I recently bumped into one of my old school teachers, who asked me how university was going so I politely answered, “It’s going really well thanks, I’m having a great time”, to which he mysteriously replied, “I know.” Initially, I was slightly puzzled by his response but assumed that he had probably been talking to my brothers who are in his classes. I had completely forgotten that Mr Wilson was one of my Facebook friends, which would have allowed him a very full insight into my university life.
As well as teachers seeing what their pupils, both past and present, are getting up to via Facebook, the social networking site allows pupils to gain a lot of knowledge into their teachers’ private lives.
For this reason, the Teaching Union has said that every school in the UK should have rules about how teachers use Facebook. The National Association of Head Teachers wants every school to set out exactly what is and is not allowed, saying, “Schools need to get up there and state things clearly.”
The advice comes after the National Union of Teachers reported that new teachers were experiencing problems in the classroom due to their use of social networking sites. The issues include staff being embarrassed by pupils discovering too much about their private lives and being told off for what they are posting online.
Russell Hobby of The National Association of Head Teachers says: “You’re used to a much more relaxed environment at university where what you say and do doesn’t matter so much. Then you’re suddenly in a place where you’ve got people expecting you to be role models.”
This is an easy situation for a new teacher to find themselves in but one that could be harmful to their career.
I spoke to a trainee teacher to find out her views on this subject: “I will certainly be making sure that there are no drunken photos on Facebook when I become a teacher. But as long as I don’t accept any friend requests from pupils, I don’t see that there will be a huge problem with how I use Facebook.”
For example, a headteacher of a school in London recently revealed that some of the pupils at her school accessed the profile of one of their new teachers and printed out some of her photos. They then made comments about the pictures in class, resulting in a lot of embarrassment for the new teacher.
“It’s not that teachers are totally unaware” the headteacher commented. “Often they just don’t understand how serious this sort of thing can be.”
A teacher is in a position of responsibility, whilst acting as a role model for their pupils. From my experience, teachers usually project themselves as respectable, well-educated people, which, although may not be the same image that they project on a Saturday night down the pub, is the one that pupils should be given.
Although teachers are allowed social lives as much as anyone else, their pupils’ knowledge of them could result in their loss of authority and respect in the classroom. I have always found that the best teachers are those who can command authority and control the class, so it seems that it is in the best interests of the pupils to keep Miss Smith the teacher and Miss Smith the drunken party animal as separate entities.
Even if you are not planning on becoming a teacher, many employers use Facebook to check out potential employees: another reason to be careful about what the world of Facebook is privy to. We should not need to completely change our identities but just select what we’re letting the world see.
The relationship between pupils and teachers is formed in a classroom setting so it does not seem appropriate that the relationship should extend to social networking sites. Teachers are there to teach, not to make friends with their pupils and, despite pupils’ curiosity, they should be taught to respect their teachers’ privacy. I am sure that most pupils would not like their teachers delving into their private lives.
The immense popularity of social networking sites like Facebook have blurred the line between our public and private lives, but it could be a line we will soon cherish.