Missouri recently passed a law prohibiting teachers from being “friends” with their students on Facebook. I’m not a social networking expert – I don’t even have a Facebook page so if I use the wrong terminology in this post, please forgive me!
I understand that the purpose of the law is to discourage inappropriate relationships between teachers and students and I fully support that idea. The new law also provides protection to teachers by preventing a student or their family member from seeing what’s on their personal page so there isn’t any question about appropriateness of content.
In theory the new law should be easy to follow and shouldn’t create too many hardships…that is unless you live in rural Missouri. The dynamic of a community in rural Missouri is very different than in an urban setting. Many teachers in communities like Clinton grew up in the area and have returned to that area to give back to the community as a teacher. It is likely that at some point in their career they will teach the children of their life long friends and relatives.
Let me provide a real world example. My sister-in-law, Emily Combs, teaches math in the Clinton School District. Emily and her husband, Brad, grew up in Clinton, and are now raising their family in Clinton. They both work with Clinton youth every day – Emily in the school system and Brad through the City of Clinton’s Park and Rec Department.
Brad and Emily have two children and their oldest child, Quintin (who I’m sure thinks it’s really cool that his name is on the world-wide web), will be an eighth grader this year. The new law prevents Emily from being “Facebook friends” with her own son and his friends! Emily will be a teacher to several of Quintin’s friends simply because Clinton is a rural school system. Since math is a required class, chances are Emily will be your child’s teacher. The parents of several children in Emily’s classes are close personal friends of Emily and Brad.
Social media such as Facebook is a way of life in our society, with major milestones and accomplishments being posted on Facebook to be shared with “friends”. Emily will not be able to participate in on-line conversations about some of those milestones, or worse, she may not know about them at all.
What happens when Emily has her own son in class? She can no longer “friend” him on Facebook. My son is too young to have a Facebook page, but when he does I plan to monitor it. Monitoring is for his protection as well as to be sure he is appropriate. As his parent, I also plan to monitor his friends – it’s what parents need to do – protect our children. The new law will prevent Emily from monitoring her son and his friends because many of them will have also been students. Some day my son, Emily’s nephew, may have her as a teacher and when that happens she will no longer be able to “friend” her own nephew on Facebook, that just doesn’t seem fair.
I’m not making a case that the law is wrong but I do believe it’s misguided. We choose to live in rural Missouri because we want to know our neighbors, and we want to know our children’s friends and families. The law limits a teacher like Emily from monitoring her son and his friends social network behavior. The law is in place to prevent inappropriate relationships between teachers and students but my guess is, if a relationship is going to be inappropriate, it will happen whether or not Facebook “friending” is allowed.
I’m guessing the vast majority of teacher / student relationships are perfectly appropriate and will continue to be whether or not the Facebook law exists. Think about this – the new law is a little like closing all the streets just because a few people speed and run stop signs…
Disclaimer: Emily has no idea I wrote this blog and I do not know her personal opinion so I am in no way suggesting that I’m reflecting her views or those of other teachers in the Clinton School District. It’s very likely that many teachers are supportive of the law because it provides them protection and makes it easy to say “No” to a friend request without hurting the feelings of a student. Teachers deserve, and want, privacy just like the rest of us and the law helps provide privacy of their personal life.
Tell me what you think: