Should Students Be Friends with Teachers and Coaches on Social Media

Aug 28, 2017

With the Pew Research Center reporting 72 percent of adult internet users on Facebook, and 81 percent of teens using social media, you’re likely to find both teachers and students on Facebook. The big question, however, is whether students should be friends with their teachers on Facebook. The short answer? No.

In the interest of collecting as many opinions on this topic as possible, I decided to conduct an informal survey with my own group of Facebook friends, many of whom are teachers and coaches at varying levels, middle school through collegiate. Not only did all of the teachers, teaching in school districts across the country, say that it is against policy to “friend” or “follow” students on social media, but coaches chimed in, saying that NCAA policy forbids fraternization between coaches and student athletes online as well.

While a recent change to the NCAA’s social media policy has loosened restrictions, specifically for transparency in recruiting efforts, it was also nearly impossible for the organization to police the online behavior of thousands of athletes and coaches, necessitating a change; it will be interesting to see if the change paves the way for abuse.

Of the 18 teachers and coaches who chimed-in, all of them responded that they would only add a former student after they graduate, and even then, they would be discerning about who they would add. In fact, there really is no reason for teachers on Facebook to be friends with their students, especially when many districts use safe platforms, such as Schoology and Edmodo, for electronic collaboration.

As a former teacher myself, I am friends with some of my students on Facebook, and I love being able to watch them, their careers and their families grow. While I taught the class of 2004, I did not add any of my former students until they were firmly in their twenties. I’ve helped former students edit papers, and have even provided career advice -- I don’t think your job as a teacher and/ or mentor stops when your students graduate.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. Two of the teachers who responded stated that they use Facebook page and group functions, with commenting off, to communicate information to students, such as schedules and assignments. In this capacity, teachers are not “friends” with their students on the platform, but are using the platform to add value for their students, which makes sense, given that most teens are getting news and socializing on social media each day.

Another teacher mentioned having a work account on Twitter, allowing publications students to tweet questions and get real-time answers; this leads to a conversation about boundary setting.

When asked about teachers and students on Facebook, teachers responded that, apart from it being against school policy, they wouldn’t add their students on social media because they wish to keep their private lives private and they need to be able to step away and recharge.

More importantly, a teacher responded that keeping the arenas separated helps students learn to distinguish between personal and professional relationships, and the behavior associated with each; this is extremely important, as the lines can easily be blurred when dealing with adolescents.

With both teachers and coaches reporting that it’s against policy to be friends with students on social media, be very wary if you find that your child is interacting with teachers on Facebook. Because you’ve set expectations, are continually communicating with your child, and are likely “friends” or following them, you’ll know when, and if, a line has been crossed.