Student/teacher boundaries used to be easy to spot. Students showed up to school each day to find a building full of adults prepared to teach algebra and history. Teachers were personable, even likable, but it’s not like they were real people. They were teachers. Enigmas. No first names required. On rare occasions, I remember seeing a teacher at the mall or grocery store. It didn’t get any weirder than that.
Then came Facebook.
Social networking has reduced the gap between the professional and private worlds. We all know too much information about the intimate lives of friends and authority figures that once fought hard to keep their social life and career separate. It’s no longer weird for students to see teachers outside of the classroom because they see their teachers’ entire lives played out online.
Thanks to the internet, you can now see proof that Ms. McPherson did in fact do body shots at TGI Friday’s in celebration of her 50th birthday. I'm not sure how she got up on the bar with her bad hip. I'm just impressed she didn't spill a drop on her autumn-themed sweater vest.
In light of this revealing shift, last month, Missouri legislators passed a bill that forbids teachers from reaching out to students on social media sites. The law leaves a lot up to interpretation but prevents teachers from having “exclusive access” to students. Any existing online connections must be deleted by the time the semester begins. Meaning, teachers and students can’t accept each other’s friend requests, exchange messages or play Farmville. Whatever the h-bomb that is.
Yes, teacher/student interaction is a slippery slope. A study conducted by the Associated Press revealed that nearly 100 teachers in Missouri lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 in light of sexual misconduct. Some of these incidents involved private online messages to students.
The problem is that this is another example of a group being punished for the conduct of a few. Like the buffalo were in the 1800’s. Sure, settlers nearly wiped them out. A lot of innocent buffalo died during the westward expansion. But the truth is, some buffalo were huge a-holes. Real jerks. And they got what was coming. The rest were just collateral damage.
But teachers aren't buffaloes. And while some educators have abused Facebook, most utilize it for good. Many teachers in Joplin, the city I live in, credit Facebook as the way they located students after the May 22nd tornado. And, perhaps more importantly, since social media is not going away, avoidance isn’t the solution. Accountability is.
Instead of pulling the plug, administrators should encourage teachers to set up “professional accounts” that are separate from their private lives. Make this mandatory. Don’t run from it. Instead, teachers should be given resources to turn Facebook into a tool and equipped to be able to spot the signs of abuse. With a little effort, we can keep students safe and make sure seeing a teacher in public stays weird.
But we all know why Ms. McPherson always smells like cough syrup.