Any inappropriate use of Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging with students could land teachers in trouble under new rules governing the profession.
The Teaching Council does not yet have powers to remove a teacher’s licence to work for breaches of its code of professional conduct.
However, it should be able to do so from early next year when Education Minister Ruairi Quinn gives effect to part of the law under which it was set up in 2006.
The revised code includes a stipulation — as reported in the Irish Examiner in September — that any communication with pupils, parents or other staff members must be appropriate.
It said this applies to electronic communication such as email and texting.
In addition, teachers should:
* Avoid conflict between their professional work and private interests;
* Not knowingly access or download inappropriate materials or images in electronic or any other format while engaged in school activities;
* Report anything that effects a pupil’s welfare.
The code specifically allows for teachers to breach confidentiality where the wellbeing of others is an issue, or where there is a legal imperative to disclose information gained in the course of their work.
The new rules also govern professional standards and are underpinned by principles of respect, care, integrity and trust.
A Teaching Council spokeswoman said teachers should use their professional judgement when it comes to the use of the internet or social media.
"There are many merits to the use of social networking by schools in a learning context, but there is a distinction to be made between private interactions and educational use," she said.
The Irish Examiner reported last week that at least six teachers have been fired by their schools for misconduct since new disciplinary procedures took effect in 2009.
However, the powers due to be given to the Teaching Council would give it the ability to hold fitness-to-teach inquiries.
As well as removing someone from its register of teachers, the council will be able to impose conditions on a teacher’s registration, such as requirements to do extra training, or to suspend registration pending certain conditions being met.
More than 73,000 teachers are currently on the register and anyone who is not by early in the next school year, will not be paid for teaching work by the Department of Education.
Journalist: Niall Murray