x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

School in teacher Facebook friend ban

A school has banned its teachers from befriending pupils on Facebook

DUBAI // Staff at a school in the city have been banned from "friending" pupils on Facebook, for fear that too much insight into teachers' private lives would erode their authority.

SM, a counsellor and teacher at the private school, said the move was in response to the danger of "the wilder, personal side" of their teachers' personalities being "exposed to pupils".

It followed an incident last month when a sacked teacher went on Facebook to broadcast his displeasure. As he counted several pupils among his Facebook "friends", his allegations quickly became widely known around the school.

"He started saying bad things about the school and the principal on Facebook," said SM. The pupils showed her his conversation on their mobiles, she said. "This was not acceptable - this was the last straw; we needed to fix a procedure."

Even before that, SM had been concerned about teacher-pupil "friendships".

Some teachers, she said, were in the habit of posting inappropriate language online and pictures posed a major concern, too.

"Students find things out about teachers, that they party, get drunk - all sorts of things - through pictures. It creates a bad impression and so students have less respect for their teachers."

She said the issue had damaged some teachers' classroom authority. "Even teachers trying to be strict, it doesn't work," she said. "The value of teachers is lost.

"Students think, 'we have seen what he is like in real life, he goes out like us,' so they lose respect."

She is also warning teachers and pupils not to use their school e-mail addresses when signing up for an account, to help maintain a boundary between their school and personal lives.

The problem has also been recognised internationally. Last month, Britain's National Union of Teachers warned its members not to befriend pupils on social networking sites, and to inform school management if they befriend parents or former pupils.

However, some believe the risks are overstated.

Ahmed Ajineh, a biology teacher and head of student council at the International Community School in Abu Dhabi, said: "I will admit there are negative points - the fact that there is no privacy; it constrains the teacher. You would need to watch what you say and how you talk to friends.

"But there are good points, too. It can help us understand students more. Like troublemakers, there are reasons why they are troublemakers. When we look closer, we understand students."

osalem@thenational.ae