I admit it, I watched ‘Sexting Teacher’ on Channel 4 expecting to be told how the teacher Jeremy Forest grooms and tricked 15 year old student Gemma into fleeing the country with him. For those who are not aware of this story, among the others we have seen, the world was rocked when they had found the couple who stood defiantly by each other- even through the court case- swearing that they were in love and would get married once Jeremy was free. They have subsequently broken up as, now 16 year old Gemma, found the stress of being apart to much.
The television show didn’t depict paedophilia, grooming and rape (although as Gemma consented, this is statutory).Instead they showed a tragic love story between the two lovers and their fight to stay together. The part that stuck out to me most was that the relationship had started on Twitter, following Forest apologising via direct message, for disciplining Gemma for wearing nail polish in school. The two other stories featured in the show had seemingly all started because of mobile phones. So I have to ask- is social networking blurring the teacher/student relationship?
There are currently 15 different social media networks out there that are considered popular still. On my Facebook account I have 3 of my old teachers from College and University, on my Twitter I have pretty much all of them. I know them by name, know there favourite colour, artist, food, drink and how they spend their down time but I have never hung out with them privately and wouldn’t breach that boundary.
Posing the question on Twitter to everyone, I received many of the same replies, that although we have social networking, they can not be blamed it for the grooming of children. Whilst I do agree with this, I do think it makes it easier- how much contact is too much between students and teachers? Can you like their status’s, reply on status’s that they have put up and even retweet them. Is it only when the private messaging starts that this becomes wrong?
When I first came home from Year 11 and informed my mum that I could now call the teachers by their first names, she was horrified, these were my teachers and the people she trusted to look after me, and I was talking about them like they were my friends. This was starting to blur the lines, the authority and respect of calling someone Mr, Miss or Mrs ceases, which stops reminding you daily that these people are not your friends. By College and University, you are young adults and whilst the dynamics of the relationship with your teacher will inevitably change, the way in which they talk to you should not.
I remember clearly, although I can not remember his name, a teaching assistant I had when I was in nursery. I had been late again as my mum used to drop me off before starting her lectures and was crying due to being in trouble. The teaching assistant gave me a hug to calm me down- he was subsequently fired and I never saw him again. Discussing this with mum sitting next to me, she informed me that this was because of the close contact, there should never be just yourself and the teacher alone in a room. If there is; the door to the room should be open and, if the door needs to be closed, there should be more than one teacher to confirm that nothing untoward has happened.
Teachers have a duty of pastoral care- but when does the pastoral care turn into something different- and how much interactivity is too much. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc all provide an open channel of communication for group projects, sending out information about the course and can prove to be a tool for monitoring cyber bullying amongst peers. So, could it be that teachers should be banned from sending private messages, which then ensures that parents can monitor and scrutinise all communication from them? Or should we just trust that we have taught our children well in how to interact with a person of authority? I was shocked on ‘Sexting teacher’ when it had been discovered that Jeremy and Gemma were sending direct messages on Twitter and had been told to ‘unfollow’ each other. What about disciplinary action – Jeremy suspended (and fired) and Gemma in detention until she graduates- the headmasters need to be more brutal in this as well.
What do you think?