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The Business Insider reports 83 percent of U.S. teens in wealthy households are on Instagram. Social media is becoming an ever growing presence in our lives, and as it does so, there are expanded platforms for students and teachers to interact outside of school. But as the line between teacher and friend becomes blurred, controversy rises about whether this relationship is appropriate, and how, if at all, they should interact online.
The East staff has been advised to use social media in a professional and appropriate way. Principal John McKinney explains that it is up to the the teachers’ personal preference if they want to interact with students on social media or not. He sees nothing wrong with teachers and students commenting “happy birthday” to each other or sending appropriate messages.
While McKinney does not have any social media accounts for students to interact with, English teacher Jeannette Bonjour and marketing teacher Jennifer Hair have their own policies. They will “friend” kids on Facebook after high school, but not any sooner.
Junior Andrew Stottle is not an advocate for teachers and students commenting on each others posts, even though he has done it in the past. On one of social studies teacher David Muhammad’s Instagram posts praising rapper Kendrick Lamar’s music, Stottle made a comment in response.
“But doesn’t he constantly use the “N” word?”
Stottle’s comment caused messages back and forth between the two. But After Muhammad’s campaign, “Itooameast,” Stottle said he thought the post was hypocritical. Muhammad said the post referred to the Kendrick Lamar’s musical relevance, that Stottle’s comment was to attract attention. Muhammad also said if he wanted to discuss the usage of the “N” word, to speak to him in person.
“It is a good thing to call him out because it could come off as him being hypocritical, and taking away validation from that whole campaign,” Stottle said. “I think he completely overreacted to [the comment]”
For Muhammad, social media is a new form of accessibility, a new way for students to see him as a human being as well.
Muhammad had an Instagram post shown to him where athletes from East were posing in front of a Confederate battle flag. He talked to McKinney to see if it was appropriate to discuss with the kids how the photo can be seen in the wrong way.
“I wanted to talk to [some of the kids in the photo] and remind them you have to be conscious that when you put something out there and people can interpret it however they want,” Muhammad said. “Some people may not like that, but it is a teachable moment. You have to think before you post.”
With the downsides of what can happen with social media, Muhammad also sees a bright future involving it. He sees the possibility of mobile classrooms, and assigning and uploading things via social media. Muhammad also wants his classroom to connect with a classroom in a place like Ferguson to start discussions. He thinks people look at the negatives too much, and not at the positives.
Even though some oppose student-teacher social media interaction, senior Fannie Berlau enjoys it. She follows art teachers Adam Finkelston and Tim Rowland on Instagram.
“I love seeing their art and the cool things they are up to,” Berlau said. “It has been interesting to get to see my teachers at from different vantage point, and be able to relate to them, yet I still feel comfortable and respect them.”
Berlau feels that if you are going to be following them just make sure your account is appropriate. Or, if you want to share your art with students as an art teacher it can be inspirational for the students. On the other hand, Berlau doesn’t believe teachers should be discussing students’ behavior on their social media posts.
“If a teacher doesn’t like what a student is posting, they shouldn’t follow them,” Berlau said. “Although a teacher shouldn’t be posting anything inappropriate because they are the adult, but commenting or doing birthday shoutouts is okay in the right context.”
Dr. Gillian Chapman, Secondary Associate Superintendent, said there used to be a very clear line about not friending each other on Facebook, but things have changed. Chapman believes that good parents are monitoring their kids social media more than ever.
When teachers are interacting with students, interaction has to be appropriate, Chapman believes. Chapman explains that if it is a private interaction, that is different than a broadcasted message everyone can see. Because when it is public it can be viewed by everyone, and you have to be careful.
Chapman said that a students’ and parent should report anything that feels creepy or wrong to them. Chapman reminds the SMSD staff that they need to maintain healthy boundaries and warn kids of inappropriate interactions. When teachers are given school devices, they are reminded of what is appropriate, yet no formal policy is in place.
Chapman explains that it becomes a personal issue if they cross the line, such as a sexual relationship, and the administration should deal with it swiftly. However Chapman sees social media as an amazing opportunity to be able to interact with professionals all over the world and to get immediate feedback on their work.
“I think our digital learning initiative has shown how much teachers have to learn from students,” Chapman said.