A Blog dedicated to exploring privacy and technology

Archive for August, 2010

Should Teachers Friend Students?

Posted by Wayne on August 16, 2010

I was reading the NH Union Leader when I came across this article about the need for the school system to caution teachers not to “friend” their students in Facebook or Twitter.

Facebook heads-up headed to teachers:

 “All school district employees are reminded that personal information posted on the Internet is not truly private as it creates a permanent record that may be retrieved and retained and thus any expectation of privacy may be unwarranted,” the proposed policy states. “Information posted on the Internet is routinely reviewed by potential employers and may impact future employment opportunities.”

No-Facebook for Teachers

I have a couple of problems with this first statement.. First of all – what an employee does with their personal information is – well their personal information. But, and there is a but needed here – public school teachers are public employee’s and should be guided by a code of ethics that holds them to a high standard. I would think this standard would include requirements on what is allowed in terms of types and modes of communications between students and teachers. I would think that this code would exist without any specific technical method for communication. So if a teacher only has a pen and paper or a landline based phone – there should be guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Ok – so now we have Facebook and Twitter and texting – so what? These should not have to have a new policy associated with them – the same guiding principles should apply.

The article continues with:

“The policy also prohibits teachers from inviting students to be “friends” on social networking sites or agreeing to student friend requests. They should not chat, text, e-mail or Instant Message with students “in an overly casual, unprofessional, inappropriate or offensive manner.”

Huh? Now the policy is going to thwart productive and useful interaction between students and teachers. What kind of message does this send to the students? Social networks are bad? The issue here is what is communicated and transparency. If a teacher wants to communicate with a student – then there needs to be guidelines that are based on a code of ethics that the teacher has to follow. Private conversations are allowed between students and teachers – so why not allow private communications using other methods? The teachers ethics must be held to a high standard and that has to go beyond the classroom. We must also continue to find ways for our children to grow up in a world where the rules are the rules and good behavior is good behavior. Digital information technologies are part of our children’s DNA – they are growing up as digital natives. We all have to learn to appreciate usefulness and capabilities of technology and also sustain the trust and control mechanisms that protect our students and the teachers. We must create an atmosphere of trust and the right to privacy.

I found another article on the same matter that mentioned that the school system had filters on its firewalls to stop the use of Facebook. Geeze do these people realize that 1 out of 2 Americans will have a smarthphone by Christmas 2011 and that the first apps that are built for the phone is Facebook, Twitter, and Texting? Who cares what the firewalls do?

Ironically the teachers handbook for the Nashua school system that has put this new policy forward has nothing about a code of ethics on its website or in the Teachers Handbook. Why not? Transparency seems like a good policy – especially when it comes to ethics.

 What do you think?


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