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The Facebook Dilemma


In a First Person article, high school English teacher Alyssa Trzeszkowski-Giese says that creating her own Facebook page has enabled her to stay connected with students and to see some of them in a new light. By the same token, she believes her Facebook page may help students get to know her as more than a "stock character."

What's your view? Can creating a presence on social networking services like Facebook help teachers forge more constructive relationships with students? Is it wise for teachers to become online "friends" with students? What limits should be set?


Is this question some kind of April Fools joke? The individual who came up with this question (and the supervisor who allowed it) needs to go directly to jail, do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars ............ or your paycheck.

I created a Facebook page to check on my daughter's activity there, who was then a high school junior. I started blogging more for my own benefit than to inform or educate students. I thought the students would not want anything to do with a middle-aged University staff professional or mom. What I found was a connection with kids I never thought possible....I have become a mentor to kids across the country and have started a support group for a fellow mom suffering from cancer. The kids now come to me with questions and eagerly await the next note on my page, as well as photos of the latest football game or occasion. There is tremendous educational potential in Facebook (I do not feel similarly about myspace, I'm afraid.) that needs to be tapped. Limits? Perhaps. One would hope that teachers would already know what is and is not acceptable behavior in regard to teens in every venue, not just on Facebook.

Communication between generations is crucial for bother generations! Experimenting with new forms of intimacy seems like a win-win, and sure can't see any downside to getting to know each other better.

apology for "bother" above, meant "both"
no freudian slip just well worn typing patterns

I think it is great. Schools take everything the kids are exposed to on a daily place and tell them it does not belong in this setting. Schools are suppose to teach students how to function in the real world, what better place to do that than the Internet. I see nothing wrong with a Facebook or Myspace page for a teacher that is kept for professional use only. If they wanted a more personal page, they would not let students know it exists. I think a lot more dialog and communication would take place between the teacher and students if we communicated with them on their terms!

I'd love to hear more about what others think about this. I'm personally a little torn. I can see the benefits, especially with high school and college students. I'm wondering what others think for middle school students? Our school blocks Facebook and Myspace sites, and being a high poverty school, many of students do not have computers or internet connections at home. It seems like so many troubled students need responsible adults to connect with, especially when their home lives do not provide adequate stability. As more pressure is put on teachers to cover more content and raise test scores, the relationship-building aspect of teaching is sometimes lost, to the detriment of the kids. My concern with using Facebook, however, is how it might be used or perceived by others. In the wake of recent high-profile inappropriate behavior by teachers, I would think administrators and parents might be leery of a teacher trying to "connect" with students online. Would the teachers be perceived as potential sexual predators? With older students, I think this would be less of a problem. What do you think?

One of my students started a group about me on Facebook. I visited it and found over a hundred current and former students had joined. Most wanted to be reassured that, "They were the best class ever!" or to tell me that they missed me or the "glory days" of high school. A few even commented on their college work in English or a favorite book or movie. Some even tell me about their marriage and babies, not always in that order. I enjoy the continuation of our relationships through this format, so far.

In my opinion, teachers on Facebook is a boundary violation, and hence, unethical. I feel it also demeans the profession of teaching. Yes, I absolutely agree teachers need to have positive professional relationships with their students. No, I absolutely do not feel the answer is in acting like one of them. For me,a far better answer in building relationships is respect, including respect for role boundaries.

I wonder if teachers have anything else to do at the end of the day. I wonder if teacher's have dug their own hole in terms of being overly responsible. I wonder if teachers will allow parents to do their job without their help after school hours. I wonder if these teachers can stop playing God and allow kids to have their lives apart from school. Little wonder teaching remains a matriarchy of fixers, co dependents, caretakers and nurses. I suggest that some of us find a hobby, a sport, or simply read a good book.We can not be all things to all people. We have an important job, but we also have a life to tend to - our own.

A lot of the comments have focused on whether or not a boundary is being crossed if teachers use this medium to develop relationships outside the classroom.

To this I would say that there is nothing inherently limiting about this medium in helping foster professional relationships. For example, no one would blink an eye if teachers were creating profiles on LinkedIn and I think the reason is the usage model for LinkedIn focuses on professional relationships.

It would seem that so long as the relationship is kept professional and does not cross into something that would make a parent uncomfortable there is limited risk. Add to this the fact that Facebook and MySpace are rolling out all sorts of privacy protection features so that students' personal information is not easily accessible, features so that young users have control over who can see which parts of their profile, and that all communication is essentially public -- interaction necessitates that you involve other people which automatically means your action are open to the public. It would seem here that there is even more transparency than there would be if a teacher were the sponsor of some in-school club or a coach on a sports team, because everything anyone does is traced back to a profile, and with increased transparency should come accountability.

It's also important to remember that all of the teachers entering today's workforce already have a facebook profile. So the question is not whether or not to be on facebook, but whether they should engage their students on facebook. Privacy setting work in both directions, so teachers can protect their personal lives as well while being able to foster professional, student-mentor relationships through a communication form that is very natural to both parties. I would wager that it is as natural for these young teachers to communicate with their students online as it is for students to communicate with their teachers online...a generational, technological gap does not exist so the youngest teachers in the workforce face an entirely different set of questions than older teachers who have not spent the last 3 years as a part of facebook.

I was very early on Facebook, back when it was about 5 schools and required a .edu email address. It's changed a lot since then and I am now "friends" with people I haven't spoken to in years, former colleagues, former bosses, and also my closest friends. We're all sort of lumped together, because facebooking is actually much lower on the hierarchy of emotional commitment than in-person relationship building, instant messaging, emailing, and telephoning. I don't think students and young teachers really put much emotional investment into friending someone on facebook and so a lot of these concerns about crossing boundaries from the students' perspective are overblown.

One thing I would add here is that it's important teachers understand what they're getting themselves into. Perception is reality, and the perception of improper behavior could be very damaging to a teacher's reputation, even if nothing improper occurred, and ultimately it's up to each teacher to decide whether or not to take this risk. It's just sort of the reality of today's society and media that a young, 20 something male teacher who had a profile on MySpace or Facebook is in a very different situation than a 60 year old, female teacher.

I think there's clearly a lot to be gained by building relationships with students in a general sense -- some of the best teachers I have had, I ultimately felt accountable to in a way I didn't with my other teachers, and often this was driven by their taking an interest in me as a person and not just a student. This was possible only because they engaged me outside the classroom. If Facebook is the way a teacher does that today, then I think that's a great use of technology.

Alyssa Trzeszkowski-Giese's quiet student, the one who was completely different on Facebook, was probably a very introverted kid. Unfortunately, we place too much emphasis on class participation in English class -- I know I did when I was in the classroom -- and sometimes that's not really fair. Kids who are introverted won't speak up even if it means their grade will suffer. Facebook seems to be a godsend for the quiet, introverted kids. Of course, then you have to ask yourself: Was the kid always quiet or did the Internet make him that way?

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Kathy Powers/former English Teacher: Alyssa Trzeszkowski-Giese's quiet student, the one who was completely different read more
  • Avichal Garg, CTO PrepMe: A lot of the comments have focused on whether or read more
  • Michele/Educator/Mentor/Writer: I wonder if teachers have anything else to do at read more
  • Kim, Teacher: In my opinion, teachers on Facebook is a boundary violation, read more
  • Ron Strazulla, English Teacher: One of my students started a group about me on read more




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