tuesday morning’s classroom discussion to be dominated by Monday night’s relationship status change from “engaged” to “single?” Probably not. Does a student want their teacher to know about their “awesome weekend lake trip” where they most definitely failed to work on their important term project?

And of course, as the bill suggests, the extreme cases of “social media interaction gone bad” could involve sexual misconduct.

These sites do have privacy settings. With Facebook, you can list which friends you want to be blocked from certain types of content. And with Google+, teachers and students could put each other in distinct circles. However, it’s hard to argue that social media makes it easier for illicit relationships to continue, if those are the intentions of the parties involved.

In the end, is it easier to just ban this type of social media communication all together? Or do you think the state of Missouri is overreacting about the implications of teacher/student online relationships? Let us know in the comments.

Should Teachers And Students Be Friends on Facebook?
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  • http://schnoerrchen.wordpress.com Katharina (@schnoerrchen)

    A good question. Opting for an easy answer I would say: banning the conversation is a clear and easy to follow and check rule.

    But on the other hand I think it’s sad, because such communication could be beneficial for both teachers and students. And if you ban communication in social networks, than in the end you would have to ban any private conversation what so ever between teachers and students.

    As Facebook has lists and Google+ has circles, it would be easy to resolve the problem. But it is hard to check if people are really following those rules.

  • http://www.inetseo.co.uk iNetSEO

    Got to agree about teachers maintaining a certain image – sharing Facebook with students could be damaging in so many ways. No part of that would ever be a good move!

  • TeacherTJ

    I am a Missouri teacher. I decided long ago that friending current students or under age students was a bad idea. I never really understood why teachers would want to be facebook friends with students. My policy has always been, “I might friend you when you are an adult.” However, I have allowed students to message me if they have questions or concerns or need to contact me. Very few students do this, but the ones who have generally do so after they have left my class and send me a note thanking me and expressing that they think I’m a good teacher and will miss me. Now I will have to tell them they can’t do this. Seems silly, but I can live with this. My main question now is can my students email me? The law disallows any exclusive communication on any website that administrators and parents don’t have access to. I’ve always had students email papers/projects/assignments, especially if I am going to project them and share with the class. It’s an easy way to access their work. Seems like I will have to find a public site or a site to which I have invited the admin and all parents. Seems excessive.

    • http://perryratcliff.com Perry Ratcliff

      And even more do you ban access to any school intranets you may have or ban students from googling there teacher? Or force teachers & students to set there profile to private? Where does this start and stop? I think there just needs to be some common sense enforced!

  • http://perryratcliff.com Perry Ratcliff

    Being a pretty recent Missouri High School graduate myself I feel personally involved. I believe there is an importance of transparency in schools that is being violated by this bill. I don’t think there is a need or place for online friendships between teachers and students but it shouldn’t be outlawed. Teachers should have proper digression when it comes to there online presence!


  • Jude Fernandes

    To be very honest — well, I am not married, living alone and teach at an all girls’ convent school ( as of now, the only male teacher in this school!) I just didn’t feel comfortable having so many students as friends on facebook — I want to be very strongly detached from students, both, in the classroom and online too!We teachers, especially us men dealing with teen girls, should be clear about our priorities — our mission is to teach, that’s it! (By the way, I deactivated my facebook account on 1st May,2012. I feel so much at peace now!) Let the teachers decide for themselves: as for me, I don’t want my students as friends on facebook.

  • George Volkert

    I think that the Missouri law is a little drastic and needs some fine-tuning. It is too broad and vague. There should be guidelines as to what makes for appropriate and inappropriate communication, but common sense should also play a part in it. “Throwing the baby out with the bath water” is not the answer.

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