Social media boundaries: Should teachers and students be friends?

Cell phone texting, twitting, whatsapping and facebooking are some trendy developments that have creeped into our classrooms.Nowadays, a lot of teachers communicate with their students through social media. They might be friends on Facebook, follow each other on Twitter and there is even a possibility to contact each other through WhatsApp. This has brought a growing concern that tech has brought students and teachers too close for comfort.

Many educators—especially those under 30—view texting and Facebook as not only the easiest, quickest ways to connect with students, but also as valuable tools to engage, motivate and even excite them. To them, social media is an opportunity for everyone in class—not just the eager beavers who always raise their hands—to participate in the discussion and for kids to bounce ideas off one another.

On the other hand, some people do not see the reason why teachers would want to connect on such level with their students arguing that this way of communicating has led to blurred boundaries and sexual impropriety. They argue that with all that instant interaction, adults and adolescents can find themselves suddenly in a dangerous territory adding that simple discussions can develop into a relationship and when emotions get involved, the situation may evolve into something inappropriate.

They equally contend that despite being tech-savvy, teens often don’t realize that once they “friend” a teacher on Facebook, he can see everything they post on the site—party videos, snarky comments or soul-baring confessions, which may place educators in an awkward position. An instructor, for example, might find it impossible to judge a student fairly after reading profane comments or viewing compromising photos.

You will agree that both sides actually hold very compelling arguments. However, as it is impossible to exclude or prohibit this from our lives, it is important to know how teachers and students should handle and behave. First of all, schools should have a policy outlining what teachers are and are not allowed to do on social media. Secondly, it is advisable for the teacher to think about creating a separate account for personal use and professional use. This could make drawing a line easier for the teacher. Furthermore, teachers should also be transparent about how social media is used in class.

It might also suffice to mention that limiting this technology and pretending it does not exist will not stop tech-savvy students from using it. In some cases, the open-ending nature of social networks do spur on inappropriate relationships, but this isn’t a common occurrence. Whether Facebook or Twitter existed or not, if a teacher and student are going to become involved, the Internet is only one way for them to communicate.

As long as lines are maintained between the personal and professional, the benefits of social media in the classroom outweigh the disadvantages. If schools and parents are aware of and approve of social network use for the educational benefit of students, then a heavy-handed approach can be avoided -- as well as keeping children safe online.

The writer is a Language Consultant