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.