There was some rightfully worrying news for teachers on the BBC website today.
The UK’s largest teachers’ union, the NASUWT, released the results of a survey which showed that fully one in five of its members have been the targets of “adverse comments” by both pupils and parents on social networking sites. The nature of the comments was sometimes so severe as to impair the ability of the teachers to do their job adequately.
Amazingly “fewer than half of [the] incidents were reported to the school or the police” leading union officials to call out for “clearer sanctions” against those taking part in such abusive behaviour and “a better system for removing offensive material from websites.” Certainly you are going to find few people arguing with such measures, not only in light of the serious nature of the behaviour but also because of how commonplace it seems to be.
Still, my concerns go beyond what such punitive, after-the-fact steps will ever be able to remedy. I worry that social media itself will be further demonized while the root problem, namely how we speak to each other, will continue to be ignored.
Social media and similar online communications tools hold huge potential for learning. They give students, teachers, parents and institutions the ability to engage openly with one another outside of the physical class space and underscore learning as a social activity in the broader community. Knowing how to use these tools is becoming vital to the way we interact with one another and solve problems together.
As a language teacher I tried to make clear in my last post that it is not the tools we use to speak to one another, but the content of the conversations and the rules and considerations we take into account when interacting that need to be given centre stage. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram aren’t going away whether we like it or not. It is imperative that we give our learners the communications skills they need to have respectful, constructive conversations be they face to face or online.
Punishing behaviour which does not conform to socially established rules is often necessary, but we first need to establish clearly what those rules are. And in this rapidly changing world that is the kind of conversation that teachers, schools, students and parents need to be having.