“Facebook is the devil’s own work… don’t even go there!” said an experienced head teacher of a secondary school giving advice to students on their last day of a PGCE, “…as a teacher, my advice is stay away from it completely or you might find yourself at least very embarrassed or at worst, deeply compromised.”
I looked at the faces of the hundred-odd students and could see that not all of them were convinced. First of all, the advice was coming from someone who admitted she’d never used Facebook herself – and I could also see some of the students felt a little patronised by the simplistic nature of it.
I meet a lot of students who’ve been advised by their tutors to ‘be very careful with Facebook’ – and that is good advice. As most young teachers will instantly recognise, engaging with pupils and students on Facebook immediately confuses the boundary between a professional and a personal relationship. Facebook is a ‘social network‘ – you know you don’t have a primarily social relationship with pupils and students, you have a professional one – so meeting them in any social space naturally presents you with a challenge.
Even if you accept this head teacher’s advice and steer clear of Facebook, you will be challenged by other circumstances and contexts that will test your judgement about where that boundary lies. In my view, someone warning you in rather alarmist terms, to steer clear of what is an ill-defined boundary anyway doesn’t actually help you to negotiate that boundary if and when you do stumble across it – as you inevitably will.
Just think what it’s like for teachers who live and work in rural communities where the pupils and students they teach – their ‘clients’ if you like – may also be the children of their neighbours and friends.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and as a teacher trainer and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk or book him for a talk on teacher professionalism. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in February 2014.