The way that we communicate and connect with other people is rapidly changing, both as our society evolves and as technology develops more and more opportunities for people to keep in touch with one another. Naturally, this creates a situation where people must make new rules and guidelines for behavior as the new technology evolves, and they must adapt their behavior accordingly. One of the most touchy and important areas where this type of thing is in play is with the relationships that exist between students and teachers. This problem can basically be summed up in one question–should students and teachers be allowed to connect through Facebook?
When you try to figure out whether or not teachers should be ‘friends’ with their students on Facebook, you are opening a whole can of worms. It is very common for some teachers to begin to feel as though they are friends with their students. This can be a great thing in some situations, but before Facebook that sort of relationship stayed at school. With Facebook, however, it becomes possible to stay in touch at all times. A student can be at home and write on a teacher’s wall, or comment on his or her status, and so on. The line between the student/teacher relationships and a normal friend relationship begins to blur.
So, many schools have started to develop a policy on this type of behavior. It is usually pretty clear: friendfilter for facebook teachers are instructed not to have contact with their students through Facebook or other social networking sites (such as MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.). The reasons are pretty understandable. Once students get to know their teachers as ‘friends’ instead of ‘teachers,’ there can be a lot of distraction. For one thing, discipline in the classroom can become a lot trickier. After all, how do you discipline a friend?
There is also the risk of the personal or political views of the teacher having an impact in the classroom. Teachers are supposed to teach facts in an impartial manner, so that their own emotions do not get involved, and also so that students can trust their teachers as sources of fact, not opinion. This in particular is very important; once that delicate balance has been upset, it can be difficult to re-establish.
Regardless of what a school’s policy on this subject is, it is probably in any teacher’s best interest to keep his or her online social life completely separate from his or her students. Many teachers decide to delete their Facebook accounts entirely, but simply adjusting the privacy settings so that their profiles are only visible to friends should be fine, as long as those teachers are careful about responding to friend requests from students.
No matter what sort of technology develops for people to use to communicate with one another, the basic solution will always be the same: teachers need to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve the student/teacher relationship as it is. As long teachers follow that guiding principle, they shouldn’t run into any major problems.