Teachers & Students on Social Media: NYC (Sorta) Says No

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Long is the troubled history of teachers and students communicating via social networking sites. The thing is, you never hear about teacher-student communication on Facebook or Twitter until it causes some kind of trouble and then we're all left to assume that, because it's rare to hear something innocuous like how a student Liked a teacher's post about what they had for lunch, all teacher-student communication on social media is only bad teacher-student communication.

The latest city to put the brakes on such activities is New York City. The city's Education Department has released a list of guidelines for teachers to follow when it comes to social media and students, strictly prohibiting communication between teachers and students via personal pages. However, instructors are permitted to set up pages on Facebook and Twitter that are dedicated to classroom use.

The opportunity for teachers and students to communicate personally on social media still seems so near enough with that one permission that the consideration will undoubtedly still cross somebody's mind, eventually. However, at least there's a policy set up that dictates whether you, as an employee of NYC's education system, are doing something wrong. The New York Times points out, though, that the new policy does nothing to discourage personal texting or even phone calls between students and teachers, which has been a more widespread problem.

So as to clarify what's appropriate and what isn't, in case it isn't obvious, the city will be providing training sessions for teachers in order to demarcate ways that they can still apply social media in the classroom - something the Education Department says is a good thing - but to do it in a professional manner.

New York officials said that they chose not to prohibit all forms of direct electronic contact, and that they could still discipline teachers who used cellphones inappropriately. “The last thing we want to do is prohibit communication and prevent a teacher from helping a student in distress, even if that means making a phone call,” a spokesman, Matthew Mittenthal, said.

The new policy also recommends is that teachers utilize privacy settings on their social media pages so as to reduce the incidence of personal communication from students. Conversely, parents will have to sign consent forms for their children that grant permission for students to use the classroom-dedicated social media webpages.

The thing about all of this is, though, is that teachers and students already know it's a bad idea to carry on a personal relationship via social media. Well, students might be in disbelief about it but teachers definitely should know. If you have to covertly communicate in personal messages, posts, tweets, texts, whatevers, that's likely a good indicator of Things Not To Do. A fine litmus test for this problem, I propose: if the message you're about to send to your student isn't something you'd post publicly on their wall or tweet publicly to them, then you probably shouldn't be doing it at all.

So how about it? Do you think this goes far enough to curb any temptation teachers and students might have to exchange personal messages on social media sites? Think the Education Department is over-reaching on this policy? Let's have some discussion about it below.

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