Friday, November 19, 2010

New Ethics for Texting Texas Teachers?

If you're a Texas educator, own a mobile device (or use a computer) to text students, you definitely need to read the following. Or, if you're an administrator wondering where your next headache is coming from, then....
Teachers must refrain from inappropriately communicating with students through the use of social media under the requirements of an updated Educators’ Code of Ethics endorsed by the State Board of Education today...Texas Education Agency staff requested the change to the ethics code because they said they are receiving disciplinary case referrals in which teachers were found to have sent students thousands of text messages.  Sometimes the content of the messages was not inappropriate on their face but the volume of messages and time of day the messages were sent indicated that the educator was “grooming” the student for a future sexual relationship.
A school district employee commits a second-degree felony under Penal Code Section 21.12 if the employee engages in sexual contact with a student who is not their spouse.

Here's an excerpt, although you can read the whole thing online:
(I) Standard 3.9. The educator shall refrain from inappropriate communication with a student or minor, including, but not limited to, electronic communication such as cell phone, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging, or other social network communication
As necessary as it is to protect children from predators that happen to be educators, I'm concerned that some will interpret this code of ethics AS IF it were written in the following way:
All educators will NOT be permitted to use cell phones, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging, or other social network communication AT ALL during the school day. In fact, you're on a watchlist if you DO use these.
What do you think? Will this be interpreted...If you're a blogger, are you guilty by association with the deranged who molest children?

Update: You may want to read this follow-up article - Forbidden Fruit: Social Media in K-12

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Adrianne Stone said...

I do worry that it will be interpreted that way. My district recently instituted a "do not respond to students after 9pm" rule - twitter, facebook, text, or email. Honestly I have kids who don't get to their hw until 9pm so what are they supposed to do if they have questions? I'm not having conversations with them for the love of pete I'm responding to questions about their homework. But in favor of preserving my job I have communicated to my students that I am unable to respond after 9pm due to district policy.

Even with these new ethics rules and district guidelines I think I'm lucky to be in a district that recognizes the value of online/social media communication between teachers and students and don't feel that in my district I have been lumped in with the child molesters who happen to be teachers, however I do feel that the legislators are doing this.

As far as I am concerned I feel like the actual wording of the rules are fairly common sense and it's almost like... does that really need to be codified? But apparently some individuals are necessitating it by inappropriate behavior (kind of like how McD's has "Contents of this cup may be extremely HOT" on coffee cups lol)

How do you feel about it Miguel?

Miguel Guhlin said...

@Adrianne - Howdy! Posted a response here -

Thanks for the comment,

Michelle H said...

I agree with Adrianne. As a new teacher, although I understand the real meaning behind the standard, I definitely take it more as a warning than anything else. I am hesitant to have any communication with students outside of the school setting due to the legal issues at hand. I've gone as far as removing my name from social networks and I definitely make sure students don't have my personal phone number or e-mail address. I would rather be safe than sorry at this point especially since I'm new to this career field. I hope to utilize other sources of communication as I gain more experience as I know it is a great way to assist students.

Rebecca .A. said...

I agree with Michele H. I too am hesitant to communicate with my students outside my classroom. My personal life is personal, and I do not like to mix my personal life with my professional life. I would think that if a student gets to know their teacher on a personal level then dynamics in the classroom would change. One could argue that it could be better and it it’s all about building relationships with your students. I get that, but I think that relationships can be built on a professional level. I prefer to keep it professional in my classroom.

Jennifer D said...

It is my hope that common sense will always prevail. Though I agree with you that some administrators will respond out of fear with very tight restrictions, the rules are actually written quite fairly. The best response for the possible restrictions you are afraid of is a quality lesson plan explaining the use of the technology and a meeting where you request permission. If your boss still says it's not okay, then don't use the tool.

Rosalina Trujillo said...

This is a delicate case being that there probably are teacher out there who do have sexual relationships with their students and do text them and message them. However, the other teachers who want to overpass the old school teacher and use technology for means of communicating and connecting on an higher level with his or her students are at risk of being misinterpreted by others. For example, I do not have time in the day to do work; therefore, I may be up at 12AM OR 1AM finishing work, but I do know not to text message a student at that time, but I may be blogging and adding information to class Web sites...So the question is will that be interpreted as inappropriate? And if it is I feel sorry for the students who want to learn and get use for all the technology that can serve as a powerful tool for learning in the present and for their future.

Rosalina Trujillo

Anonymous said...

Well, I think that that would be quite a jump. The standard forbids inappropriate contact WITH a minor not what the oversimplification you have listed says.

I feel like I am missing something here. Those that would read or become aware of the standard and its very specific language and THEN chose to interpret it as simply to not use cell phones at all while on district time THEN decide to make such inappropriate contacts on their personal time, may be doing so to their own peril.
I certainly see the distinction between even "contact with" and "using" a cell phone "during."
I also think a more prudent question might be will our educators (in realization of the timing and volume issues) cease to communicate with students at all.

Donnie Thomas

Genevieve said...

