Line between student and teacher redefined on social networking sites
During the past few years social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace have exploded in popularity, especially with the 18- to 25year-old crowd.
Teens and young adults log on every day to see what friends have commented about on their page, posted new photographs or who’s involved with whom.
New teachers sometimes start their first jobs with profiles laced with pictures and posts illustrating late-night, college indiscretions — profiles some students may be able to view.
The Newton County Board of Education and the state board, like so many others across the country, do not have policies specifically addressing teachers’ material or conduct on social networking sites.
“We have a policy on staffstudent relations and of course all teachers are expected to follow the code of ethics, but we do not have a particular policy on the use of Facebook or MySpace,” said Sherri Viniard, Newton County School System director of public relations. “It would be impossible to make a specific policy to cover every situation.”
The board’s policy focuses on respect teachers should show toward students and vice versa.
The Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators outlines abuse of students as not maintaining a professional relationship with all students, both in and outside the classroom.
Unethical conduct of course includes mental or physical abuse or harassment, committing or soliciting sexual acts and furnishing or allowing students to consume alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs. It also includes “soliciting, encouraging or consummating an inappropriate written, verbal or physical relationship with a student.”
Newton County students say they have added teachers to their rosters of friends on these sites and teachers have requested their friendship, but nothing about their interaction has been inappropriate.
Helen Laseter, 2007 Eastside High graduate, explained why she joined Facebook.
“I joined Facebook after my brother went to college to stay in touch with him and his friends who I met when I spent the weekend with him,” Laseter said.
She said like most users she also has a MySpace account, and checks both accounts daily for varying amounts of time.
“Basically, if I’m bored and my computer’s around I get on and see what everyone’s up to,” Laseter said.
Laseter is friends with a teacher from her sophomore year. She said the teacher moved away and later requested Laseter add her to her friends. Because the teacher was one of Laseter’s favorites, she excitedly accepted her friend request.
“I would be very cautious in befriending a current teacher,” Laseter said. “It would have to be a teacher that I was very close to and thoroughly enjoy his or her class.”
Keala Smith graduated from Newton High this spring and said she also has some of her former teachers as friends on Facebook and MySpace.
“My teachers didn’t accept me until I graduated, and I think its okay if the student is of legal age,” Smith said. “I mean, teachers have friends too and I know they like to keep in touch with old classmates and friends just like we do.
“If we are allowed to have networks, so are they.”
She said she expected her teachers to have squeaky clean profiles, and indeed, none of her teacher friends had any inappropriate content on their pages.
Krista Maldin, a 2007 Alcovy High graduate, said her teachers also thought it inappropriate to accept friend requests from students while they were still in their classrooms.
“I had several teachers that were just fun in class,” Mauldin said, “so after graduation we have added each other to MySpace.”
Laseter said the appropriateness of student/teacher interac- tion on social networking sites relied on what the student’s could see on a teacher’s page.
“I think that as long as the teacher isn’t posting inappropriate pictures and such for their students to see, that it is a great way to make connections with their students,” Laseter said.
Allen Scott, Newton High graduate in 2007, simply stated his opinion of teachers and students adding each other as friends on social networking sites.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Scott said.
Digital age: As both students and teachers become engaged with online social networking sites, some interaction is inevitable.