Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Social Media is not the Problem

I recently came across an article in the New York Times on social media. The basic premise behind the article is laws and boundaries are being put in place to protect both teachers and students from inappropriate relationships or interactions as a result of social media use. My initial gut reaction was not positive to be honest. A few statements stuck out at me specifically.
“Some teachers have set poor examples by posting lurid comments or photographs involving sex or alcohol on social media sites. Some have had inappropriate contact with students that blur the teacher-student boundary.”
Yes, this is a true statement. Some teachers have used poor professional judgment in what actions they have taken in regards to student relationships online. Due to discretions of the few, why must we mandate for all? Should we ban all youth football programs from universities due to the infractions of a few? I believe whole heartedly that educators using social media sites for inappropriate means should be dealt with and prosecuted as such. To say that social media causes these negative things to occur is ignorant at best. If anything, social media brings to light such behaviors that could easily remain hidden behind closed doors. Poor decisions cause problems, not social media. In addition, when brought to light via social media, those instances have to be dealt with and not swept under the rug.
“School administrators are also concerned about teachers’ revealing too much information about their private lives.”
This is another statement that I took a certain degree of issue with. Many teachers are not comfortable sharing personal information with their students in any form. That is fine. However, some of the most influential teachers are those that are able to walk that line between professional and personal. Parents and students alike, respond best to teachers that are “real” human beings and part of that is sharing personal information. I tell my student’s parents that I have children of my own and often share stories and relate to them. Is that not a good thing to do? When talking to my students I often share personal stories about my life experiences as they pertain to them. Does that not help me build rapport and better connect with my students? How about helping teachers negotiate those lines rather than removing the line completely?
“What worries some educators is that overly restrictive policies will remove an effective way of engaging students who regularly use social media platforms to communicate.”
I agree with this statement completely. If we remove a viable option for parent/teacher/student communication we are just shutting doors. In the current economic and social realities of the world we live in, teachers need to use whatever means at their disposal to connect to students and parents. Social media is just another option on the table that if used properly can be highly effective.

Yes, we need to protect our students as well as our teachers. However, as history has often proven, banning never has the desired outcome or intended results. Let’s instead use a policy of guidance and education to help both our students and teachers use these powerful tools for good. Oh…and most teachers are already doing this!  
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