The chances are that you have a Facebook account and there is more than a fair chance that some of your students do too.
But this raises a number of questions and if you get the answer wrong, it can sometimes have dire consequences.
This article offers some advice on the best and safest way to avoid possible problems while still taking advantage of the possibilities social media sites like Facebook have to offer.
NB To help our students and members of the public to keep in touch with us and see the latest resources on this site, see the ICAL TEFL Facebook Page,
Facebook can cause problems for teachers. Here are genuine issues which have come to light with the boom of Facebook.
It is a slim chance, but it does happen. In recent years there have been a number of cases where teachers have been suspended or lost their jobs because of unacceptable conduct through social media. The cases usually involved teachers making inappropriate comments on a student's Facebook page. Sometimes these have been very explicit and other times these have been merely suggestive but the end result has been the teacher being guilty of unacceptable conduct.
Transcripts of chat logs and Facebook comments have been used in court to demonstrate inappropriate relationships between teachers and students; despite what some people might think, everything you write or post online is stored and you erasing a comment from Facebook does not mean it will never appear again. It can be used in evidence against you.
But even when the relationship between the teacher and their student "friends" is totally innocent - as it is in by far the majority of cases - there can still be problems. Teachers have sometimes posted photographs to their walls and made status updates or comments which have later come back to haunt them.
One teacher posted a picture of herself in a bikini on holiday which was picked up and ended up being shared around the school much to her embarrassment. A head teacher was also dismissed from her job after she posted very suggestive and compromising pictures on her profile and these were spotted by her students.
The general consensus amongst governing bodies is that even innocent relations on Facebook can breed over-familiarity between teachers and students and this can lead to a breakdown of discipline in the classroom and a loss of respect for the teacher by their students.
But there's another side to this as well. Suppose you do accept a friend request from a student. Then another and another. And then some of your students who you don't really like make a request; it's not really possible to turn down some students and accept others for fear of showing bias so you end up accepting all students.
And then you start getting messages on Sunday night asking you about the homework on Monday morning. And then more messages when you're on holiday. And then every time you log on there are messages and comments from students...
And in the end you regret accepting the first student because you've got hundreds of them now and they message you all times of day and night...
And on a final point, when applying for work an employer will almost always check out a potential candidate on Facebook and there are countless cases of applicants not getting hired because of comments or photos they've posted online; a school seeing photographs of a drunken teacher on a night out with their friends or reading comments about how they hate work or dislike their students is very likely to take immediate action and get rid of that teacher!
Of course, these cases are rare when considering the number of teachers online but they have been worrying enough for schools to begin imposing strict policies about how teachers can use social media sites. Some schools have policies which ban teachers entirely from having online accounts (as did the entire state of Missouri although this was later overturned) whilst others allow teachers and students to be online "friends". But many schools have no policy at all.
The first step then, as a teacher, is to see if your school has a policy on using social media sites. Unfortunately the likelihood is that your school will not have a policy as most schools are yet to implement one.
Which leaves it up to you!
ICAL TEFL - like many organizations and people - recommend that teachers keep their private life completely separate from their professional life. This means that you keep your Facebook page for you and your family and your real friends. Feel free to post here whatever you feel comfortable posting whether that is photos of you on the beach in your skimpiest of swimwear or your rant against your boss who's just made you do a bunch of unpaid overtime... or just you sightseeing or posting messages of love on your Mother's birthday.
The point is that only your real friends and family will see what you post and you do not have to worry that your boss, your students or parents of your students are going to see something and misinterpret it.
On this point, it is well worth checking out the Privacy Settings on your Facebook page. These are fairly well documented on Facebook so look there for the best and most up to date information, but in essence you want to lock down your page so only your real friends and family can see what you have there. Checking these settings can avoid any potential embarrassment in the classroom so do it now!
But.. suppose you'd like to use Facebook with your students and school and would like to be able to befriend some former students. This is what we recommend.
First you have your private Facebook account. Here's where you talk to real friends and family and post holiday pictures and discuss politics. You lock it down so no one can see it outside your closed group and you keep it that way. It's your personal, private life and no one outside sees in and no students allowed!
Then you set up a Facebook Page which is essentially a public Facebook account where you can present yourself to the world.
Like a normal Facebook account you can post here pictures and status updates but also allow others to "like" you and keep in touch. You can open it up to the public including former and (if your school policy allows it) current students; everything is open but you can also control who can post and moderate any post.
A typical page for a TEFL teacher can include a few photos of them sightseeing in different countries, maybe photos of them with a class, links and posts about good teaching resources and so on. It will allow past and present students to keep in touch with the teacher because even if you move school or country your students will still be able to follow you.
(An example of this kind of page is the ICAL TEFL Facebook Page, It is the public face of ICAL where we post updates, useful links, comments and pictures about TEFL)
Another, more specific alternative, is to set up a Facebook Page for your class, again only if your school policy allows it.
You can restrict this page and make a it closed (by invitation only) so that only a certain set of people can access it and read posts there. One or more people can be administrators (or moderators).
Pages allow the class to all participate and make comments, share stories and links, discuss homework and different ideas and generally keep in touch. You can open the page to parents and school administrators as well so that everything is available to all the right people.
Pages like these allow you to extend the classroom outside the school.
Setting up Pages is simple; go to this page on Facebook and click the Public Figure link for a personal page and Company, Organization or Institution link for your school or class. There's also plenty of information here about how to go about making the page in the best way for you and your class.
In conclusion then, we recommend keeping your private and professional life completely separate. By all means use Facebook and take advantage of what it has to offer, but make sure to lock down your private account and to use your public page(s) in strict accordance with your school policies on this.
How to lock down your Facebook account.
ICAL TEFL on Facebook - click 'like' for the latest updates!