Perils of social media in teaching

Teachers need to be very careful and selective about what personal information they share with their pupils, particularly on social media, according to a Dunedin education specialist.

This follows the resignation of a King's High School female teacher over an inappropriate pupil-teacher relationship.

University of Otago College of Education associate dean, teacher education, Dr Alex Gunn said student teachers at the college were introduced in a professional practice paper to the "perils and advantages'' of social media.

She said social media was an inevitable part of life, because student teachers, the schools and early childhood settings they were going into, their colleagues, the parent communities, and the pupils themselves were all everyday users of social media.

The College of Education aimed to help student teachers make the step from personal use into the professional space, and show them how their behaviour was going to have to change.

"Once you're a teacher, you're always a teacher, and you're always a responsible person to your students and your community. You're always in the public eye, no matter when, whether it's 3am or 8pm.''

She believed the term "outside school hours'' was an "archaic'' idea in terms of modern education, because teachers accessed work at all hours of the day, as did their pupils.

"It's really easy if you get a text from a pupil, to quickly flick a reply. But actually, teachers have to think about what are the limits.''

She said it could be very difficult for teachers to be flexible and accessible, while also maintaining some sense of differentiation between being at work and not being at work.

"Everyone has to have some down time.

"If you're texting on a Sunday night, organising uniforms for a sports day for a team on Monday morning, that's a particular circumstance that may be appropriate. It would depend on what individual school policies say about that,'' Dr Gunn said.

"But certainly, the kind of colloquial texting that we would do with friends and family over personal issues, we wouldn't be encouraging teachers to do that with students at all. It has to be school related.''

Student teachers were asked if they had a Facebook profile, and if so, what was on it, Dr Gunn said.

"Teachers have to make conscious decisions about where to put themselves. We ask student teachers to think about what's the image you want to present when your students' parents Google you at the start of the year.

"That's increasingly what parents are doing, and that can really shape the relationship that you have with the parents as the year goes on.

"Think about what Prince William would do. Don't put anything on there that would bring shame to yourself, your school or the profession,'' she said.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz