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Online student-teacher friendships: pedagogically sound or just too risky?

Research shows that when teachers develop personal connections with their students, often by sharing information about their personal experiences and feelings, their students behave better and work harder. But should they try to make those connections online, using MySpace and the Facebook?

CNN reports that many teachers are confronting that question for the first time as social networking sites gain membership among professionals and as the first generation of young adults comfortable with exposing their personal life on the Internet ages out of school and into the workplace — which sometimes means the classroom.

I can imagine plenty of legitimate, constructive uses for teacher-student connections on social networking sites, from homework help to letting shy students speak out in a safe forum to bolster collaboration among students. But the potential for trouble is also great. What if students see pictures of their teachers doing things no teacher would consider doing in a school building? And do teachers really want visual confirmation that their students break all the rules once the school bell rings at the end of the day? Social networking sites can also facilitate serious abuses — in Missouri, a recent spate of illicit student-teacher relationships has prompted legislation that would prohibit teacher-student online networking.

Teachers, where do you draw the line? What do you do when a student “friends” you?

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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