Teachers and Students Try to Balance Communication with Professionalism on Social Media

Photo by Julie Samuels

By Claire Kroger and Maggie Winters

News Reporters

As social media continues to increase its influence over how people communicate, teachers and students remain hesitant and agree that boundaries are needed when using social media for academic purposes.

Math teacher Hayley Teich, after her 11 years at South, says that teachers should draw the line, but the boundaries made should be their prerogative.

“I mean, that’s a tough one,” Teich said. “I think unless there’s like a district wide or school wide rule it’s up to the teacher as to their comfort level.”

Freshman Joey Cohen says faculty should let students they know, alumni, and colleagues follow or friend them on social media platforms, but “it all depends on what they [teachers] are comfortable with.”

Both Cohen and Teich have a more flexible and open opinion, but others, like freshman Kat Wagner, feel that the boundaries between teacher and student online interaction should be enforced.

Wagner disagrees with Cohen and Teich and says all teachers should follow the same rule that “they [teachers] should only let alumni follow and/or friend them.”

As for using social media for communicating assignments, English teacher Deborah Bernhard, currently in her third year at South, says it does not seem like the most effective way to communicate with students.

“I don’t use Twitter anymore, I used to post homework on Twitter in my first year teaching, but… 15 kids followed me, out of 85, so I didn’t think that was the most effective way to reach people,” Bernhard said.

Bernhard said she knows of teachers who use online profiles to communicate with students for academic purposes, but these profiles just remind her of Schoology.

Schoology is a widely used program at South dedicated only to academics that allows teachers to post grades, assignments, and communicate with their students all through online profiles.

Director of Guidance Daniel Rubin says that Schoology is a “a platform where we [teachers] can connect with students on a… very clearly defined, professional platform.”

Every assignment and message is conveniently located for students and teachers, and as Schoology is not a social media platform, no questions arise about pushing boundaries. With so many teachers using Schoology currently, social media accounts for school use seem almost inconsequential.

In addition to Schoology, teachers and students stray away from using social media accounts due to how public these accounts can be.

“A key problem with it is that people don’t realize necessarily how public it is and post things that maybe they shouldn’t,” Teich said.

Wagner agrees with Teich stating that she “wouldn’t want them [teachers] to see my private life, because that’s weird.”

In addition, teachers do not want access to student accounts, as Teich explains that she does not “want to accidentally see something that I shouldn’t have seen and then have to report it, because that puts me in an uncomfortable position.” Bernhard echoes this sentiment, saying, “I don’t want to see pictures of kids at parties.”

In addition to adding discomfort in the classroom, social media use can cause tensions between administrations and teachers, as an article published by USA Today demonstrated when a 79-year-old substitute teacher Carol Thebarge from New Hampshire was pressured into leaving her job after refusing to unfriend current students on Facebook.

Stories similar to that of Thebarge’s appear to be common occurrences as society is moving inexorably into a new and more modern electronic-based way of life. To some the use of social media as an academic tool seems inevitable.

Although social media allows easier communication between students and teachers, it can cause users to feel that their privacy is being invaded.

Teich says that even colleagues and alumni she has befriended should not  “necessarily get the same privileges as my close friends do… [and] even though I’m old enough to go out and drink I’m not gonna, and I don’t post about it, but I wouldn’t necessarily want my students seeing that side of me.”

Paralleling this view, none of Wagner and Cohen’s teachers use social media to communicate, and neither does Teich.

Respect remains important in a classroom environment, and teachers need their students to look up to them. Therefore, Teich and Bernhard say it is much easier to achieve this respect if one separates the personal from the professional.

Ultimately, Teich adds that “as long as you’re [teachers] being professional about what you post and when other people can see it, then I think it’s fine.”