I have a friend who is taking on our school district. 15 months ago she found out a teacher was snap chatting her 17 year old son. On weekends, at night time, during school hours there are snap chats, usually numbering in the teens. If you are unfamiliar with snap chat, it is an app that allows users to send a picture or video which disappears after being seen, so there is no way for someone else to see what’s been sent. In addition to the snap chats, there was text from this young female teacher to her 17 year old son. Her son was 45 minutes late to a class, in part because he had been visiting with the female teacher. She had written a pass for him to get to his class. She sent him the text to warn him that the teacher who’s class he was late for was angry with him! “Heads up” the text said, “she is really mad at you”. Hmmm……
The mom, after seeing the text and the excessive log of snap chats, confronted her son. He claimed that the teacher was sending him pics of her children. As she investigated she found out that it is common practice, for teachers to be in touch with students via social media. In some instances this is warranted. The school district has a site which allows teacher to post homework and enable discussions among the students, which is completely acceptable, valuable even. Many teacher though, friend their students on instagram, snap chat, Emojidom, and who knows what else. They also get phone numbers for texting. They claim they use those platforms to “communicate”.
The idea that an attractive young female teacher, who is supposed to be a positive role model, was snap chatting her son excessively, sent my friend into a tail spin, and she immediately contacted the school principle. He met with her and claimed to take her concern seriously. He then suggested that the snap chats were most likely group snap chats, sent to all of her students regarding assignments or other school issues. When the mom asked why on earth she would use this platform when there is a school sanctioned site for this use, he had no explanation. He said he would discuss the issue with the teacher. A few days later he left her a message on her phone saying “as suspected, this is nothing to worry about”.
Feeling dismissed and powerless, she went to the school to confront the teacher. When she met with her, the teacher thought the only issue was the text; i.e. she claimed the principal had never mentioned snap chat. Her explanation for the text was that she really liked the boy, and she didn’t want him to get into trouble. She had no explanation for why he was with her in the 1st place. When questioned about the snap chats she stated that she sends him pics of her children. When the mom asked her “why do you send pics of your children to my 17 year old son” she had no explanation. She admitted that she snap chatted other students, and that the snap chats were of a personal nature.
The mom explained to the teacher the potential ramifications of her behavior. Apparently it never dawned on her that a 17 year old could easily misconstrue this attention from an attractive young teacher. She seemed unaware that this could be an issue, and she assured the mother she would stop. As far as she and the school district were concerned, the issue was over.
The mom was not satisfied. She has other children in the system, 3 of which still have to go through the high school. She wanted a better answer. She wanted assurance that the issue of teachers contacting children via social media would be stopped. She wanted to be sure that young, attractive teachers could not so easily reach out to vulnerable teenagers. She also wanted to know what they would have done had it been a male teacher snap chatting a girl. She never got an answer for that, but I think we all know that had that been the case, the issue would have taken much more seriously.
She was told that the district would re-write the social media policy, and would add that disciplinarian action would be taken if a teacher violated the policy. About 5 months later, after repeatedly calling the school, she finally saw the policy. She was assured, when it was sent to her, that the teachers had been “educated” regarding the use of social media and were aware of the consequences. When she read the policy, she found no mention of any consequences. Later, she met with the union representative, who was the one who allegedly educated the teachers regarding the new policy. He was bewildered. He knew that a policy had been written, because it had been placed in each teachers mailbox, and they were told to initial it and return it. That was all he knew about the entire issue. He had never been apprised of the situation, he had no idea what the “new policy” was about, and he certainly never educated the teachers about it.
By this time, 7 months had gone by. She had spoken to the school principle on many occasions, she had met with the Superintendent of the district, she had been in touch with the union rep, and she had also spoken with the police. The police received an anonymous tip that there was something inappropriate going on between students and teachers, and launched an investigation. They found 2 other students who were receiving excessive snap chats from teachers. That was as far as they could take the investigation. Why? Because the pics sent via snap chat Disappear. There is no way for anyone to know what those pics were of. Were they of the teachers children? Perhaps. Were they regarding assignments? Maybe. No one will ever know.
My friend was incensed. Now, not only was she concerned about the relationship between her son and his teacher, she was worried about the school districts lack of concern regarding the relationships teachers form with impressionable teenagers. She was alarmed that no one seemed to care what extra-curricular contact teachers had with their students. She was especially alarmed that the “powers to be”in the district blatantly lied to her about her concerns and their actions. She wouldn’t let it go.
I’m going to be honest here; and I’m not proud to say this. I would have dropped it. I would have been worn down. I would be worried about my other children, what price they might pay for my dogged pursuit of administration and teachers. I’d be filled with self doubt, feeling that I was over-reacting, that the teachers behavior was fine and I was being a stodgy old person, out of touch with today’s world. I would have given up. Just before I gave up though, I would have made a public spectacle of myself. I advised her to just show up at a school board meeting, or write to the local paper, which is what I would have done. She did neither of those things, and she also didn’t give up.
