Opinion: Students Should Not 'Friend' Teachers Online
Filed under: Opinions
Kids: Friending your teachers on Facebook is a bad idea. Period.
In a recent story, high school physics teacher Peter Kupfer tells the Chicago Tribune he is "not worried about sharing (online) space with students."
Well, frankly, I'm worried for him -- and for my kids.
In an age where the concept of privacy is increasingly muddled due to online sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it becomes harder to know where to draw the line when it comes to teacher-student relationships.
Teachers can be inspiring role models and really can make a difference in a child's life -- especially during the teen years, when it may be hard for kids to talk to their parents about what's going on in their lives. There are quite a few teachers who have nurtured my kids over the years, and I'm very grateful for them.
But, as much as I encourage my kids to connect with their teachers in real life, connecting with them online crosses the line.
As a parent, I've sat through workshops at school where the middle and high-school guidance counselors have explained social networking to befuddled parents. One of the things I learned when my daughter was in high school was that members of the guidance staff had found a way to view some of the students' Facebook profiles. I don't know whether the counselor created a fake student account and then friended students at the school, or convinced a student at the school to let him use an existing account -- but, either way, they were spying on the kids.
Most of the parents in the room were comforted by this thought. "Phew! Someone responsible is watching out for my kid," seemed to be the main sentiment. I, on the other hand, was angry.
Sure, it's nice to know the school has its finger on the pulse of what students are doing these days, but at what point does that knowledge become dangerous -- even if the student knowingly friends the teacher on Facebook?
Over the last few years, I've had countless conversations with my own kids about the myth of online privacy, and what they should and should not be doing online. My daughter was just 14 when she first got on MySpace, and suffice it to say, her judgment was not top-notch when it came to what she posted. Even today, I sometimes take issue with what my daughter, 18, and my son, 13, do online.
But, unlike a parent, teachers are required to report dangerous or illegal behavior. So, if your underage son posts photos on Facebook that show him drinking, or it's clear from your underage daughter's profile that she's sexually active, does a teacher have a moral, ethical or legal duty to intervene in some way? This fact alone should make teachers think twice about the responsibility of being a student's friend on Facebook.
In a response to comments from the Tribune story, Kupfer writes: "Teachers have to meet students on (their) ground or else we will become irrelevant. It is all well and good to say that teachers can only use school-based communications to communicate, but that is not effective. Students are not going to seek out those methods, they just won't communicate at all, and then education suffers."
I don't buy it. My kids use their school e-mail and online learning space to e-mail their teachers about school-related matters. Their education hasn't suffered because they're not communicating via Facebook instead.
And then there's the icky issue that no one really wants to bring up: If I don't feel it's appropriate for my kids to be hanging out with their teacher at home at night, why would it be appropriate for them to be communicating back and forth after hours via Facebook or Twitter?
Or by text message. As the Tribune reports, one school district in Chicago warns that "text messages are highly personal, can quickly get 'off topic' and be easily misinterpreted by a parent."
The district's technology director tells the Tribune: "What you want to avoid is a parent seeing a coach's cell phone number on their daughter's phone and being surprised." Indeed.
Kupfer says he's careful about how he reaches out to kids online -- he doesn't follow students on Twitter, and although he accepts friend requests, he doesn't initiate them.
"I'm careful not to post anything that is not appropriate," he tells the newspaper. "I remember my students will see this. My mom and grandma are on there, too, so I have to be extra careful."
Kupfer sounds like a great teacher -- dedicated, relatable and approachable. But even so, he should limit his relationship to the confines of school, where it belongs.
Related: Formspring.me: Social Networking Site for Teens Gets Ugly
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.