Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teachers and MySpace

People are killed with guns, so naturally no one should have guns.

Anyone who expresses that view in the United States is quickly besieged by people who generally make the same argument time after time- Guns don't kill people, people do.

We have many in the United States who value their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Unfortunately, some of those same people, including a Missouri state representative who speaks with pride of her devotion to the National Rifle Association, use the same tactics as the gun control lobby when it comes to the First Amendment.

CNN posted an article today about teachers having students as "friends" on their MySpace or Facebook accounts. Rep. Jane Cunningham proposed a bill earlier this year, designed to crack down on teachers who are predators, which included an amendment added in her committee, banning teachers from communcating with students through so-called social networking sites. It's the same kind of logic detested by gun supporters. On very rare occasions, teachers have taken advantage of these sites to establish unhealthy relationships with students. So instead of punishing those who break the law, simply stop teachers from using what has turned out to be a productive educational tool.

I was surprised when I began reading the CNN article and saw that the first two words were "Randy Turner." The reporter interviewed me last week, but I did not realize my views were going to be the focal point for the side which favors the use of MySpace and Facebook by teachers:

Turner said he understands the reasoning for the bill. He acknowledged that in some cases, teachers have become the public face of inappropriate Facebook and MySpace relationships with kids.

"I see where they are coming from," Turner said. "You can't argue with people whose intentions are trying to protect children. But the simple fact is, you take these people who prey on children and they are going to find a way to do it, whether it's over Facebook or not."

Those teachers are ruining it for the ones legitimately trying to help children, Turner said.

"There are so many kids who are stubborn against anything teachers say, who are struggling in the classroom and refuse to ask for help," Turner said. "When it's so hard to reach these kids, why would you remove any of the weapons at your disposal to make a difference?"

When I first read of Mrs. Cunningham's bill, I supported the idea, who wouldn't, of removing perverts and lawbreakers from the classrooms. However, a similar bill has already been passed a few years back and has simply never been enforced by the state department. Instead of asking for more background checks on teachers, why are we not simply checking lawbreakers against a data bank with a list of certified Missouri teachers? We are already fingerprinting teachers and conducting background checks when they are hired; all we need to do is find a way to fill in the gaps when people break the law after they are hired and a database and coordination between our automated court system, the Missouri Highway Patrol and the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would take care of that.

But what of those who have never previously broken the law or who have never been caught? If Jane Cunningham and those who supported her bill think preventing teachers from having students as MySpace and Facebook friends is going to stop predator teachers, they are wrong. Those people always seem to find a way.

As far as social networking sitse are concerned, I have had a MySpace page for the past couple of years and many, probably most of the "friends" are students or former students. I have had students ask about assignments, ask questions about outside writing they are doing, and have even had students turn in assignments over MySpace.

I have never asked a student to be a "my MySpace friend." To my way of thinking, that would be inappropriate. I also keep my MySpace open to where anyone can go to it, and have had parents tell me they appreciate the fact that I am keeping the lines of communication open- to them as well as to their children.

During this time of the year, as the first day of school approaches, I have had several of last year's eighth graders writing to tell me their fears of going from the much smaller South Middle School to gigantic Joplin High School. I reassure them that it will not take them long to adjust and give them a few tips to help them along. I consider that to be a part of my responsibility to help these children succeed as they move along to the next level.

In the CNN article, an "expert" talks about how teachers can communicate with students appropriately through school-sponsored websites. I have a class website and I also have websites for the South Middle School Journalism Club, which I sponsor, and one for the third quarter project I do each year over the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It would be nice if students always opted to do things that would make it easier for adults and went to the "appropriate" websites. Unfortunately, that is not the way life works. I find some students who would never dream of going to a school-sanctioned website, have no problems whatsoever with sending a question or making a comment about classwork over MySpace. Should I toss aside those students in these days of No Child Left Behind because politicians are trying to cash in on the popular trend of trashing social networking sites?

A few months ago, I read an article in which an Ohio NEA official recommended that teachers not have MySpace or Facebook pages. I read it, thoroughly expecting to find valid reasons to back up his viewpoint.

Instead, I read about teachers who posted photos of themselves drinking, or made comments promoting drugs, or who were dressed inappropriately. Some of the teachers acted more like children than their students. Why is NEA spending its time bowing to the lowest common denominator? Of course, those teachers should not be communcating with impressionable students over social networking sites- THOSE TEACHERS DO NOT BELONG IN THE CLASSROOM PERIOD!

Fortunately, for today's youth, those kinds of teachers are a small, distinct minority. Of course, when you read about teachers in the newspapers or hear about them on television, you usually hear about the ones who stray from the straight and narrow- the ones who give us all a bad name.

My MySpace and Facebook accounts (I have one of those though I seldom use it) are open to the public. I take my responsibility as a teacher seriously and so do the many other teachers I know who also have students as "friends" on social networking sites. When students add me as "a friend," they are getting a teacher, not a buddy, and that is exactly the kind of "friend" these students need.


GDawg said...

Interesting Randy. As a teacher myself, I do not allow students to add me as a friend on Facebook until they have graduated. Then I am able to communicate with them and keep up with them as they head out into the real world.

I am glad that you are able to communicate with students professionally through MySpace, but my Facebook is one part of my life that I want to keep away from school. I do encourage my students to email me if they have any questions and I generally get several a week.

That all being said... I agree with you and don't think there should be a law. That being said, it does seem that people who aren't real professional are increasingly getting into the field. At my district we have had three scandals and resignations regarding relations with students in the past two years. It is a real problem that needs to be addressed, but not through federal legislation concerning social networking sites.

Randy said...

Good points. If had a MySpace page that mainly dealt with my personal life, I can see that as something that might make me rethink my least as far as having students on my "friends" list is concerned. Since my site is more about my job as a teacher and my writing, it does make it easier to maintain a professional distance.

Barbara J. Feldman said...

Although the blurry line between public life and private life is a difficult one to navigate (for teachers and everyone using social media), I think it should be left to the individual teacher to decide how and when to use these tools.

I've posted a simple poll on the topic at my blog. Social Networking for Teachers?

Dr Pezz said...

Great post, Randy! Thanks for the link on my blog.

I have used the same observational examples (ban it rather than teach responsibility and it's bad for one so bad for all) in a number of ways and with a number of issues, but your post sums it up better. I hope that people now realize or come to understand the many helpful and educational uses new advances in technology can provide.

I look forward to reading more from you.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Turner I appreciate your article. This is a subject I am very familiar with. In my old school district they put a ban on all online communications with students. Teachers aren't even allowed to exchange emails with their students. I am doing my senior project over this dillema and I would very much like to quote you in it. If there is any other input you have for me it would be much appreciated. Thanks for your article.

Randy said...

Feel free to quote me and if you have any specific questions, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. Good luck!