From Today.com By Jacoba Urist
Back-to-school is in full swing, and with more than 50 percent of the U.S. population currently on Facebook, many parents and teachers are wondering: is it appropriate to be friends with each other on social media sites?
Jill Schulman-Riemer has taught nursery through third grade, and is currently a private tutor and educational consultant in New York City. She says teachers and parents should keep their distance outside of the classroom, particularly online.
The trouble goes both ways, she warns. “Parents friending teachers and teachers friending parents can be a slippery slope. You put a lot of trust in your children’s teachers. We all need to stay in our professional roles with each other, and Facebook just isn’t a place for that.”
So what should a teacher do if a parent’s friend request pops up in their inbox?
Q: Do you think parents and teachers should be friends on Facebook?
“Talk to them off line,” Schulman-Riemer advises. “Don’t use email or Facebook messenger. Try an actual face-to-face conversation. Explain that, of course, you’re always happy to talk to a parent about their child or anything school-related, but your policy is that you don’t friend parents on Facebook, and you prefer in-person conversations.”
Sure, friending your kid’s teacher may sound like a nice way to have a more personal connection with someone who’s an important part of your family’s daily life. But information on people’s Facebook pages can easily be misread or blown out of proportion. And while teachers recognize that they’re being judged on student performance and how they present themselves in the classroom, they shouldn’t be held accountable for old college pictures, or late-night comments posted on their timeline after someone’s bachelorette party.
If you go out and friend a teacher on Facebook, or accept their friend request, you do so at your own risk, says Carrie Mize, who’s been on both sides of the fence, as a parent of three young children, and a teacher of pre-school and elementary grades in Michigan, Virginia, and Connecticut.
“If you choose to open up the personal side of things, you have to understand that it’s their personal life and you may see things you don’t like,” She says. “A teacher’s Facebook page doesn’t have anything to do with your child. The teacher doesn’t have their teacher hat on, and if you see something inappropriate, you just have to let it go.”
Aaron Goldschmidt, a teacher in New York City for more than ten years, says, he hopes parents don’t use Facebook to spy on him. “If you friend me,” he explains, “then you need to be prepared to see it all…I’m an excellent teacher because of who I am and my lifestyle, not in spite of it.”
Of course, you always have the option of defriending them if you don’t like the pictures or statuses they post— or if you generally find yourself losing respect for your child’s teacher because of some of the stuff they’re tagged in.
Psychotherapist and Parenting Coach, Andrea Nair , tells clients in her practice to defriend a teacher if they discover a post or picture that makes them uncomfortable.
“Tempting as it might be to call another parent to tell them, just ignore it,” she says.
But she warns parents: do not discount any post that leaves you feeling uncertain about a teacher’s well-being, or that shows a teacher venting about a student (yours or someone else’s). “If a teacher posts something like, ‘I’d like to knock some sense into [him or her]’— making any reference on that level about a student is not okay even in general terms. Either thinking about or talking about actual harm to a child is never appropriate on Facebook or anywhere else,” Nair explains. In this case, she tells parents: print out the post and share it with a school administrator.
But it’s not just parents who are concerned about what teachers post on Facebook. Teachers, too, might be uncomfortable with some of the things they see about a student’s family online. And a teacher could face the same dilemma about when to say something if they ever thought a parent was venting inappropriately about their child or engaging in unsafe behavior.
While it’s tough to formally restrict Facebook friendships between two consenting adults, some states have started regulating how students and teachers interact on social media sites.
Starting this school year, Missouri’s new “Facebook Law” requires every school district to have a formal policy in place about online interactions between students and school employees. (The original bill prevented teachers from using social media to interact with students at all, unless parents and administrators also had access, but was thought to be overly restrictive, and portions of the law were partially repealed.)
Similarly, last spring, the New York City Department of Education issued social media guidelines to provide “guidance regarding recommended practices for professional social media communication between [Department of Education employees] and students.”
Lisa Corrigan, PhD, a professor in the department of communication at the University of Arkansas, agrees that a consistent policy at the beginning of the school year is the way to go.
“If I were a K-12 teacher, I would send home a note at the beginning of [the] semester praising parents for getting involved in their kids’ education,” she emailed. “But [I would] politely indicate that Facebooking is not the most productive avenue for the parent-teacher relationship. I would reiterate that face-to-face conferences and phone calls remain the best ways for parents and teachers to work in tandem to meet the needs of each student.”
With all the potential pitfalls of teachers and parents friending each other online, it’s easy to forget what a great tool Facebook can be for families and teachers to stay in touch long after a student has graduated. Sarah Rinaldi, who teaches art and preschool in New York, uses Facebook to keep up with the teachers she had when she was a kid. Now as a teacher herself, she says, “I love seeing [parents] post pictures of my past students and watching them grow.”
Jacoba Urist is a lawyer, writer, and mom in Manhattan. She is a Forbes contributor, covering financial, legal and parenting news, and has written for The Atlantic, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and The Wall Street Journal. Follow her on twitter @TheHappiestPare