The Lamar County School Board in Missouri recently implemented a policy forbidding teachers and students from having any text-message conversations or social-networking friendships.
Jim Keith, an education lawyer who represents several school boards in Missouri, has been giving talks to teachers in which he explains that most of the inappropriate student-teacher relationships start out on a friendship level.
Keith spoke of one instance where a parent thought her child was spending extra time with a teacher who was trying to help her child overcome shyness. At Keith's urging, they checked the child's phone bill and found 4,200 text messages between the teacher and student.
"As an educator, there is a line of demarcation between you and your student," Keith said. "It's a line that you cannot come close to, let alone step over. You've got to establish it from Day One and say, 'I'm not your buddy; I'm not your friend; I'm just your teacher.' "
The article focuses mainly on the possibility of sexually inappropriate relationships, but I think there's just as much harm to be found when teachers forget about the natural impediments of friendship between them and their students. This is very, very hard for me. My students are just on the verge of adulthood, and they have fleeting periods of depth and maturity that are so convincing I believe for a moment they are just like me. Then they want to debate a recent quiz grade or offer an excuse about homework, and I suddenly remember they are children; barely so, but children still. And that makes me the adult.
I have other reasons for staying away from social networking, but this is the greatest. Even if I posted every detail of my life, there is little that could be incriminating in the future (I'm not sophisticated enough for dual identities.) But just the thought that my students could be friends with me, know that I'm going shopping with my mother or having friends over for dinner, makes me feel uncomfortable. We're not friends. My job is to be their teacher.