Teachers, Students & Social Networking


Today I read an article that really bothered me on a topic that I know is very controversial in Education and tends to be a hot button issue. The state of Missouri is trying to pass the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which in section 162.069.4, would "prohibit teachers from establishing, maintaining or using a 'non-work-related Internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student'” (MediaShift, 2011). Although the purpose of this act is noble, to protect children from sexual predators, I take issue with this section, as does Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. Judge Beetem issued an injunction order as this act may infringe on teacher's First Amendment rights to free speech. The act is worded somewhat vaguely and could be interpreted in such a way as to prohibit teachers from having any type of account that would allow for private communication with students. In other words, teachers could be prohibited from having a Facebook account, email account, etc., regardless of how they use it. For more details on this Act and the injunction, check out PBS's MediaShift article.

This Act was written because "lawmakers fear that allowing teachers to communicate privately with students on the Internet may lead to improper relationships, and possibly sexual abuse." Obviously, the potential infringement of this Act on free speech is frightening, but I personally am appalled that teachers may be prevented from communicating with students outside of school and school topics.

Christmas, 2002: My 6th grade teacher, her husband, and me at my house.


Now for those of you who disagree with me, hear me out. Here's why: While I admit I don't know the statistics on how many student-teacher private communications turned inappropriate, I do know that much good can come from them as well. Many students can benefit greatly from a positive relationship with an adult who is not required by blood or job to listen to them. As a personal example, I had a middle school teacher who I kept in contact with long after college. Several of my classmates and I would visit her after we graduated, both at school and at her house. We would visit with her and her husband and chat for hours about our problems, triumphs, and lives in general. She would also share with us her own experiences, both good and tragic, and the things she learned from them. It was awesome to have an adult we could trust and talk to who we knew would always be there for us and who set an amazing example for us on how to be a caring, thoughtful human being. This woman helped us through many rough patches in our adolescence and helped shape who we are today. In fact, I doubt I would be a teacher today if it were not for her. Sadly, we lost touch when I moved to CO almost a decade ago. Perhaps if she had Facebook, we'd still be chatting.

My 6th Grade class. I'm in the top left corner, my beloved teacher is in the bottom right. With a class this small, it's no  wonder she could connect with us without social networking!

Unfortunately, in this day and age, my relationship with my teacher would be frowned upon, if not prohibited even. I'm sure if students today visited a teacher at her home, eyebrows would be raised. And while I can partially understand this, it makes me very sad. Truthfully, I would not invite students to my home for fear of the people with the mile-high eyebrows, but I do keep in touch with many of my former students.

The first student to track me down on Facebook was a girl who was in my 5th grade class my second year teaching. She was in high school at the time, and she told me all about her life and what she'd been up to. We didn't chat often, but she would check in now and then to see how I was and to tell me how she was doing. When she was applying for colleges, she asked me to help her edit her college application essay, which I happily did. (She got in, if you're wondering!)  Other students have often asked me to be their "friend" on Facebook, and I've decided that I will happily do so, but only after they graduate from the school I'm working in. This is partly due to many district policies on Facebook friendships.

It is well known that teachers help shape the lives of their students. I believe that social networking connections with students can be even more powerful. As an adult, I can provide the type of support that my teacher provided me, when otherwise I may not be able to. Truth be told, a teacher's day is extremely busy. We just don't always have time to make those personal connections with students that social networking allows. I've always been happy to chat with my students about the things that concern them, but unfortunately, I rarely have the time. Before school I'm on bus duty, during school I'm teaching, and after school I'm madly grading papers and planning for the rest of the week. If I'm lucky, I may form a close bond with one or two students, but it's rare. Ask anyone and they'll tell you teachers have less time to form relationships with students today than they did 20 years ago. Furthermore, with social networking I can also set an example for my students that is much needed. In this digital age, many kids have Facebook accounts the minute they're born, but most don't realize the repercussions and responsibilities associated with a public profile.

They don't always understand that the things they write and the pictures they post can negatively impact their college admissions, job opportunities, friendships and even future romantic relationships. As an educator with a Facebook account who is linked to former students, I have an amazing opportunity to lead by example and to gently nudge students who may be making mistakes that can be a detriment to their futures. Students can see the types of comments I write, pictures I post, videos I share, etc. and see that one can communicate about their lives without being negative, hurtful, or vulgar. I strongly believe that social networking with students can have a huge positive impact on their lives!

I sincerely hope that we don't live in a world that would squelch these amazing connections between teachers and students. But I know not everyone shares my point of view. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, whether you agree or disagree. Please put in your two cents and leave a comment!

Comments

  1. Shouldn't be the parent's responsibility to monitor their child's internet activity and not the governments? On the other hand, the government as the employer of teachers and provider of public education, should ensure that they're not hiring pedophiles. This law doesn't seem to fit the need. Would it prevent a pedophile teacher from engaging in an improper relationship, likely no. Would it help keep pedophiles out of teaching, also no.

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