In a response to my blog entry sharing the announcement about Texas Texting Ethics Code modifications suggested for teachers, Adrianne Stone writes the following:

I do worry that it will be interpreted that way. My district recently instituted a “do not respond to students after 9pm” rule – twitter, facebook, text, or email. Honestly I have kids who don’t get to their hw until 9pm so what are they supposed to do if they have questions? I’m not having conversations with them for the love of pete I’m responding to questions about their homework. But in favor of preserving my job I have communicated to my students that I am unable to respond after 9pm due to district policy. 

Even with these new ethics rules and district guidelines I think I’m lucky to be in a district that recognizes the value of online/social media communication between teachers and students and don’t feel that in my district I have been lumped in with the child molesters who happen to be teachers, however I do feel that the legislators are doing this. 

As far as I am concerned I feel like the actual wording of the rules are fairly common sense and it’s almost like… does that really need to be codified? But apparently some individuals are necessitating it by inappropriate behavior (kind of like how McD’s has “Contents of this cup may be extremely HOT” on coffee cups lol) 

How do you feel about it Miguel? 

When I consider how to respond to Adrianne’s question, I have to break it up into parts:

  1. Should teachers be in contact with their students after 9:00 PM?
  2. Are new restrictions put in place to protect children from molesters failing those children by silencing their teachers?
  3. Who decides what is socially acceptable in the use of social networking in schools? Students? Community? Teachers? School Districts?
  4. Should we codify common sense or cultural norms?
In response to the first question about being in contact with students after 9:00 PM, the power of the Read/Write Web–including blogs, podcasts, social media tools like Twitter, Plurk, and Facebook–is that they allow us to time and place shift. Reading a blog entry, listening to a podcast can transport us backward in time to when it was written. Social media allow us to dwell in real time, to connect with others. As educators, should we be modeling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week kind of availability to our students? Is learning at 24/7 kind of venture to be limited, or is teaching more limited?

Learning is unbounded, while teaching is bounded. This is an opportunity to better understand and develop boundaries.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re conflating learning and teaching. Learning, after all, happens 24/7. Teaching has happened during 8:00 AM and 3:30 PM, traditionally. Think of it like Twittering…that happens 24/7 from anywhere with a mobile device, but blogging only happens when you’re sitting down in front of something with a keyboard, engaging in reflection on what you are learning or have learned. Social media/networking is often real time, but blogging/podcasting isn’t–usually.
And, back to Adrianne’s question, who decided that the cultural norm was 9:00PM? This is like the “Don’t call anyone before 9:00 AM” rule. But who made those rules and when were they made? What if students are working on a Forum (late at night), and their teacher happens to be online grading work. Will an arbitrary time frame determine that the teacher can’t answer a chat request?
When Office Hours are possible at anytime, anywhere, are we sure we want to limit teachers’ facilitation of the learning that can happen? If deeper learning can be achieved through a heightened relationship, are we hurting our students by not allowing that just in time relationship to be developed?
Well, enough questions on that first question. The school board and community set the standards for teachers, who are selected to represent them. Let’s acknowledge that teachers, for all the respect they are paid face to face, are NOT trusted in schools today. They are NOT trusted with unguarded, unlocked learning devices known as computers. They are not trusted with telephones in their classrooms, their autonomy is hamstrung at every turn by legislators, by anyone with an axe to grind, who takes one look at deviant acts by child molesters and says, “You know, let’s legislate what we’ve agreed upon as a community (no contact after 9:00 PM because we need to maintain a professional distance between master and apprentice).

My answer to question #1 is that teachers should respect the guidelines set by the District for contact with students. While children may be texting their friends, family at all hours of the night, there are boundaries that must be set with strangers. And, in the final analysis, teachers ARE strangers when not within the confines of a “professional” school setting.

In response to the second question, Are new restrictions put in place to protect children from molesters failing those children by silencing their teachers?, I have to say that the answer is “It depends.” While it would be nice to have a hard and fast rule to refer to, the truth is that there are bad people who have fooled everyone and work in education. We must agree to set aside some liberties for the good of all.

My response to the last two questions (because this blog entry is getting long) is a simple YES. Smaller communities can be nimbler and craft rules that better represent the stakeholders (Students? Community? Teachers? School Districts?). These rules have to be discussed time and again so that everyone is clear on what is happening, and why.

In larger communities, these conversations are more difficult to have…there are just too many people to hope for consensus. Someone has to set the rules, and those who disobey them do so at their own risk…not unlike going swimming without a lifeguard. These are the rules…disobey them and you may end up suspended, expelled or fired. However, by codifying the rules we agree with, making sure that everyone knows exactly what those rules are, we can minimize misunderstandings.

If a school district administrator chooses to ban all social media use, then there are ways to change the policies and procedures. Teachers just don’t have a lot of power to accomplish this…the real power is in the school board, the community that elects them. If I were a non-traditional educator, I would want to think twice about going to a district that is ultra-traditional and intolerant. As an employee, I have a choice of where I go and who I serve.

Maybe everything I’ve said in this blog entry is wrong. I don’t know for sure because I’m only one voice. To get at the heart of this, it is a conversation that MUST happen in the midst of the stakeholders.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure