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Teachers & Facebook: What You Should Know
posted by: Alix | August 23, 2011, 01:40 PM   

We have often highlighted the social networking website Facebook on the AAE blog. Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has grown from a college photo sharing website to household name and education tool. Currently, 1 in every 13 people on Earth is using the site. With these enormous numbers, a growing percentage of teachers and students are actively using Facebook, raising questions about appropriate use, professional standards, and far-reaching school district policies.

One teacher in Missouri is suing the state over a new law which prohibits teachers from contacting students over Facebook. In her suit, Christina Thomas suggests the law is violating her rights under the 1st and 14th amendments by telling teachers that they cannot have "exclusive communications" with students via the social networking site. The current wording of the law defines the prohibited parties as anyone under 18 who attends or used to attend the school where they teach. By that logic, Thomas alleges, she wouldn't be able to speak to her own children.

Across the country, Jerry Buell, a former teacher of the year in Florida, has been suspended and removed from the classroom for comments made via Facebook against same-sex marriage. Despite his stellar record and the fact that the comments were made on his personal page and not directed toward any students, the district argued the words could make future students uncomfortable in his classroom. Mr. Buell is currently working with the Liberty Counsel to fight the decision.

Regardless of your point of view in these two cases, clearly in an age where social media is ubiquitous, states and localities are struggling to find a happy medium between outright banning potentially useful websites and protecting children from misconduct and harassment.

The fact is that teachers have for years been migrating to online social networking websites. What better way to communicate than to meet students where they are? For many teachers, it's an effective way to chat outside of class, whether it is about projects or a means to share notes and video clips related to course work. Additionally, studies have found Facebook can boost educational opportunities and make teachers approachable in ways that make students more comfortable when asking questions.

Is it possible that in trying to protect students, policymakers may be taking away an avenue that may be beneficial to students? Some experts think so. "I understand that we hold teachers to certain expectations, in terms of keeping communications with students beyond reproach, but I don't think restricting the environment in which communication can take place is going to aid in that," said Social Media Expert and Author Michelle Manafy.

While this debate is destined to continue as technology develops and changes, it's critical that in the new school year teachers read up on any new social media policies mandated by their school. Well meaning teachers who see no harm in giving out their personal Facebook URL can often be caught in the crossfire of changing rules and regulations. Be sure to read and understand your specific district's policy about contacting students and be sure to protect your career with liability insurance through AAE.

Do you think banning social media contact will protect students?
Comment below.

Comments (2)Add Comment
written by George Webster, September 01, 2011

I agree that there has to be a way that teachers can communicate with students in a secure situation (monitored?) The Missouri law went way too far. I believe that a judge has just sided with that teacher and issued a stay. I think common sense might win out on this one.

I was a Conscientious Objector to union membership in California for over 8 years as a teacher for religious reasons until I had to leave my job due to medical reasons. I received their magazine for years and finally stopped it because of it's political bias against those who did not join a union.

I joined AEE for the insurance protection, not because I necessarily agree with everything that is written in the AEE newsletter. There are some things that unions enspouse that I agree with. May I oppose. The same with AEE.

I feel that teachers have a right to join a union and teachers have a right not to. In California union membership is mandatory with two exceptions: There is Agency Fee status (opposing union membership for political reasons and getting part of your union membership fees back) and Conscientious Objector status (Objecting to union membership for Conscientious/religious reasons, donating all of the full membership fees to a non religious charity and receiving none of it back. I chose CO. I must say though, the union will put you through the ringer.

I must say , to a smaller degree I see anti union bias in AEE newsletters. That is not what I signed up for. I hope that is not what AEE is all about, though it definitely comes from feelings of being coerced by teacher unions (I know all about it). However, I hope it is also for people who choose not to join a Union to get insurance protection and other benefits and yes, voice their views.
Computer Programmer
written by Ed Poor, August 23, 2011

As a computer programmer at ABC, Inc., I was told that I was free to make any comments I like online, even giving my real name. This is because as a member of the application engineering department and an IT professional, I do not represent ABC in any way relating to public issues.

However, for schoolteachers it may be different. A teacher could be seen as representing the school, as they are generally required to carry out or enforce school policies. Unfortunately, this can mean that an untenured teacher, especially in secondary or elementary schools, may be unable to speak out on public issues.

The public schools ought to be willing to support the First Amendment rights of teachers, but how can we handle a conflict between a curriculum that teaches homosexuality is normal, or that it merits our approval - if the teacher's own moral code or religious beliefs condemn homosexuality as a sin?

Can a teacher say, I hate the sin but love the sinner? Can the school accept such a compromise?

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