Yesterday she had a meeting with 2 members of the school board. Her intent was to force the issue. When she told me about the meeting, I said I was sure they knew everything that had gone on, and would be prepared with rationales regarding the districts actions; or lack of action. She prepared for that. That’s not what happened.
When she explained the situation they were flabbergasted. They had been apprised of the text only. They knew nothing about the snap chats. As the conversation continued, the male, who’s children graduated the district a few years ago, stated that he felt guilty. He said that he had allowed his children to text teachers, and he was now aware of the potential ramifications. He now understood what a slippery slope social media is, and how quickly it can become a tool of power, or seduction, or perhaps just misunderstanding. They agreed that this was an issue that couldn’t be swept under the rug, and they will be taking it to the school board, along with her records of the snap chat logs, the text, each and every meeting she’d had with powers in the district, each email, and every phone message. It seems that perhaps the issue will be addressed, although she is entirely prepared for the possibility that it will not; that this is just one more example of her being pacified, her being “managed”, her being silenced.
I am in awe of her ability to keep going, because she is Right!. When all of this happened I put a poll on facebook, asking people “is it appropriate for teachers to snap chat students” and the response was 100% against it! Everyone who has ever been asked has stated it is ludicrous for a teacher to snap chat a child. Snap chat was created for children to hide things from adults! That is it’s sole purpose. It was created by teenagers, for teenagers. The idea that adults would use it at all is disturbing. The idea that teachers, the very ones we count on to be positive role models, to teach our children not only academic materials, but honorable behavior, would find snap chat an acceptable platform for communication with children is outrageous. What plausible reason could there be for this?
What was most interesting about this poll though, came later. Later I asked people what they would do if they found a teacher snap chatting their child. Every single one, including those who had been outraged at the mere thought of it, said “well, nothing; I’d just let it go, not make a fuss”. And honestly, that’s probably what I would have done also.
Since when did standing up for what is right, trying to effect positive change, become synonymous with “Making a fuss”? Why does challenging the status quo, holding people accountable for their actions, requesting appropriate consequence, seem wrong to us? What are we teaching our children when we “don’t make a fuss”? What does it say about us as individuals when we refuse to challenge “authority”; when we don’t tackle the hard issues because we are afraid, or tired, or feel like we’re “over-reacting”?
The easiest way to mess up a child’s head is to be inconsistent. Putting teenagers into a situation in which some of the adults are their friend and others are authority figures, when in fact all are supposed to be authority figures, is dangerous. Most children will not be bothered by this. Most can suss out the incongruity of the situation. Most can say to themselves “ok, she acts this way, and he doesn’t. Weird but, ok”. Most children can handle it.
But what about the ones who can’t? What about the one’s who already have too much to handle? The ones living in poverty, or living with an addicted parent, or going through divorce, or a parental illness; what about them? The straw that broke the camels back comes to mind. We’ve all been in the situation in which just one more thing happens and, as innocuous as it might seem to others, it tipped us over the edge. How easy it would be for a child on the edge to misinterpret those snap chats. What happens then?
Here’s my point: our children are growing up in a world very foriegn to us. As parents, adults, and educators, we need to stop saying “kids today, always with their head in their phone, they can’t even talk to each other”. We have to cut that out!! We have to start taking a good look at what their day to day experience is, and we need to help them navigate it. And, as is always the case, we need to role model proper behavior and boundaries.
Our children look to us to learn right from wrong, and the emulate what we do. Now, though, they emulate our behavior with a set of tools we didn’t have access to. What for us was a whisper down the lane gossip session on the phone is now a Kik conversation, forever embedded in their hearts and minds. For us, what was a mistake that was really embarrassing and we hoped to never think about again, is a Vine for them, replaying over and over. The playing field has changed, and so must we. And yes, it starts at home. At home we have to constantly talk about the long term ramifications of social media, the harm it can do, the hit it can take on someone’s self -esteem.
But we are not the only influence on our children – teachers also have power. It is essential that they look at what they are role modeling, what they are doing with social media, how they are using it with our children. It is essential for our school’s administrators to Deal With This Issue. It’s not good enough to say “when I was a kid…..” or “Kids today…..”. That just isn’t good enough.
I applaud my friend, because she get’s it. She knows that what we’re doing isn’t enough; we have to dig deeper, learn more about their lives, and intervene on their behalf. And unfortunately, we have to do it every single day, that is how quickly things are changing for our children.
In the end, the most telling question we can ask ourselves is this: would we want to be teenager today? For me, the answer is a fervent NO. I hope to stop judging, and stop being ruled by fear. I hope to become my friend, able to stand up for what is right, no matter how long it takes and how tired or despondent I become.
My children deserve it. Do yours?