Can teenagers learn social media responsibility from teachers?

By Faris knight (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Working in New York City a teacher can turn to the New York Post on almost any day and read about the exploits of teacher/student affairs in horror.  Always wondering “how” or “why” do these things happen?  Knowing the students I work with closely, I can understand, but don’t condone the blurring of the lines in this delicate relationship.

How does a teacher still maintain boundaries?

Traditionally, teachers conveyed knowledge to students for them to learn keeping their own lives as far from the table as possible.  Personal lives and situations were definitely not fodder for classroom discussion.  However, in a world where we’ve moved online and share our intimate thoughts as status updates on Facebook and Twitter, how does a teacher still maintain the boundary?

I have over 1200 “friends” on Facebook.  Many of them are current students and former students as well as parents and colleagues.  I eagerly accept friend requests while sorting them neatly into my specialized limited groups.  Students know that if I do accept them as a friend (particularly current high school students) they are not seeing “all of me,” but rather just enough.

Students have told me that Facebook has demystified teachers and somehow made them more human.  Knowing that their teachers are “real” people when they leave school has made us more relatable in the classroom and also gives us a common ground for connection.  For example when I’m teaching my students about context in my English classroom, I explain that I am a different person with different people.  I’m not a hypocrite though, I’m merely asserting the need to establish and create boundaries with a variety of people which is an important skill in my life as a working adult.  I use my Facebook friend status as a new tool for teaching by modeling.  Sure, I’ve posted things that I wish I hadn’t, but I learn from it and I don’t make the mistake again.  I show my students how to self-correct and readily apologize for my errors in judgment that as a human being I am likely to make.  We are all human and flawed.

Positives and negatives of social media in the classroom

The implications of students knowing too much.

Not all educators however, embrace the new technology.  Many of my colleagues and administrators worry about the implications of students knowing too much.  Many say it is not what they post as that is controllable, but what others in their lives may post.  Some older teachers don’t want students to know about what they do in their own lives saying that a student only needs to see them in this one professional role.  My principal says that she “fears the phone call from the superintendent stating that line of appropriateness has been crossed.”

Where each of us stands as an educator on this subject is likely to ebb and flow as the technology becomes more a part of the lives of our students.  It is clear that we can’t ignore where the world is moving, but need to better educate the students on how to be responsible with how they use these tools.  How they represent themselves in the cyber-world will NOT go away even long after they grow out of whatever phase they are in now.  Becoming a role model for how to manipulate these mediums for their benefit, may be the route we all need to go by keeping ourselves safe as examples for how it should be done.

What do you think?


The original post, “Teacher role models struggle in a social media world” by Starr Sackstein was originally published on

Original Article

Photo by Faris Knight (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Starr Sackstein
NBCT, writing facilitator, journalism teacher, JEA NY Director, lover of the written word, student press rights advocate, motivator of the college bound. Mom


  1. says

    This is such a well-written piece on a difficult subject. I am personally a FB disliker (I don’t want to say “hater”). It’s for many personal reasons. I have a personal FB page because I have to in order to have a professional page, but I would rather not. I am very honest with my students about this, and it’s going to be incredibly interesting next year when I teach a few classes that have a special “social media focus.” However, I feel that I do very well with Twitter and I also feel like I have incredible social media experts at my disposal (the owner of this blog, included!) to help me teach students proper use of social media. So, yes, I definitely think that teachers can help students to learn proper use of social media if they, themselves, are immersed in it. If they are simply book learners–and I’ve seen some crappy textbook teaching about social media–then, no.

    On a separate note, I have a very firm policy about not friending students while they are in my class. I will also not “link in” with them. I’ve seen countless arguments on the other side of this, including a piece in the Huffington Post from an English professor who said she needs to “friend” her students so she can “fall in love with them a little bit” and critique them properly. I was so repulsed that I wrote a blog post in response.

