THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY:
The effects of social media for teachers and students
By Natasha Campbell
In today’s readily accessible world, social media has been the catapult to some of the biggest internet sensations, new and innovative ideas, fashion trends, bad trends, and real-world connections with people you might never have the opportunity to converse with in real life, or in real time. Social media touches everything, from politics to food to shameless self-promotion through selfies, social media can be fun and entertaining, or raucous and vicious. In many professions or organizations across the world, it is helpful, but can also get you fired if you post the wrong thing. Social media has slowly reshaped the way a teacher might lead her lessons in the classroom, or administer homework. Social media has led the way for some pretty inventive ideas, movements, arguments, all promoting social change. Some of these changes are for the worse, and some are for the better. At least, let’s hope so.
The moment before a teacher sends a text to a student, does she ask herself, “is this appropriate, professional teacher/student behavior?” Probably not, and that threshold is crossed ever increasingly, according to the numbers from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). In Texas alone, the number of times a teacher had sexual contact with a student, facilitated through social media, has skyrocketed to unthinkable numbers.
This is not a creepy old janitor who lurks in the hallways that everyone is afraid of.
These are young, attractive recent college grads with $50,000 worth of student loan debt who are throwing it all away for the thrill of something they did not have in high school – attention.
Most of these cases are teachers who are using social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat to make their move on a young person who is probably more than willing but has zero capacity to understand the ramifications of what is going to happen.
Cyberbullying through social media has become a problem in the classroom. Students start a rumor in the privacy of their home, and before teachers know it, there are students ganging up on one student all because of a misunderstanding or good old fashioned jealousy – and the fact that some kids are just downright miserable and want to make others feel their pain. Cyberbullying.gov defines it as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets.”
In addition to teaching the standards, teachers now have to step in as a referee before things get out of control because of an incident of this social media crime.
Sometimes, it is the teachers who are the problem, not the inappropriate relationships with students, but in hating or despising students altogether and then posting about it. As a teacher, I cannpt be expected to like every single child. There are a few I actually dread seeing them come into my classroom, to be quite honest. But you would never know which child that is, and I would certainly never post on social media the thoughts I have in my head about a parent’s “precious angel child who does nothing wrong.” Teachers have to be careful about what they post. Many teachers have been fired for posting drunken photos, inappropriate photos, or rants about parents and students.
Many teachers have been fired over racist or Anti-Semitic tweets.
The National Education Agency (NEA) claims that many teachers think a rant about a student on a Facebook post is a part of their free speech, but the NEA quotes the Pickering v. Board of Education case, in that the “Supreme Court held that it’s not a First Amendment violation to dismiss probationary teachers for what they say or write, if their speech involves merely personal things, or if the speech might disturb the workplace (NEA.org). Teachers, keep your rants to yourself. Or write them in a diary and throw away the key. Unless you have tenure, then you have a little more leverage. (http://www.nea.org/home/38324.htm).
Things are not always bad on the social media front for teachers and students. Social media allows for both parties to collaborate on assignments, upcoming activities, at home activities, and research projects. Many schools are offering one to one programs: one laptop per student that stays with them throughout their time at that school. As an English teacher, I have my students do creative projects using social media. For example, my students are currently reading independently novels of their own choosing. One of their activities will be a Snapchat or Facebook activity where the main characters or opposing characters have a conversation or continuous dialogue through social media. Many of my students will also create a Facebook account for their main character and live through that main character on social media throughout the entirety of that novel – all monitored by me of course, and the class will check in on each other’s characters throughout the rest of the year.
Social media is an excellent way to keep parents informed, remind students about homework, or to give students links for further research on articles to their assignments. Social media has also been useful in improving student career goals. Dr. Richard J. Light of the Harvard School of Education states in his social learning theory that there is “research identifying factors leading to college students’ success and that people learn most effectively when they interact with other learners.” Social media provides a way for those students in the classroom to interact with students from around the world. In my own classroom, I began a Pen Pal project, where my students wrote to students in several other countries. The foreign teacher and I used email to contact each other first, and we both decided that our students would write the old fashioned way – letters – to each other. At the end of the year, my students could exchange social media information with the students overseas – all with parent’s permission, of course.
We as a society have a long way to go with social media. It hit us pretty fast with its easy access and easy to use features. As a teacher, I hope to include more social media projects in my classroom; it is the way of the future. I also hope to teach my students social media responsibility, so they do not become a victim of something that is powerful enough to make their life bad or ugly. Hopefully, social media will only make their life better.