As a parent, inappropriate online behavior between your child and their teacher shouldn’t even be something that you have to think about. Unfortunately, in today’s world, parents can’t afford to be ignorant to the reality of online misconduct. Issues like sexting and online sexual solicitation have extended past child-to-child or teen-to-teen interaction, and into more unexpected territories, like mayor-to-teen or, in this case, teacher-to-student.
To help put the problem into perspective, take the recent situation in Virginia. It was reported that in the past 10 years, 120 teachers in Virginia have lost their teaching license due to online sexual misconduct with students. Now the state’s Board of Education is looking to put a strict limit on electronic communication between teacher and student.
Virginia is far from the only state that has this issue in their schools. Derek Marlow, a 27-year-old teacher from Tennessee, bought a prepaid cell phone for a student at his school, and then went on to send over 1,000 text message over a two month period to the student. Melinday Dennehy, a 41-year-old teacher from New Hampshire (and a mother of two), sent four nude pictures of herself to her 15-year-old student. And finally there’s James Nelson, a 36-year-old fifth grade teacher from Indiana who sent sext and text messages to a 14-year-old cheerleader.
Sadly, these cases only represent the tip of the iceberg.
As one teacher said in a recent New York Times article, “When all your students have the Internet in their pocket, it definitely changes the way you teach.” And we agree with the teachers who see the opportunity to harness the proliferation of powerful personal technology to further engage students in education by offering different ways to interact and collaborate on projects. Technology is a wonderful tool that our children should benefit from. That said, however, we also strongly advocate for clear and strict boundaries when it comes to teacher-student social networking.
It causes me to shake my head as I consider the varying ways that schools (public, private, charter) deal with “social networking”. There is no standard, and policies vary. For example, teachers I met with from private schools in the Chicago area were able to join social networks and engage with their students on Facebook, many of whom were under the age of 10. As one teacher told me, “My students don’t belong on Facebook at this age, but no one is looking out for them at home, so at least I can look out a bit for them online.”
My conversation with charter school administrators in the Bronx have been encouraging because they’re looking for as many new and innovative ways to engage with students. But in public schools, including here in my own hometown, administrators hear the word “social network” and their immediate reaction is to “block”. While I understand the desire for administrators to put their head in the sand and not have to deal with the problem, it’s certainly not teaching students how to solve real-world issues.
At Yoursphere, we firmly believe that students and teachers should have a safe place to connect online. Because we’ve modeled the site after the real world, where teacher-student interaction is public and appropriate, it only made sense to develop a program that would embody that same philosophy. So, we put our heads together and developed our School and Class Sphere Program.
This program gives educators and youth leaders an online class/group inside Yoursphere.com, allowing them to network with their students in a publically-viewable sphere created just for their students. This means a student can join their school or class sphere, and the teacher is limited in their participation.
While students have full-site privileges, the teacher’s role is specific to the posting of public content: homework assignments, announcements, class projects, pictures and videos. Teachers don’t have profiles, nor can they traverse the site or ‘friend students’, and we’ve taken away the ability of private messages between teachers and their students as past cases have proven that this is one of the main conduits for inappropriate communication.
You can read all of the details, and sign up, here.
In the end, parents, the most important thing you can do is to keep an open dialogue in your house. Of course, it’s always important to be involved in your child’s education, but it’s equally important to sit down with your children to see how things are going with their teachers and friends. The concerning thing is, there’s almost no way of knowing if your child’s teacher is stepping over the line unless your child tells you. And your child will only know such interaction is wrong if you’ve taught them that it is.