The Ontario College of Teachers is warning its members to be careful when communicating with students over social media, saying online interactions can be a slippery slope that could land teachers in hot water.

On Monday, the college issued an advisory to its 230,000 members, detailing how to safely use electronic communication and social media with students. It suggested avoiding "friending" students on Facebook or following them on Twitter as part of an attempt to maintain professional boundaries.

Most school boards in the GTA do not have social media policies yet -- but they say general guidelines concerning teacher and online conduct should suffice for the time being.

"We have heard from our teachers and stakeholders that there's a need for us to give advice to teachers," the college's deputy registrar, Joe Jamieson, told CTV Toronto on Monday. "It's not the role of a teacher to be a friend as we know it -- it's to be a teacher and what we're encouraging members to do is being mindful practitioners… and act online as they would in person with students."

Even teachers who have been using Facebook to keep students current on tests and assignments are being warned against it, with the report saying to stick to "established education platforms" like web pages set up for a school project or class.

One Toronto student told CTV's Janice Golding that she has her teacher's cell phone number and sends her teacher a text message if she will be late for class.

"Sometimes I text them just in case I miss practice or just to let them know," said another student.

Social media can make it easy for teachers and students to socialize, and easy for teachers to cross the line into criminal activity.

The advisory offers teachers the following advice:

  • don't add students as friends on Facebook
  • don't exchange private texts, phone numbers, photos or personal email addresses with students
  • monitor all content you post to your personal social media account and remove anything inappropriate
  • don't engage in online criticism of students or colleagues
  • assume anything you post can be accessed or altered
  • notify parents or guardians before using social networks for classroom activities

The advice comes after several incidents in which teachers have been punished for bad behaviour online. Recently in the United States, a teacher said he hated his job and his students on Facebook. Another compared herself to a "warden" supervising "future criminals."

With files from CTV's Janice Golding