Today’s methods of communication have change dramatically with in the last decade. People on the other hand have not. The Educators’ Code of Ethics needed to be updated to reflect the today’s electronic methods used for communication. I do not believe that the intent of the State Board of Education has changed. The protection of our students should be our main concern. There are and have always been individual within the education profession who take advantage of students’ immaturity. Because of the same electronic methods of communication today’s’ public is more aware of these predictors attics for luring students into their reach and then taking advantage them. Educators have the trust of our students, so the guidelines and standards must be strictly enforced. The strictness may be an inconvenience on educators who are communicating with students to help or inform them, but as responsible adult educators it is better for us to be inconvenienced than for child predictors to have access to our students.

Patty said...

I had two female students ask for my contact information so that they could call me and we could "hang out at the mall." I told them that I would not give them my contact information and that we would not be hanging out at the mall. They insisted on giving me little pieces of paper with their contact information. I told them that I would not be calling them. Nice girls, but I had to be firm and draw a big line about communication.

kraus craven crew said...

I agree with Genevieve's comment that although our tools of communication are changing, people are not. Although the wording of the code of ethics may have been modified, the intent is the same. The code of ethics is intended to protect our students from the age-old leverage that a wayward teacher can easily assert upon a student if they are led in that direction. If you are not among the minority of teachers who lack good judgement, you will not find yourself texting students abundantly at inappropriate hours. For most of us, I think most modifications will have little impact on the good judgement we already show.

Stephen said...

I completely understand the reasoning behind the rules and the modifications which have been instituted. We, not only as teachers, but as mature adults, must realize that it isn't only the students' who've entrusted us with their well being in and out of the classroom, it's society as a whole. Being a responsible party in ANY communication is utmost, and knowing the time frames, and especially content, is in my opinion only common sense. I can see how some may interpret it as, "NEVER communicate, etc...", but if I were to re-read the manual of how to connect a printer to my computer over and over I may end up interpreting it as "Take the cable and unwrap it, then connect it to the nearest wall outlet, making sure you're holding the metal part securely between your teeth.
Common sense and practicality in any communication whether electronic or in person is all that is being said. If you step over the boundaries, you must pay the price. I don't see the reason for terminating my social network accounts, because I use that for my personal contacts and family. NOTHING ELSE. As for my email and phone, I give that to the parents, and if I don't recognize the number, I don't pick it up, that's why I have voice mail.

Anonymous said...

The communication tools of today are necessary to reach the interests of students. It is the responsibility of the teacher to define the mode and purpose as well as the established guidelines for out of the classroom communications, within the limits of district policy. It is the responsibility of the parent to stay engaged in the lives of their children, and that means approving and staying aware of all communication with any contacts. To assist parents the state provides its standards for ethical conduct, but it is still the individual who is responsible for their interpretations and actions of the standard. IF you choose to 'take the high road' and refrain for all social media et. al., you'll lose your students inetrest/motivation and at the same time fail to teach the technology standards required. If you choose to accept the risk, good for you. After all, there can be no accomplishment without risk. A risk is calculated,safe. Don't gamble, the odds are against you. The state legislation will always establish generalized statutes with "CYA" mentality to enforce as it deems appropriate, spinning at will. If you find yourself on the losing side of the roulette wheel, you probably deserve it. Consider it part of your education in professionalism. ~MG

ritalouisewilcox said...

I agree with Adrianne in that the new rules are common sense. I'm sure that if your email or text is clearly the answer to a question about homework, you're safe. Come on, I think most of us know better than to wish them "sweet dreams" at night in reply to a homework question - or any other question for that matter. If we keep it on a professional level, we'll all be fine.

ritalouisewilcox said...

I agree with Adrianne that the rules are common sense. If we keep our texts and emails on a professional level, there will be no issue. I'm certain that if your response is clearly regarding homework only, there will never be a problem. The only problem I see arising is if the student pushes for a less-than-professional relationship and you are not immediately responding in a firm and professional manner, it could quickly get complicated. We just need to remind ourselves that we are professionals and must act like professionals at all times, modeling the right behavior for our students.

Brenda Hebert said...

I believe the key word in the language has remain unchanged and that word is 'inappropriate.' As educators we should behave in such a way as to never cross the line between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. It is sad but also a fact that we must also take precautions to protect ourselves and with all of the new modes of communicating, this just adds a new dimension to that concern. Be smart, act appropriately, document any situations that have the potential of being perceived as inappropriate. In the end, our purpose, the state's purpose is or SHOULD be always about doing what is in the best interest of the children we teach and serve.

Heidi F. said...

I agree with what Brenda states about what is appropriate; however, the term "appropriate" itself can be interpreted many ways, is entirely subjective (unless there is a statutory definition of which I am unaware) and thus could lead many teachers to potential liability for their actions (who determines the appropriateness...the parent, the principal, the legislature, the teacher, the child?). Ambiguity is dangerous for all.

JayneMakino said...

Very interesting, and I think that it is worth reading the rest of Standard 3.9, because it helps to clarify inappropriate.

Russ S said...

