Should teachers be friends with their students on Facebook? Are their circumstances when this is acceptable, or circumstances when it is not?
I am torn by this question. For myself, as an elementary teacher, I would say absolutely not under any circumstances.I don’t think it would be a good idea for high school students to be friends with their teachers either. Most high school students will remain minors until they are graduated and I think befriending students on Facebook is one way to potentially ask for trouble. The Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation has a Code of Ethics and I feel adding students on a social site is a breach of those ethics. However, for students in post secondary it is a different story. These students are legally adults, at least in Canada, and are more mature and able to understand appropriate and inappropriate content. I will go into greater detail as I explain my feelings throughout this response:
Many elementary students do not understand the boundaries that exist between teacher and students. They see many of their teachers as friends first and authority figures second. I found this to be the case when I interned this past fall. That is not to say my students did not respect or listen to me but they had a lot of trouble with me not accepting their friend requests even though I explained the issues around it and my personal decision many, many times. I strongly feel that my relationship between students needs to stay professional. My students NEVER need to see my personal site, friends, or pictures. I know there is nothing on my Facebook that is inappropriate or that I would need to hide however, I cannot control what other people write on there every second of the day. I can edit my site daily if needed but for example, if a friend posted an inappropriate comment, j0ke, or word on my page and a student of mine went home for lunch, saw it, and came back to school talking about it before I even had a chance to know it was on there, that would be terrible and very hard to get over. I do believe that technology in the classroom is important and needs to exist but I believe there are more constructive ways to do that. For example a class blog or a class wiki. That way all the students have access, the teacher can control what is happening and see exactly what all the students are writing about and all students are included which eliminates the problem of exclusion or bullying.
Many of my feelings remain the same for high school students. I am not a high school teacher but I still feel many of the same issues exist. In high school there are raging hormones at work and many young people are more involved with the ideas of dating and exploring new situations. Crushes that may have been completely innocent in elementary school may not seem so innocent here. Also, many of the cases for sexual abuse or misconduct that I have come across have occured in a high school setting. I firmly believe that if teachers are going to start adding their students as friends on Facebook or any other social site you are potentially asking for trouble. If teachers are interested in adding technology into their classrooms and want a common space for all students to access a website or information then again, make a blog or wikipage that any student can access. That way, the same protection that exists at the elementary level exists here. It would also be a good idea to allow other teachers or the Principal to be part of your blog as an added protection and back up.
Now, when it comes to post secondary students the dynamics change a lot. I believe that these students are adults and capable of making good decisions. I do not think it is such a big deal to add a professor on Facebook or for a professor to accept a student as long as the relationship remains professional. The only concern I would have here is that the student may become to friendly or casual with that professor and boundaries may be crossed between student and professor. Doctor Alec Couros seems to agree with this idea in the article: Schools Grapple with Teacher’s Facebook Use. He makes a point of saying that just because a student is a friend on Facebook does not mean they will receive preferential treatment or that the boundaries between professor and student don’t still exist. Couros also states that he makes a specific page for the class on which they can communicate with one another and himself . He uses the page as a common place for students to interact with one another in regards to the class. In these circumstance I think using Facebook is ok because, as stated before, these students are adults and know the boundaries between professional and unprofessional.
For more information regarding people’s ideas about the use of Facebook between teachers and students check out the following links: