The rise of social media has brought about some amazing things.
We can now get up-to-the minute information from around the world whenever they want it. We can hear what our favorite celebrities and athletes really think when the cameras aren’t rolling. And most importantly, we can easily keep in touch with our friends and family around the globe.
But with this incredible rise of online communication comes some difficult questions. One of these questions is whether or not it is appropriate for teachers and students to be friends on social media platforms like Facebook.
People of every age have Facebook accounts nowadays. For many, it is a major part of their daily lives that they cannot go without. They log on at work when their boss isn’t around. They log on between school classes on their phone. They even log on when they’re stopped at a red light. They just can’t go more than a few hours without seeing what their friends are doing or updating their timeline.
But is it appropriate for them to see what their teachers are saying during their own personal time? Should teachers see what their students are chatting about after school is out? Is this a conflict of interest that can affect the in-classroom relationship?
There are some truly great benefits that come from students and teachers being friends on Facebook. One of these benefits is that it allows teachers to more easily reach their students. Students are more likely to learn from someone they trust, like, and can relate to.
Because of this, teachers can benefit from communicating with their students in the same way that students communicate with each other. These days, that way of communication is often Facebook.
Facebook also allows teachers to efficiently give out pieces of information to all of their students at once and at any given moment. It used to be impossible for a teacher to give their class a preview of the next week’s lesson plan during the weekend. Now, they can share a related YouTube video with the whole class on Sunday to get them excited for the upcoming week.
With some of these benefits also come some major negatives. For starters, an adult having a personal relationship with an underage, unrelated child is always a cause for concern. Just because a student is Facebook friends with their teacher doesn’t necessarily stop them from posting obscene comments and racy pictures. If that isn’t bad enough, there have been numerous occasions where teachers have been caught making inappropriate comments on a student’s Facebook wall.
There is also another issue that arises when a teacher befriends a student. It is inherently tougher to discipline someone you have a personal relationship with, so in some cases, it stands to reason that a student who has a personal Facebook relationship with their teacher could be given extra benefits in the classroom.
What Does the Government Think?
As far as rules governing teacher-student social media relationships are concerned, it has mostly been left up to the individual school districts to make their own policies. So far, over 40 school districts have passed policies regarding this topic.
In Missouri, a law was recently passed that barred all teachers from using websites that allow “exclusive access” to students that are 18 years old or under. However, a judge soon after granted an injunction to this law because of the negative effect it would have had on teachers’ free speech rights. The law was then repealed, and they have now decided to leave it up to the individual school districts to set their own policies.
Now some of the districts are following policies that limit what devices a teacher can use to communicate with a student. The intention of this is that the school district can more easily monitor communication on these “district-approved” devices.
Dual Accounts: A Happy Medium?
Though it’s against Facebook’s official policy that limits each user to one personal account, a lot of teachers have created a second Facebook account that they use only to communicate with students. This has given these teachers the ability to keep in contact with their students using their preferred means of communication, but to only share content that would be completely appropriate for a teacher-student relationship. Obviously, this eliminates a lot of the issues that could spring from student-teacher Facebook relationships.
While this seems like a great way to solve this controversial debate, there are still issues that is doesn’t address. For example, adult teachers could still communicate with their students via private messages that only the two of them would see.
Also, while the student’s access to the teacher is limited to what they post on their student-teacher Facebook page, the teacher still has access to everything on the student’s personal Facebook page. These are both issues that a lot of parents are uncomfortable with.