Recently, a number of my students have joined Twitter and started following me. I asked them why, since most of my tweets are about educational technology and other geeky stuff which I would not think high school kids would be remotely interested in. But yet some of them seem to be. They have even complimented me on many of my postings (some are probably reading this blog right now since I tweet all my messages).
I recently had a rewarding conversation with a senior who, by following my Twitter updates, discovered my Lookjed dispute with a colleague about applying literary analysis to the study of Tanach which I posted on my blog. He said that after reading both presentations, he saw the truth in both sides of the argument. I smiled and replied: Eilu V'eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim, these and these are the living word of G-d.
So where is the line? When is it OK for your students to follow you and when is it not?
In the past, I have written about how I believe it is inappropriate for teachers to use Facebook to find out information about students. This was the source of a very public scandal in the prep school Horace Mann. Even if my students, friended me and I was not "going undercover" to connect with their Facebook account, I still think this to be the case. Students treat Facebook as their private space, even though obviously anything shared with one's 350 closest friends can hardly be called private but that is the subject of a different posting. They quickly forget about any "adults" that they have allowed into their space and continue to post about whatever is on their minds. I would not like to be in the position to have to deal with personal issues that only came to my attention through my viewing a student's Facebook profile. Honestly, many times I don't even want to see my student's profile pictures which, unfortunately, are often beyond what would be considered proper in any public setting. Obviously, if an issue about Facebook was brought to my attention by other students then that might be a different story since it is a very different situation.
So Facebooking one's students is out but Twitter is in. What's the difference?
The public nature of Twitter makes it a fundamentally different animal than Facebook. Twitter is by default public while Facebook is private (or at least it claims to be). This is one reason why many kids hesitate to get a Twitter account. I would estimate that only a small minority of my students Twitter and those who do tend to be upperclassmen. Virtually all of my students Facebook and they probably started when they were 12 or 13. Kids are afraid to Twitter because of its public nature and for good reason.
What Twitter is good for is sharing your passion with link minded people; not updating people on where you are or what you're doing. Those who follow me on Twitter know nothing about my family. They don't know what I like to do for fun. They don't even know where I live. But they know a lot about my job and my passion for educational technology. Most of the people I follow on Twitter are the same way. I learn so much from my personal learning network (PLN) of like-minded educators on Twitter. If one of my students would like to join this network and understands the limits of what should and should not be posted in this public environment then all the power to them.