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Social Media and Teacher Professionalism

New technology is proving to be both a blessing and a bane for teacher-student relationships.  Two recent cases serve as warnings about crossing the line between personal and professional contact ("2 Teachers, Entangled in Sexual Abuse Cases on Social Media," The New York Times, Oct. 4).  

They involve a female teacher at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. and a male teacher in Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, N.Y.  In both cases, prosecutors allege that the teachers groomed students for sex.  I won't pile on because the teachers deserve the presumption of innocence.  What I will maintain, however, is that the existence of new technology presents a daunting challenge for school officials.

In their attempt to make teachers more readily available to help students when the school day is over, they have to fashion a policy that passes legal muster. Trying to totally ban teachers from connecting with students on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail violates the First Amendment. I think what is sorely lacking today on the part of some teachers is judgment.  If I were in the classroom, I would restrict my comments with students on any site solely to questions dealing with subject matter.  I fail to understand why this common-sense policy is so hard to follow.

Critics will argue that contact between teachers and students has always been more than just about subject matter. I agree. But professional ethics demand that a balance must be maintained at all times.  The consequences of violating them are severe.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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