    I don’t have a problem with the line blurring of personal-professional on Facebook–at least not for myself. My students learn a lot about me in my courses because I teach theories self-disclosure and I disclose as they do (nothing TOO gritty…). I do not think it is right for me to have potentially inappropriate insights into their lives, however. My other concern, which is huge, is that students will engage in class-related matters with me in that medium, and those matters need to always be documented on an official channel i.e., college e-mail or via our course management system. Otherwise, I’m not helping students hone their soft skills and learn to be employable. I’m not teaching them that there is a separation between work technology and social technology. After all, Facebook is not going to be used at every single workplace. Many students will need to adapt. This is just my mindset, which may actually make me too archaic to teach responsible social media, after all (?). I’d love to get a cadre of educators talking on this one! Great post, Starr!!!! Ellen @ChattyProf

  2. says

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and lengthy response to the article, Ellen. I think that it is so complicated. When we were kids, teachers left school and access was close to none. Today we are accessible to students and they need to learn how to use these social media tools well.

    I don’t use my FB for personal much anymore, even though that is how it started. I have students who are my friends, but I’ve been much more selective since NYC DOE has put out their policy. I have taught kids about the necessity of using privacy function and restrictions effectively, but the better policy is to avoid posting anything that should be restricted. It’s a hard sell. Abstention of any kind is really challenging for adolescence and everything is so important in the moment. I’m grateful Twitter and FB didn’t exist when I was their age.

    We need to work hard to show them appropriate usuage and if we are saying don’t post pictures that can get you in trouble or are inappropriate, we can’t have any of them up ourselves. We want to make sure our public social media faces show the transparency of what we talk about in class.

    I’m pretty comfortable with self-disclosure too and think that is important to model too. Too much of a good things these days is hardly good!

  3. says

    Completely, unrelated, Ellen, did you read the post on my website a week ago? Was it the headline that compelled you to respond here? Just curious… all in the name of research

  4. Christy Wood says

    This is a topic deserving of real conversation and exploration ino staff rooms everywhere. Students are left alone in a world of social media with too few examples of appropriate use to guide them and far too many administrators have chosen the easy route of playing ostrich. Many parents are self proclaimed Luddites ultimately leading to a whole generation of students growing up in a seemingly lawless digital Wild West. If we aren’t there as role models, they’ll be left with Snookie and JWoWw.

  5. says

    I agree with you, Christy and you make such a good point. Social media is like anything new. First there is fear and everyone passes the buck for who is responsible for learning and teaching. Parents may be resistent to using social media or maybe they know of one or two ways to use it but fail to see it a tool that should be learned to use appropriately and respectfully – rather than just an outlet for bullying and self-taken photos. Thank you for taking the time to write a response. God forbid we leave the teaching and role models situations to the Jersey Shore. Can you imagine what they will learn? Yikes!

  6. says

    Hello Starr,

    I love your article and find it quite thought-provoking.

    You may call me old-fashioned if you want, but I think teachers and students should not be allowed to friend one another on Facebook. It’s not about demystifying anything or being approachable, it’s about setting boundaries — boundaries that should not be crossed.

    For example, I see nothing wrong with teachers setting up blogs or even allowing exchange of information on a public Fan Page. But, as far as the rest is concerned, students don’t need to know what teachers are up to on a daily basis.

  7. says

    Thanks for your comment, Cendrine and I understand your position and view about boundaries. I don’t think it’s old fashioned, I think it is how you feel. Like I had said in answer to someone else earlier this week, we can only disclose what each of us feels comfortable with. I agree that boundaries are necessary, but what boundaries should be in place must be deteremined by the individual.

    When I was growing up, I had no access to my teachers outside of school unless my teacher was the parent of a friend. Those teachers who lived in my community had trouble with boundaries I’m sure too, but overall, I knew nothing of my teachers. I don’t think it changed my opinion of my teachers, but they were also pretty old and I’m not sure I had any interest in them or their lives outside of our shared learning environment.

    Today, we have these outlets and kids are using them… so are grown ups. I don’t think it is for everyone and I respect those who are uncomfortable with it. It has really helped me develop relationships with kids and parents and other teachers. So for me, it is comfortable.

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your view. I appreciate it.

  8. says

    Starr, this is a great discussion, and something I’ve been really passionate about. I teach at a community college, so this issue is a bit less complex for us. I maintain both a personal account and a professional page, but I have students on both accounts. I do this because it allows students to determine the level at which they want to connect with me, but also because I strongly believe that the idea of being a whole, authentic person is just as important in digital life as in the rest of my life. There is value in my students seeing me as a instructor, a scholar, a feminist, a mom, and an active community member. All of these roles are important to me, and awareness of them brings a greater depth to my expression of all of them, for me and my students.

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