The question of whether students and teachers should be friends on Facebook has been discussed across the nation. With the increased use of social media among today’s students, the issue has become more and more prominent and many school districts have already begun to act.
At least 40 school districts nationwide have approved social media policies. Schools in New York City and Florida have disciplined teachers for Facebook activity, and Missouri legislators recently acquiesced to teachers’ objections to a strict statewide policy. Even here in North Carolina, some teachers have been punished for Facebook activity and at least one county has recently enacted a new policy to limit teacher-student interactions on Facebook.
Teachers in the Iredell-Statesville schools have been prohibited from friending students on Facebook. The faculty members are still permitted to have their own personal Facebook accounts, but, as role models for the school, they will be held accountable for their public conduct even when not performing their job.
This brings up one of the core issues of the debate: Will regulating teachers’ conduct on Facebook be seen as a violation of freedom of speech? Last year Missouri legislatures attempted to pass a new law that would ban teachers from using websites that allow “exclusive access” with students 18 years old or younger. The teachers saw this law as an infringement of their first amendment rights and a judge granted an injunction, declaring that the law “would have a chilling effect” on free-speech rights.
Another problem the question of teacher-student relationships on Facebook has brought up is: How will the relationship affect the student? Unfortunately, we see stories all too often on the news where a teacher has overstepped their boundaries with a student. Many think that allowing teachers and students to be friends on Facebook only encourages these types of interactions. It gives the two parties an unregulated forum to communicate and the relationship and its content cannot be checked by parents or school administrators. This is a valid concern and school districts need to make sure that students are protected.
On the other side, some students may actually benefit from the interaction with a teacher on Facebook. Facebook is one of the most popular social media used by students today and could be a great way to keep the student involved and informed. If a student had questions or concerns about any school activities or assignments, Facebook could be used as a resource to get help. For some students, there is not much parental support at home. Facebook could be a way for these students to have a supportive adult in their life.
Teachers need to know their students’ career interests, passions, and skills, so they can incorporate them into the classroom setting and create the most effective and educationally rewarding environment for the students. If Facebook could improve a teacher’s relationship with a student, in a professional way only, it could foster more enthusiasm and motivation for that student to excel.
The school districts across the country have a very difficult issue here to solve. How does one effectively protect the students, protect the teachers’ rights and give the student the most educational resources available? At least one place to start would be to create a program at every school to teach students about online safety. Whether it’s a teacher or another adult, students need to be aware of the dangers that an online relationship with an adult can entail. The internet has become a tool of choice for predators to communicate with potential victims. Students need to be aware and know how to protect themselves.