Tales from new teachers

18th July 2014 at 01:00
social media storms

The problem

Over the past month or two I have had recurring issues with students falling out over social media and the after-effects spilling over into class. In one incident, a pupil uploaded a picture of herself that was shared by others who added hurtful comments.

This led to the girl in the picture "trolling" another girl and being trolled back. When they arrived in my lesson, I had to deal with them abusing each other about the incident.

This was just one of many episodes. I found it incredibly difficult to de-escalate the situation as everything was happening outside school. I thought I was making progress after talking to the girls, but the next day it all kicked off again. Their antagonism was becoming increasingly disruptive.

The options

My mentor sympathised but said there was little I could do other than telling the pupils to leave their disagreement outside the classroom and, if they did misbehave in class, to treat them as I usually would.

To be honest, I'm not sure she really grasped the problem as she compared it to "people falling out in the park in my day". Humiliation via social media is so much worse - especially with a public profile - as it has a mass audience and the impact is larger.

I asked a friend of mine how she tackled such situations at her school - she is pastoral lead and a few years ahead of me in her career. She had experienced the same problem. She suggested running detentions that acted as tutorials, explaining how to prevent these issues and the impact and public nature of online disputes.

The result

I considered doing as my friend suggested, but as the problem was so widespread I decided to dedicate a whole lesson to the discussion and exploration of behaviour on social media.

Lessons about the internet often cover safety but overlook the social aspect. I ran a class that considered how we act online, how people say things they never would to each other's faces, and how we take on different personas. The students and I talked about how this could lead to difficulties, before role-playing some online conversations and discussing how many people can view your profile if you keep it public.

I was surprised by how naive the pupils were. They had no sense of the digital footprint they left and they were shocked in the role plays when they realised how out of character their online behaviour had been.

The results have been positive. We still have issues but they are far less common.

The writer is a first-year teacher in the West of England

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