Should teachers be using personal social media accounts to communicate with and socialize with students? This is the question being debated following the recent ban of such teacher-student social interactions in the New York City Public School system. The district does allow teachers to set up professional accounts and they must be approved before teachers use them to contact and share information with their students.
The school district did not issue this decree without provocation. The district investigated 69 cases of inappropriate conduct in 2011, all of which took place on Facebook. It is clear that Facebook, and social media like it, can blur the line between students and teachers. A warm relationship is a good thing, but clearly for some, it is a path to destructive behavior. Even one student harmed by such behavior is too many, and that is the statement the District is making via the ban.
However, the ban sends a message that teachers are not to be more than robotic instructors. It insinuates that they are not to show their human side. Yet it is the warmth of a personal relationship that has great potential for engaging students in learning. Through such a relationship, students see the teacher as a collaborator and friend to them in their own learning, rather than an opponent in a quest to pass a class.
Social media is growing as a tool for teaching. It is a powerful way to engage students who are already using these mediums. It brings the instruction to where they are already, a place they enjoy and are deeply familiar with. It is being used effectively with students in education and it should not be banned less a relevant, engaging instructional tool is lost. However, as it has always been, a few bad guys ruin a good thing for the majority. Since approved classroom accounts are allowed, and teachers could use them in a warm and engaging way without easily crossing any lines, it seems a bit petty to get overwrought about this ban. Allowing teachers to create approved professional accounts will help with clarifying and enforcing the line between what is appropriate and what is not.