Friend a Student, Get Fired?

Massachussets teachers could be fired or disciplined for friending students on Facebook, and for giving students their cell phone numbers, according to a Boston Herald article.

“It’s just an effort to provide an additional measure for kids against inappropriate relationships and sexual harassment,” said Massachusetts Association of School Committees executive director Glenn Koocher of the group’s advisory policy.

The new policy was proposed to Massachusetts school districts, and at least one has passed it, according to the article.

Establishing guidelines for schools is one thing, but firing educators is escalating it to another level -- one that seems unnecessarily harsh.

The Massachusetts mandate also bars teachers from sharing their cell phone numbers with students. Again, this seems extreme. In middle and high schools, dedicated teachers make themselves available to their students outside school hours by phone, email, and whatever means necessary. I saw how that connection between teacher and student made all the difference in the kids' achievement and self-confidence while working on an article and media package about the Houston school Yes Prep for Edutopia.

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While it's easy to find examples of teachers using bad judgment when it comes to negotiating student relationships through social media and cell phones, there are countless more instances of those same tools helping students. But those stories rarely see the light of day in the media.

As with every communication tool, common-sense practices should drive these guidelines. I agree with Nancy Willard's quote:

“(It’s) too Big Brother-like,” said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. “It needs to be handled through education and the basic underlying policies of not having inappropriate interactions with students.”

Exactly.