More Facebook: Why are you surprised?

Something else that has caught my eye of late is the press covering the astonishing fact that students and their parents bad-mouth teachers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  I’m not sure when “rock-star popularity among youth” became part of the teaching job description, but the idea that this is “news” struck me as kind of amusing.

two kids in a kiddie poolWhen my kids were toddlers I used to hear other parents complain about the fact that three-year-olds (and maybe even – gasp – their own three year old) tended to pee in swimming pools, and that fact diminished their enjoyment of the pool.  This phenomenon lead to my Personal Parenting Rule #47: Don’t swim where toddlers swim.

I love Facebook.  I have gobs of Friends who were high school classmates and whom I haven’t seen since, people whom I see maybe once a year if I’m lucky, and regular friends I see daily who need to coordinate a meet-up.  Also in there are a few kids who are friends of my kids, athletes my wife coaches, etc.  They exist in a group called “Kids,” and they do NOT participate in my Facebook life, though they can contact me through Facebook if they need to.

When I was first playing with Facebook, I allowed myself the ability to see former students’ status posts.  They hated and dissed some of their teachers, some of them my friends, so I changed my settings to exclude their status updates from my Facebook life.  This was their emotional space, not mine.

I remember my earliest teaching days when I thought I was a “friend” to some of my students, when I could secretly claim to belong to their generation, and when I said “we” in class, I felt like I was including them as peers at some level.  With 20/20 hindsight, what was I?  Role model & mentor?  Yes.  Trusted adviser?  Often.  Beloved teacher?  Occasionally.  Peer?  No.  Friend?  Never.

Stay out of your students’ social lives.  If they or their parents publish lies about you such that your career/reputation is being harmed, the same remedy applies: sue them.  Written defamation is libel, and teachers are not considered “public figures”; you are not a rock star.  Your principal is, however.  But know that if you share the conversation in which you are being libeled, your claim to having been damaged by their speech would likely be much weaker.

Know that just as three-year-olds pee in the pool, teenagers get unreasonably angry and verbally abusive, with parents often close behind them.  That’s why there are kiddie pools, and that’s why you don’t share your Facebook life with students.

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