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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 4, January/February 2007

An e-mail bit me

E-mail is increasingly used by teachers to communicate with students and parents. Although e-mail often provides an effective means of communication, it can also be the source of serious problems for teachers. Imagine this situation:

A teacher carries out extensive e-mail discussions with students as a way of building rapport and knowing more about the lives of her students. She has received a summons to a school district hearing. A parent has complained that their daughter has been part of an inappropriate e-mail conversation with the teacher that dealt with private information about the family. The parent has also filed a complaint with the BC College of Teachers.

Maintaining appropriate professional boundaries in communication with students is always essential. Stepping across those boundaries can have negative consequences.

E-mail can be especially problematic. The conventions of using e-mail encourage less formal communication--at the same time providing an electronic record of what has been said.

"Confidential" is meaningless with e-mail. In its travels between computers, e-mail goes through a number of servers. School e-mail goes through school district servers--and can be intercepted there. Messages can be easily saved, printed, or forwarded.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has called e-mail and text messaging "dangerous modes of communication" for teachers.

Avoiding these forms of communication is not practical advice these days. Having a personal filter or censor is required, however. Every time you send a message to a student, imagine that the principal and the student’s parent will read the message. Given that these readers will not have the context of the message, how might they interpret it?

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