Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Social Rants of a Second-Year Teacher

As many of you are probably aware, teachers recently took a bit of a media hit in Ontario because of an incident with a teacher and an accusation from a former student via social media. Or maybe you didn't know why it became something that the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) felt compelled to send out an email for to all of its members (which is actually what hit the media). It is my understanding that a male teacher, in the past, tried to help a female student who was shy (with the permission of her parents) and is now graduated and accusing the teacher of sexual solicitation. So really what the OCT is trying to say is "students do not have the social and emotional maturity to understand the intentions of a teacher or to step back and understand the true intentions of a situation - and oh, because of the nature of the internet, they can now hold potential proof of anything you say or do".

So here is the world I live in, one where social media surrounds me (both because I use it daily and because my students are attached at the hip to their phones - and yes, much more so than I am!) and a profession engulfs me in the need to be a "professional" 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A strangely stifling yet respectful place to have to be. Funny how teachers in the 80s could be invited to the house of their students (by the parents) as a post commencement celebration and thank you to those teachers (where alcohol would be served) and now we sit in a place where it cannot be perceived that a teacher is allowed to have an ADULT life and we constantly feel scrutinized by parents and the like instead of working with them. (Here's some context - I even had a student say to me this year "You are supposed to do everything in your power to help me be successful" [read, even if I don't do the same]).

The real motivation behind this social rant is an idea I had for an entry last week - the state of social media in North America and how it relates to education. Here are these amazingly accessible resources that many students make use of daily, and I am not even allowed to have email contact with their parents (never mind the students)! On what level does this make sense? We live in a world where there is a reality that many of these parents live on their emails and blackberrys, similarly to the way their kids do. Where trying to get in touch with them via email (at least initially) would actually save us time and create more efficient relationships. Why can't we have an email that students are allowed to use to ask us questions or a twitter account that is used to respond to common questions that students are having? Oh right, because they are not capable of interpreting a connection as professional over the net? I don't believe it. There has got to be a way to improve assessment and improve communication with our students using the media that they understand and use daily without crossing the professional line. Maybe we don't have the answer right now, but I strongly believe that running away from social media is NOT the answer.

I think that the comment that really got me thinking (and frankly, annoyed) back in the fall was the notion that not only shouldn't we "friend" or "follow" our students on social media while they are students, but we shouldn't friend them even after they graduate. Apparently we would get no professional support if any of this every blew up in our faces. But really, I take this to be an implication that the fact that I am friendly with (both in person and on social media) with my former teachers should not be allowed. Who is some minister or board employee or union rep to say that I cannot (as a post secondary or person in the workplace) become friends with my former teachers? People that I identify with as colleagues, friends, mentors and down-to-earth, good people? I guess what I am trying to say is, the idea of shutting out social media from our teaching lives to be completely ridiculous. Maybe there will always have to be a separation between personal and profession accounts for Facebook or Twitter or what-have-you, but to say that these two lives should not or cannot be combined only denies where our world has (and will continue to) ended up.

But I bet that those resisting change would just call me naive.

Let them. Some day, I will be the one calling a second year teacher naive. We all end up jaded and resisting change eventually, right?...

P.S. I would never friend a current or recent student on Twitter or Facebook on a personal account. I have not and do not plan to start. I just believe that even at my age, I am already losing communication with today's students - and we need to do something about it.

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