Sometimes what appears harmless and benign at first glance starts looking inappropriate and unethical after we learn more about it. Social networking media has been teaching this lesson with alacrity over the last year, and we now have another example that will be making some friends of mine re-evaluate their Facebook friend list…I hope.
The New York Post has reported that least three educators from New York City public high schools have been fired in the past six months for having inappropriate exchanges with students on Facebook, including one of which culminated in a sexual relationship. One of the teachers “friended” about a half-dozen female students and wrote comments like, “This is sexy,” under some of their Facebook photos. He also posted a tasteless tagline that read, “I’m not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look inside,” according to the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City school district. Another teacher lost her job for posting a photo of her kissing an 18-year-old male former student on the lips. A subsequent investigation revealed that the teacher had engaged in sex with the student ten times in her apartment. , and records revealed 2,700 phone contacts between the pair over a six-month period.
Yet another teacher used Facebook to send a young girl the sentiment that her “boyfriend [did not] deserve a beautiful girl like you,” investigators found.
Several of my teacher friends have their rolls of Facebook friends filled with students and former students of the opposite sex. They find Facebook useful for posting announcements, and believe it fosters trust with their students. Upon reflection, however, I think it is a bad idea, and crosses some lines that need to remain uncrossed. Facebook suggests social interaction, and teachers’ interaction with students should be restricted to the classroom. Having teachers and students sharing their Facebook pages lets both into each others’ private world, and can stimulate inappropriate interaction, the anticipation of it, or the appearance of it. I can understand how teachers and students letting each other on their Facebook pages seemed harmless at first, but now there is enough evidence to know that it is too close to “hanging out” together. That makes it irresponsible, and potential conflicts of interest, though the Post story doesn’t discuss that. For example. are the teacher’s “friends” getting better grades or other considerations?
After reading the Post story, the Facebook friend list of one of my pre-Facebook friends of long standing—a high school teacher and married man about my age, who has always had a penchant for aggressive flirtation—doesn’t look so innocent. I once commented that the number of lovely young women on his page was remarkable for such an old goat (many of the photos were provocative, I thought), and he responded, “Oh, those are just my students and their friends.”
Oh. Oh? Oh!
The Post story reports that school districts in several states, such as Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Ohio, have ordered or urged teachers not to “friend” students on social-networking sites, and quotes Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, as agreeing with the policy. “It may be advisable to put it into policy, just because you have too many teachers who aren’t going to think this out,” she says. “I think it’s safer for teachers and students to be interacting on the educational plane — not a friendship plane. Socializing on Facebook can cross over into areas that are potentially dangerous.”
I think I agree with her.
Now I’m trying to work up the courage to tell my friend that he needs to “de-friend” about 300 young women.