Many of you have heard about the teacher fired for her Twitter response to a student’s misspelling of the word tomorrow. See: http://abc6onyourside.com/news/nation-world/experts-defend-school-staffer-fired-after-correcting-students-spelling-on-twitter
While the teacher’s response in the article certainly appeared to be more playful than harassing, it does highlight the inherent problem facing educators interacting with students on social media. The first rule and best rule to follow is that educators should not interact with students via social media, text message or alternative messenger apps such as SnapChat or Kik. When the school itself authorizes or instructs its employees to use these platforms to inform students and parents, extreme caution should be exercised.
The real challenge is that social media and messenger platforms are inherently informal. Educators can be lured into making seemingly humorous comments which others (namely parents) would consider rude or disrespectful. This means that posts originally intended to be playful (like the one in the article) are ultimately viewed as harassing. Teachers can easily forget that, notwithstanding the apparent equivalent “user” status they have with students online, they remain in a position of power over students in the real world. This means that comments from a teacher or educator carry more weight than comments made by peers, and can easily be considered an abuse of power. This is often how educators and schools using social media end up in awkward positions.
In addition to discipline or termination of employment, educators also risk license suspension or revocation for improper communications made on social media or by text. Based on recent license suspensions and revocations, it appears that the Ohio Department of Education is taking a tough stance on all questionable or informal electronic communications between students and teachers. For these reasons, it is sage advice for all educators to avoid social media or texting communications with students altogether if possible. If the employer-school authorizes or instructs teachers to use these platforms to communicate with students and/or parents, all communications should be about school business with no exceptions. And never get lured into making a joke at a student’s expense.
Remember: in addition to representing students and parents, we counsel teachers and administrators through employment related matters in order to keep quality educators in schools.
Questions? Call Mark. 614.519.6918