A frustrated teacher once considered writing on a student’s evaluation that she had called in sick just to avoid having to deal with the student in question.
She knew that was wrong, but that frustration led her to the Internet where she posted numerous rude and offensive comments about specific students on her blog.
She attacked them on their personality and behaviour calling them rude, disengaged, lazy whiners.
Eventually, a student found the blog and it wasn’t long before the link went viral to former students, current students and parents.
Although the teacher had blogged anonymously, she had made the mistake of posting a photo of herself in a past entry, which led to her profile along with her full name.
She was suspended and her job is currently in jeopardy.
While blogs are often a way that people let off steam about their work situation, what may work in an insurance office, doesn’t always translate well into a school classroom.
The Ontario College of Teachers set out a professional advisory committee in early April to address its 230,000 members on this question.
Teachers are now being advised to exercise caution when using social electronic tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging sites, email and text messaging.
The rise of its usage, coupled with numerous cases of inappropriate teacher/student relationships, has led the college to release the professional advisory.
“It’s all about being able to embrace technology, but to use it in the right way,” said council chair Elizabeth Papadopoulos.
“Social media platforms are changing and growing,” she added. “It’s out there and it’s coming into our classrooms.”
Teachers need to be consistent in how they present themselves, she said, both in and out of the classroom.
“A teacher is a teacher 24/7 even in the virtual world.”
The college’s advisory noted that younger teachers might have difficulty realizing when a boundary has been crossed.
Being media savvy with a heightened awareness of popular culture can set a tone of informality between student and teacher, which the college is concerned could lead to inappropriate friendships.
Earl Haig Secondary School teacher Danny Hadida first started teaching when he was 26, only a few years older than his 18 and 19-year-old pupils. Although he was a young educator, he knew his position of power and the importance of a professional relationship dynamic and something as trivial as being on Twitter comes with risks.
“If you want to stay, safe don’t play with fire,” said Hadida, now 35. “It’s not worth it.”
As a cooperative and career education teacher, Hadida likes to keep in touch with his students after high school for updates in their lives and if they need career advice on Facebook.
“I tell students that when you graduate, add me,” Hadida said. “Because this is a great way for us to keep in touch.”
Although he has a Facebook page, Hadida makes sure his profile is on high privacy. He has been faced with a dilemma several times at his previous school, David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute, when he had several incidents of students trying to add him as a friend on Facebook.
His personal policy is and was to always to turn the request down.
“The number one rule is: I will only be your friend if I am not your teacher,” Hadida said.
One of the school’s top students Kourosh Houshmand, 16, admits that he does find himself wondering about his teachers’ personal life outside of the school.
“But there should be a fine line between school and personal matters,” Houshmand said. “It interferes with the process of evaluation and the purpose of school is to learn and to be evaluated.”
Hadida and Houshmand both agreed that once communication has been made outside of school, the relationship automatically changes.
“You’re a student and I’m a teacher,” Hadida said. “We can be friendly, but we are not friends.”
Hadida’s fellow teacher Ruth Hall agrees.
She also recognizes that teaching student awareness is equally important. While teaching a course to grade 9 English students on online privacy and their digital footprint, Hall learned that students had a hard time grasping that what goes online, stays online.
“When you work on a computer it all feels very private as if it’s just you and the screen, but in fact it’s not,” she said.
Hall, who has been teaching since 1985, is a veteran when it comes to appropriate social media use in the teaching profession.
She said the discussions teachers are having today is very similar to the ones they were having when email first came out. “There’s a lot of common sense involved.”
While she said that it would take some time to learn what’s appropriate, she believes it’s a worthwhile wait in order to stay connected with the students.
“Because I want to connect with our kids, it’s important that I am informed about how social media works for them,” Hall said. “I’m going to use it for our advantage — for education, but I am going to be sensible about it.”
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