Know your role, shut your Facebook page to students
By Ben Tompkins
I would be very, very surprised indeed to hear any serious professional educator strongly disagree with the decision of Dayton Public Schools (DPS) to ban teachers from adding their students as friends on Facebook. I’ve been involved in professional music education for the last 12 years of my life and I feel that I can speak for the vast majority of teachers in all fields when I say that there is a big difference between a healthy, close teacher-student relationship that is rewarding and fulfilling, and being friends with your students.
In the last 10 years there has been a strange overlap between the personal and professional uses of social media outlets like Facebook. Today, there exists a tight intertwining of the concepts of professional association and social buddy, and it has seriously altered our experience of the professional paradigm. This has certainly had an impact on teaching, because in order to be an effective educator you have to have some degree of personal interaction with your students. If your students like you, they will be more receptive. If you know kids are into Sponge Bob Square Pants, don’t bother with Smurfs analogies. I tried explaining Smurfs to a 10-year-old recently and he stared at me like a dog that’s been shown a card trick. (Thanks for the memories Bill Hicks.)
But there is a line, and every teacher worth his or her salt knows where that line is. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but teenagers have this tendency to be, oh, what’s the phrase? Irrationally emotional. It’s not because they’re stupid, it’s because they just got this new set of hormones and they don’t have a particularly sophisticated set of filters through which these impulses are channeled. It’s that very simplistic kind of Romeo and Juliet emotionalism that clouds their judgment about the difference between a profound romantic connection and getting a little extra help on the side because a benevolent teacher doesn’t want them to suck at math and work at Denny’s.
These things happen to pretty much all teachers at some point in their career, and it is the business of every professional educator to be aware of situations that are dangerous and situations that are benign. Now, for those who have never taught, let me give you the standard philosophy by which we operate regarding teacher/student relationships:
“If something feels even remotely sketchy, that situation ends immediately.”
“Gee Ben, I kinda thought in the back of my mind Katie was spending an inordinate amount of time in my office but I figured it was probably…”
“No wait, I can control this. Why would me chatting on Facebook at three in the morning be construed as…”
“But it’s just Facebook…”
It doesn’t matter. If you think that’s how the game is played, you are in the wrong business, my friend. I think we all know what I’m talking about, and that’s why I don’t add my students on Facebook. You just don’t create or allow situations like that regardless of your motives. Sure, I like my students and I care about their personal welfare deeply, but they are not my friends. I don’t talk about my marriage, my personal problems or anything else with them. My job is to educate them, and they are my students whether we are in the classroom or it’s 3 a.m. Any time I have contact with them I am on the job whether I like it or not. Any other attitude is asking for trouble.
So yeah, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable policy for DPS to simply tell their teachers not to add their students on Facebook. It’s unnecessary for doing your job, and it can only lead to bad things. Oh, and just in case some super liberal whack job wants to forward the idea that this is unconstitutional, get over yourself. Not everything is a Constitutional issue.
Even college professors aren’t allowed to date their students, dumbass.
Finally, if a student really wants to be friends with school employees, DPS has a Facebook page. I’m guessing anyone can add it as a friend. If a kid adds DPS as a “friend,” I’m betting they’re not going to be laboring under the delusion they’ve got a new buddy they can chat with when their girlfriend dumps them for some whiny emo kid. For all intents and purposes, DPS is safe because there is no individual with whom one is communicating. It’s a faceless Facebook page. No (normal) kid is going to get all excited and start freaking out when DPS’s relationship status changes from “in a relationship” to “single.” DPS doesn’t have a relationship status. Because it’s a professional page.
Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at BenTompkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.