To Friend or Not to Friend your Teacher

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

To Friend or Not to Friend your Teacher

It definitely makes you think twice when you hear that high school freshmen are “friends” with their teachers on Facebook, but I bet it also makes you think twice at the thought that this practice could become illegal?

This week, news spread like wildfire that Missouri signed into law that it is now illegal for teachers to be “friends” with students on any social networking sites that allow for private communications. That means Missourians can say good-bye to friending their teachers on Facebook to see what their husbands/wives look like or following their students on Twitter to see what they are actually doing in their spare time (since it’s clearly not homework assignments).

The law does provide a clause though that while teachers and students can’t be friends, they can interact publicly on walls of fan pages.  

An interesting NPR article points out both the good and the bad of social networking connections amongst students and teachers. One of the more interesting points is that following the Joplin tornado that killed more than 100 individuals, a teacher was able to use Facebook to determine that 20 of his students were OK because he was friends with them on Facebook and could reach out to them.

Moreover, another teacher was able to stop an instance of cyberbullying because he was friends with some of his students and saw how the tension was being played on Facebook.

Others contend, however, that in a world where the line between teacher, student, and friend is often blurred, the bill makes everything a lot clearer.

I am not going to lie. The entire idea of teachers and students being friends on Facebook or following each other on Twitter is odd to me because a) what teacher wants to see pictures of their college students scantily clad while doing keg stands at a frat party and b) what student will opt for their teacher to have access to their personal life?

But to make this illegal?! A little intense, don’t you think?

While I commend the bill’s efforts – among which were to protect children from predatory teachers – it still seems a little far-fetched. Because for every teacher out there who wants to connect with a student for unethical reasons – and for every student who wants to connect with their teacher to glimpse negatively into their personal life – there are teachers and students out there who are using the sites for sensible reasons. Like homework help. Or college advice. Or to form study groups.

But instead of banning this interaction, why not educate students and teachers on how to connect appropriately on social sites. While I am never going to be a huge proponent of teacher-student Facebook friendships (as there should also be separation between school and personal life) I do recognize that teachers are looking to have a positive effect on their students and, oftentimes, in order to do this they need to know how to reach students. And many times nowadays, that’s through the tools students are already comfortable with – Facebook and Twitter.

Explain to teachers and students how social networking sites can be used appropriately within school while also touching on the dangers and confusion that can arise from this type of student/teacher interaction. But don’t punish those who are using these sites responsibly and for educational pursuits. After all, in today’s world, social networking may be one of the only ways to truly reach the youth. 







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