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Friending Your Teacher: How Should Students & Teachers Interact on Social Media?

Flickr/WOCinTech (CC BY 2.0)
School districts have policies in place to allow teachers to use social media to interact with students professionally, so how should teachers handle those messages?

Something appalling is in happening in Texas schools, and no one seems to know how to stop it.

Last week, national news headlines followed the story of a 24-year-old Houston-area teacher who turned herself in to local police, pregnant from her relationship with a 13-year-old student.

In Texas, reports of inappropriate teacher student relations are set to surpass last year's record of 188 investigations, after five years of rising numbers of reports.

Texas lawmakers are looking into this rise in incidents – at a special hearing on the subject in December, testimony pointed to smartphones as reason for the increase, especially on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. Students will reach out to teachers and teachers may reciprocate. Should teachers be legally prohibited from interacting with students on social media?

Julie Leahy, an attorney with theTexas Classroom Teachers Association, says there's no doubt that electronic communication on social media can lead to more casual communication between teachers and students, but consider that there are 300,000 teachers in the state.

"I think an increase in those sorts of complaints is going to be something that you both because you have an increase in reporting, the number of people that are reporting and the type of conduct being reported," she says.

Leahy says she believes that social media has a place in teachers' personal lives, which shouldn't be regulated.

"But when you're talking about teacher's communications with students in their professional capacity, it is appropriate to take a look at the types of communications," she says, "and whether or not the social district is involved and approves of and is participating in the teacher's actions."

Leahy says the key to prevent becoming too familiar with students through social media is to use it professionally. Most school districts have policies that dictate teacher social media contact with students. "If you going to communicate with students... you need to communicate with those students inthe same way over electronic means as you would if you were communicating with them in person."

The simplest solution is to hold teachers to the same standards in whatever format the communication takes place. "I'm not going to go so far as to say teachers should never do it, but they do need to be aware of what their district's policies say and make sure that they are always in compliance with those policies."

Post prepared by Hannah McBride.

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