Earlier this month, the State of Missouri passed a law making it illegal for a teacher to be friends with a student on Facebook or any social media site. They did this because they felt that social media could lead to inappropriate contact and many people agreed.
The Missouri State Teachers Association did not agree. They fought and won a temporary stay, saying the law is unconstitutional because it denies free speech. The judge who overturned the ruling gave the teacher’s union 180 days to test out the concept, at which time, presumably, a final decision will be made.
The teachers in this case, fought for the right because they claim that Facebook is the way their students communicate, so they need to communicate that way as well. Interesting point, because according to the rules, you must be over 13 to have a Facebook account which cuts out any teacher below the 7th grade. (There is a rumored 7.5 million underage kids on Facebook, but any teacher would be well aware of the child’s age and shouldn’t be encouraging usage.)
For those over 13, I suppose Facebook could be a means of getting quick answers to homework questions but is it the best way? As a person with blurred lines between my work profiles and my social profiles, I can tell you it gets weird at times. Mix pre-teen drama with math test reminders and it’s beyond weird — it’s scary.
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When I was a kid, teachers were like authoritative phantoms who only existed between 9:00 and 3:30. We didn’t know they had personal lives and we didn’t want to know. And even though the Missouri lawmakers have emphasized that social media usage between student and teacher must be strictly “work related,” you know that’s not going to happen. Facebook is famous for blurring the lines despite privacy controls. Inevitably, a compromising picture of a teacher is going to pop up thanks to a photo tag and it’s going to get routed to the students she’s friended through her “After School Help” page.
Even if you assume that every teacher who uses Facebook to contact their students is above reproach (all sarcasm aside, I’m sure it’s true of a large number), that doesn’t stop the student from misinterpreting the conversation. We all know how easy it is to misread an inflection-less email or status update. Just look at my prior sentence. If I hadn’t added “all sarcasm aside” you could read, “I’m sure it’s true” as a slanderous statement and not the vote of confidence I intended it to be. One comment from Mr. B about Susie’s new Facebook profile pic and he could have a full-blown crush on his hands. It’s dangerous territory my friends and I say the line between teacher and student should not be crossed.
What sayeth you?