The flipside of the question about how much personal information I want to share with my students is how much I want to know about them.
Getting to Know You
When I meet a new class of students, I do a ‘getting to know you’ exercise that is outlined in my post about learning students’ names. In it, I ask them to tell me a bit about themselves: their name, how old they are, where they’re from, hobbies, work, and why they’re studying what they are studying. Sometimes I ask them to tell me something that is particularly interesting about themselves.
Each of these components has some reasoning behind it. I want to know their name for obvious reasons: I want to be able to use their name when I call on them. And I believe it makes them feel seen.
I ask their age because I like to know the outliers in the class. I once had a 16-year-old in a class of mostly 17 and 18-year-olds. Similarly, I’ve had 23-year-olds in the same situation. Also, the question I ask is “What kinds of things do you want to know about someone when you first meet them?” And the students always say age.
Knowing where a student is from is just good information. Most of my students are locals, even coming from the same city. Some come from smaller cities or villages. Occasionally I have a foreign student or someone with an interesting background. Again, it’s just information.
Hobbies and work are just so I have something to hang onto when I’m trying to remember their name. She’s the girl who owns a horse. He’s the guy who works in a flower shop.
The same goes for why they’re studying what they’re studying. I generally get “I decided to study _________ because it’s a broad subject and I can decide exactly what I want to do later.” (I’ve heard this with Communication, Commercial Economics, Human Resources and Psychology students.)
I’ve had students who tell me they’re dyslexic. They want me to know, but they’re really nothing I can do. Occasionally I get a student with some sort of medical condition that’s pertinent to them being in my class, as they might have to miss class. Beyond that, I don’t need to know medical stuff. Also, will I really remember it?
What I Don’t Want to Know
The list of things I don’t want to know about students includes anything that does not have to do with their participation in my class. I don’t want to know what they did last weekend in terms of partying. I don’t want to know the details of why they need to rush to the restroom during class. I once had a class of female dancers all in their late teens. At the end of the year, one of them said, “Everyone in our class has had a pregnancy scare this year.” Really? I didn’t want to know that. Also, breakups. I’m not on that committee. I don’t want to know about that. Home address and contact beyond school email? I don’t need to know that.
It’s informative to know about deaths in the family, parental divorces, moving house and other personal life events that might affect a student’s attendance and performance in class, but beyond that, I don’t want to know. Students are teenagers and young adult. They have messy lives. I’d rather not know the details. Does this make me sound callous? In my defense, I have colleagues whose job it is to deal with those issues and to disseminate that information to me if I need to know.
Boundaries are personal. These are mine. Are yours much different?