Russ S thinks --

this article has missed an important aspect of consideration - yes we do not want teachers having inappropriate communication/ relations with students via e-media however it works both ways students should be held accountable for inappropriate contact or e-interface with teachers - a math teacher who I observed during field based experience shared with me that a 16 year old student wanted to be "friends" with her - she replied "I don't need a 16 year friend"
thanks for your thoughts and comments Heidi and Jayne - I am enjoying vacation in MN

DeniseRau said...

I feel that it is necessary to have guidelines to protect not only the students, but also the teachers. This is unfortunate, but reality.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that if you just use common sense you will be ok. It is certainly not my intent to be on the clock 24 hours a day either. As a new teacher I too would keep any comments outside of the school environment to a minimum.

Connie H.

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of the other post. As a teacher you should use common sense with talking to a student. It should be some parameters set on the first day of school. Each one of your students should know what is allowed and the students shouldn't necessarily have your personal phone number.

Yolanda B

Anonymous said...

There seems to be definitely a tightrope that you have to walk as far as using today's technology to communicate with students. As stated in prior posts I think common sense will keep you in the clear and if you think as a parent when it comes to how and when you would want your own children's teacher to contact your child you should be okay.

And yes I agree with Russ's point. I see it all the time at the school I work at. Many students, especially middle school girls, try to have a "friend" relationship with their male teachers. You really have to watch yourself and make it known quickly that you are NOT their friend but their teacher.

I'm afraid that using technology after school hours to contact our students will sometimes open up other avenues for children to try and befriend us. If this happens I would definitely let your principal know ASAP. That way you are CYA!

Ronnie P

Lona Dekenipp said...

I agree that electronic communication with a student should be limited, but not completely banned. It is ridiculous to send mass amounts of communication with a student. However, emailing them can immediately update them, remind them, assist them with assignments and such. Most children nowadays have a smart phone of some kind and they see their emails the instant they come in. So this would be beneficial at times. I believe it should be strictly educational purposes, and not abused in any kind of way.

Blogs and social networks can be used for assignments and school projects. These things are great tools!

I do not allow students to email me through my personal email they are to use the school email, or have their parents email me. The students do not have my cell number and they are not allowed to be my friend on my personal Facebook page. I definitely keep a distance between personal and professional.

I agree with Adrianne Stone, the code is pretty much common sense. We are adults and we know the boundaries and limits. We do not need a code to tell us how to act. It is atrocious that there are teachers who have forgotten their senses and made this commonsense code into existence.

Joke Adamoh said...

There is no doubt that this code of ethics means well for both the students and their teachers, but it is bound to be misinterpreted. In as much as technology is a great tool in contibuting to the success of the students, there have been a lot of misuse by some immatured minds.

I believe it is the responsibility of the school districts to interprete this code fairly so that the students are not cut off from the various ways that teachers can use technology to facilitate their learning even outside the regular school hours. I believe learning should be a continous process. I agree with Lona on the fact that distance should be kept between personal and professional lives, which is why I think students do not need to have my personal e-mail address or mobile number in order to communicate with them outside school hours. A facebook account can be opened for the class for everyone to share ideas and information.

Parents also have a lot of responsibility to guard their children against misuse of these technological tools. Due to immaturity and lack of parental controls, a lot of students have been lured away from the positive benefits of these tools into misusing them for different inappropriate activities.

Jessica M said...

I agree that the students need to be protected; however, I see the need to communicate with the digital natives of today. They live with technology 24/7 and technology is what makes the lessons interesting to them.

There is a fine balance that needs to be reached between the two. I usually do my work after 10 p.m. I no not to e-mail my students, etc.; however, what if I need to update my classroom blog? Is that seen as inappropriate because of the time?

I see using classroom blogs and classroom social networking as being okay; however, my personal accounts are all off limits to students.

I can see both sides to this issue.

Leonel V. said...

I know that some districts have a no cell phone policy for both students and teachers during school hours. I do understand that using some kind of wiki or blog would be the best way for students to work together over a long period of time and still have documentation of work being done. I also believe that a teacher need only monitor these wiki or blogs to see who is contributing and who is not. I do believe that these are wonderful tools but need the educators roles need to be limited if the instruction was given correctly and in more to be delivered i.e. written and verbal.

Leonel V.

Dorothy Johnson said...

It is very important for teachers not to rush into making decisions about the use of technology as it relates to the particular code. They should remember the audience they are addressing and think in terms: is this something anyone and everyone can read and feel comfortable with. I think that teachers should act repsonsibly when using various forms of technology to communicate with their students. Teacher/student relationships should be encouraged in that context and nothing more. Some students feel comfortable with their teachers and may wish to share things such as SAT results or a family emergency that might affect their ablility to complete an assignment or come to school because they consider their teacher a trusted adult, someone who they can talk to. I hope that teachers would not start to show less concern or apprehension for their students needs for fear of being penalized for it. Most teachers have the students best interest in mind and should continue to work with them in ways that will help to be successful. New technology has just given those with ill-intentions a new way to continue bad habits. It is up to parents as Joke' stated to be informed and pay attention to what their child is doing and hold them accountable as much as the teacher about any and all correspondance that takes place. We can not stop trying to reach out to students where they are comfortable because of a few irresponsible people.

The Courage to Lead