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Social Media and the Pitfalls of Teaching

Social Media and the Pitfalls of Teaching
Admin - Aug 14 2015

To friend or not to friend, that is the question.

Recently I heard about a teacher who was almost fired from their position for complaining about a class on Facebook. Stories like this are becoming a lot more frequent – teachers finding themselves in hot water as a result of something they have posted on a social media site.

This in turn begs the question. Do social media sites, such as facebook or twitter have a role in the English language classroom? Should teachers be embracing these sites and introducing their students to a side of them they may not see in the classroom? Or should teachers see these sites as a private sanctuary, off-limits for students.

Social media, whether you love it or hate it, has a role to play in teaching. I think the dilemma lies in whether the teacher chooses to include it or ignore it. I used to get facebook requests from students all the time and the biggest issue I had when accepting students as “friends” was deciding whether or not it was appropriate to allow them to see that part of my private life.

Initially I used to accept student friend requests without hesitation. As stories started to come in about teachers getting in trouble and in some cases fired, for what they posted, I started to see the dangers of allowing students into this part of my world. After that, I stopped accepting requests from current students, but I was fine with accepting requests from former students.

I’d like to add at this point that I find public displaying of ranting against students and classes to be unprofessional and a poor choice, even if you don’t have any students on your site. I think complaining about a class on a message board or social media site does nothing but make the teacher look unprofessional. And while there may not be students on the site, employers may go there. According to research in North American, 70% of employers check out an applicant’s profile on social media sites. For sure, sometimes teachers feel the need to “let it out” but doing it on a public board will not likely have any positive results. If you ever do feel the need to rant, walk away from the keyboard and go out for a coffee and talk about it with friends. If you say anything inappropriate in your discussion, you’ll get away with it. If it’s printed on a message board, it’s there permanently.

But back to the main question – should teachers “friend” their students? If a student sends a friend request, how should the teacher handle it? I’m going to say that nowadays, it simply isn’t worth it to friend a student. It simply carries the risk that the teacher is going to say or do something inappropriate and it’s going to bit them in the ass (however, there is a compromised solution below). I think when friended by a student, it is best to let them know that you think it may not be appropriate for them to have access to your personal profile.

If you do feel uncomfortable refusing student requests and also believe that social media sites, such as facebook or twitter, have a place in classroom teaching, you could create a new page used only for that class. That would allow the teacher to control what information goes on the page and also create more social interaction among the students. It is likely that students will ask you about facebook and as a teacher, saying no to a request can be a bit awkward. Having a page used only for teaching would allow you to interact with students on the social media site, while still maintaining your position as their teacher.

And this last point I think bears repeating and is likely the best reason not to allow student on your main profile page – you are their teacher. There is a pretty good chance that you have something on your site that would range anywhere from mildly to wildly inappropriate. Pictures from your last Halloween party, pictures from the last staff party. These show the students a new side of you and suddenly your image as their teacher is tarnished.

I think as English teachers, we want to present ourselves to the students in a sociable light. Teaching is far more than going in with the textbook and simply doing the exercises. The best teachers are those that often have the strongest rapport with their students. Having said that, it is also important for the teacher to keep a safe distance from the students. You are not their friend, you are their teacher. Once you cross that line, you may find yourself in trouble with something or your classroom teaching not as effective. The key lies in having a balance – knowing how much of yourself to introduce while still maintaining your position as the teacher.


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