In the past year people have proven that they have a truly undeniable urge to say and do stupid things on Facebook, and that includes plenty of teachers. From the elementary school teacher who made fun of a student's hairstyle on the site to a nursery school teacher fired for tricking her ex into thinking they had a daughter, educators have been disciplined, let go, or even arrested for things they posted online, even when they had little to do with their students. Now school across the country are trying to combat the problem by issuing new guidelines that ban teachers from private communications with kids via social networking sites. The intention is to protect both teachers and students, but the new rules may be punishing those who use the technology effectively rather than just a handful of idiots and sleazeballs who shouldn't be in a classroom anyway.
The New York Times reports that in response to various incidents, schools boards in at least 12 states across the country updated their social media policies this semester. Some tell teachers they can't post photos of themselves using alcohol and drugs, and others say there should be absolutely no fraternization with students online. Schools are particularly sensitive to the issue since in several recent cases of teachers abusing students, it was revealed that the inappropriate relationship started out with hundreds of text and Facebook messages before becoming physical.
Some educators complain that the new policies prevent them from using technology to communicate with students about schoolwork and engage those who may not be comfortable speaking up in class. Facebook and text messaging do allow adults to have conversations with students that are more private than if they had to call a landline and go through their parents, but the outright bans on teacher-student electronic communication go too far. The vast majority of teachers aren't predators, and those that are manage to prey on children without the aid of a computer.
More moderate regulations have been put into place in some areas, such as Muskegon, Michigan. Superintendent Jon Felske says:
"We wanted to have a policy that encourages interaction between our students and parents and teachers ... That is how children learn today and interact. But we want to do it with the caveat: keep work work - and keep private your personal life."
If schools want to keep all online relationships appropriate, they have to teach students and teachers how to do that, rather than trying to ignore that technology is becoming more and more integrated into our lives. Someday students are going to be emailing college professors and getting friend requests from co-workers. They should learn beforehand that they need to master the "reply all" button, watch the text speak in emails to bosses, and not post Facebook updates about their Ferris Bueller-like antics when they've called in sick. As for teachers, it seems like half of the incidents in the past year could have been avoided if someone explained how privacy settings work, or just impressed upon them that nothing they post is ever really totally private. No teacher wants their students to get a hold of photos of them playing Edward Fortyhands in college, but with new technologies available, many of us need help figuring out how to keep the professional and the personal separate online.
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