It’s hard to understand why any teacher would want to “friend” a student. Most teachers probably already deflect friend requests from their students, but the New Hanover County school board is wise to have adopted a policy against teacher-student interaction on Facebook and other social networking sites. Chairman Don Hayes summed it up well, noting that there is a desk between teacher and student. We have seen what happens when teachers or other school employees push that desk out of the way, from suggestive text messages to full-blown sexual affairs. Sometimes what should go without saying still needs to be said. The schools’ policy hadn’t caught up with the social media revolution. It makes exceptions for online teacher-student interaction, if the principal approves.
Hayes had wanted the original provision, which said the principal could approve an exception “for educational purposes, to remain rather than leave it open to interpretation. That’s a good point. And it brings up another one. The policy could strip teachers of the ability to set up a social media site that works as an extension of the classroom. As technology becomes more important in professional and personal lives, our education system is often several steps behind. Teachers should not agree to join a student’s list of Facebook friends, engage in texting or other electronic communication that could cast suspicion on the teacher-student relationship.
There are boundaries that must not be crossed. The teacher is not a pal, but an authority figure and a mentor who must keep a respectful emotional and social distance. But creative teachers may view interactive technology as an exciting educational tool. Kids are naturals at adapting to technology, and they may be more engaged in a class that encourages the type of interaction Facebook and other sites provide. And there is certainly a way to do that without relying on Facebook or similar sites. Most schools have teacher websites. But they are usually generic, static, and some teachers don’t even use them. What if there were ways to host an interactive web page, controlled by the school system, to encourage teachers to engage students online as well as in the classroom? It can be done, and it has been done in some places.
Students who won’t speak up in class may be more likely to participate, and the school-sponsored site would be governed by rules against “hating” and other bad behavior that don’t apply to most social networking sites. The interactive qualities of the Internet can attract predators, expose embarrassing actions and be used to bully. But they also can be used to expand minds and engage audiences that don’t respond as well when sitting in a classroom. So, yes to keeping teachers and school employees from “friending” their young charges on unsupervised social media sites. But also, “yes” to finding a way to harness the appeal of networking sites for academic purposes – in a safe, controlled environment.