Putting my money where my mouth is…

Should teachers and students be ‘friends’ on social networking sites?
Classroom 2.0 Discussion

I notice this morning another class member has tried to ‘friend’ me on Facebook. I’ll probably add her to my limited list. She is nine so I don’t think I will see too many drunken parties on her wall. She will see none on mine. This is a shy girl who contacts me through our school email accounts, Ning Network, Twitter and wiki discussions. I think in almost every case she has simply said, ‘hi’.

There is a great deal of concern over the propriety of having contact with students outside of the classroom. Documented, open contacts on popular social networking sites are compared to clandestine chat rooms and shady encounters in discrete locations. This is not the case. What is really being debated I think is an erosion of privacy in our professional lives.

I am a product of my generation of teachers. When I began teaching in rural Saskatchewan in the 1980’s I was reluctant to enter the local bar or be seen leaving the liquor store. My life was so private that I was finally called into the principal’s office where I was confronted by a school trustee who apologetically confided that there were rumors I had a private drinking problem. I was surprised. The community was more relaxed about teacher behavior than I thought. I became more open about myself. I enjoyed the staff parties until I had one of those likely all too familiar moments when a drunken colleague decided that it was time to have a frank discussion with our administrator. After that I was back to discretion. We talk about teaching our five hours and needing to return to privacy; keep things separate. Facebook is a billboard beside the freeway folks. Nothing you do there is private and the world tags you. You’re in the mall so if you decide to share a tantrum with your three year old be aware someone not so very close to you is watching. As soon as I open my browser I am out in public.

I’m a product of my environment. How small was your town? My town was so small the main drag was a transvestite. My town was so small the local bar was the town’s only restaurant so if you went out for a drink your fourteen year old student might be at the next table with his parents scarfing chips and gravy chased with a coke. You really have only once choice in that circumstance: be a responsible adult.

About Alan Stange

I am an Alumni of the University of Regina, class or 1980. After a two year posting with CUSO in Kaduna, Nigeria, I worked in South-central Saskatchewan in rural K-12 schools. I took a year of post-graduate studies and then moved into administration. I stepped out of that role in 2007 and returned to the classroom as an elementary school teacher. I am currently in Moose Jaw.
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3 Responses to Putting my money where my mouth is…

  1. Alan Stange says:

    What I think people don’t understand is the capacity for social networking to emulate that interconnected society. I frequently read observations that we need to discard the industrial model of education. The managerial relationship of teacher to student should be shunned in favour of a more egalitarian model where teachers and students are ‘co-learners’ collaborating together. If that is to be so, then our attitudes toward communicating with young people need to be modified. I hasten to add that I am speaking about communication, being receptive and responsive to innocuous conversation. I am not insensible to disparities in power between young and old people, I simply don’t think that social networking adds a unique dimension to the older person’s responsibility, nor does it excuse the older person from exercising those responsibilities.

  2. To me it can be a bit like chatting with students in the mall, or the hockey rink or at church. We occupy these same spaces with them and if it helps to foster relationships for learning or simply to be a good role model, to me that seems like the right thing. At the same time, I can understand those not wanting to engage with students too. I think each person needs to understand the environment and make the decision for themselves. Schools and districts shouldn’t be making these choices.

  3. Alan Stange says:

    I agree Dean and wish I had said that myself. I make it sound absolute when in fact I am fairly discriminating in my connections. There are times when it is not a good idea to engage with a student or group of students. Also, engagement is suggestive of sustained dialog. This has not been the case for me. Contact becomes minimal. It is almost as if the connection is more important than the conversation it might generate. It is important to remember that my students are quite young and relatively shy or inarticulate. An adolescent connection might be both more meaningful and more problematic.

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