Should Teachers And Students Be Friends on Facebook?

    August 1, 2011
    Josh Wolford

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.