Students and Teachers Cannot be “Friends?”

Last week I read a New York Times article titled Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact. The New York City Department of Education, the same people who provide my teacher certification, has ruled that teachers may not communicate with students through channels like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

The wordy 9-page document first acknowledges that social media has far reaching educational and professional benefits. It then states:

These Social Media Guidelines (“Guidelines”) provide guidance regarding recommended practices for professional social media communication between DOE employees, as well as social media communication between DOE employees and DOE students.

My school has wondered about this topic – and really, what this is is a lengthy section of the AUP. Perhaps now public schools in NYC can simply reference this document in their own AUP and not need to make any guidelines regarding social media.


Many teachers use separate accounts for social media – one personal and one professional. It looks like this would be okay under the new NYC guidelines. But it also opens up a lot of grey area issues. What would a teacher do when a student sends them a message through Facebook? Or asks a personal question on an instant messaging app? This seems to be the way that generation is most comfortable communicating. Should the teacher ignore the communication in fear of getting in trouble?

I also know of one incident when a teacher was absent from school, and sick at home. A few of his students who are Facebook friends posted photos of themselves in his class at school and the hyjinks they were up to (basically not working during class time.) He was able to reference those pictures to catch them “redhanded.” Of course, this is one incident out of many and cannot be used as a reason to have social media interactions with students. Just playing devil’s advocate here.

Personally, I teach early elementary school so I would not be in a situation that I’m connecting with my students on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. But I do have former students that are grown and now in middle school. Mostly, my students just want to stay in touch by email after they leave my class. I am always okay with this, and hand out my Gmail address. If I were a NYC public school teacher, I guess that would no longer be allowed.

Some people are outraged by these policies, but I think in the long run, it will serve to protect both teachers and students.

4 Responses to Students and Teachers Cannot be “Friends?”

  1. The new policy seems to be hurting both teachers and students. At my school lots of teachers have teacher Facebook pages so students can post questions and brain storm with each other. It’s a great tool. Teachers can get on, read the post and see if the students are on the right path and post as well to get the conversation going. This is my first international teaching job, I have told my high school students I will only add them after they graduate. I am undecided if I will add students who have not graduated when I move on my next adventure. Teaching at an international school the students create amazing relationships with their teachers. With the life style of an international teacher moving every couple of year it’s nice to be able to keep in touch with those special students. But being at an international school or a public school in the states, I’m sure every student has had that one teacher that made a true impact. It would be sad if they could not keep in touch.

    • But who has it already hurt?

      I read the fine print of the policy and actually, keeping separate personal and professional accounts is okay. So let’s say you have two Facebook accounts, one would be started with say, your Gmail address, while your professional account is started with your school email address. They highly recommend that you keep an eye on the privacy settings on your professional account, and also “use common sense.”

      Ultimately, this is just legal mumbo jumbo that is attempting to clear up some grey areas. If a teacher is wrongly accused of improper activity, they can reference everything in their professional account, gladly let authorities look into it and not have anything personal be dragged across the mud.

      Yes, it may be too early to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I’d rather have my school board behind me rather than be wrongly accused of anything. Also, NYC is not the first, at least 40 other school districts have already made up similar guidelines.

      Article: Should Teachers and Students Be Facebook Friends?

  2. This is an issue I have struggled with a little. I know kids love to use Facebook but I don’t and don’t plan to (I’m actually trying to spend less time on the computer not more). I did tell my graduating class last year that I might create a teacher page for past students but when the time came I told them I had changed my mind. I find Email is just fine for keeping in touch with those students. I don’t consider students friends. I use google sites/tools and wiki pages along with a myriad of other digital tools within class and I don’t feel the need to use Facebook for my professional activities. The only time I have ever became friends with past students is through reconnecting with them through other activities like running clubs, basketball or when they have entered the profession. The only teachers I ever became friends with were ones who lived in my neighborhood, I reconnected with through sporting groups and when I went back and did my student teaching. I had a student tell me last year he shut down his Facebook for a whole month before his IB exams because he knew it would be a distraction. He made a 7 in my class and must of done equally well in other subjects as he was accepted into the London School of Economics. I’m still open though to being convinced Facebook is a superior digital teaching/learning tool.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t use Social Networking in my class but have thought about starting to. Connecting with students in a manner they are comfortable with is important to me. I have never “become friends” with a student or former student on my personal account – I’m not comfortable with this at all. But, utilizing Facebook to improve my teaching is something I’m open to. Is there a setting on Facebook where I can choose to not view my “friend’s” (students in this case) walls/info but only allow the interaction that would take place on my wall, thus using it like a bulletin board? I’m also looking into how Twitter might be useful. One of the concerns mentioned was a student sending an Instant Message through Facebook. I’m not sure why this is a problem. I often message with my students through gmail about assignments, etc.

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