When I started teaching at university level in the Netherlands, I realized that teachers often encouraged students to call them by their first name. I did it for the first year, but when I changed schools, I decided that I would be Mr. Baker. Yes, the students at my new school were a bit younger, but it also just felt right to me. They knew my name was Andy, but I always said, “It’s Mr. Baker.” I liked having that boundary. We’re not friends. This is a teacher-student relationship.
Interestingly, when I look back at my own undergraduate program and my favorite teachers, they are Pam, Mary, Jean and Joe. Not a Mr. or Ms. in the bunch. And that was the Eighties in Texas.
This got me thinking about both how much I want my students to know about me and how much I want to know about them. Everyone has their own rules. These are mine.
What They Know
My students know that I am gay, that I am married, that I live in Amsterdam, that I American, that I was born in Texas, and that I spent a good chunk of time in New York City. These are all just demographic bits of information that they could probably find online. I even told a class of students that my mother has Alzheimer’s because I was concerned I might have to take a few weeks off if she were to die. (This was years ago and she is still with us. Alzheimer’s takes its own time and my mother is apparently not yet ready to go.)
What They Don’t Know
But what would I not tell them? I wouldn’t tell them if I had some chronic or terminal illness. I don’t know what would be gained from that. I mean I would if I thought it might come up and that I might have to miss class. (This was my reasoning for disclosing my mother’s illness.) I wouldn’t tell them if I were having marital difficulties. I wouldn’t tell them if I were having housing issues, again unless it would somehow affect them. I note all of these because I have had colleagues share this information with students.
I don’t friend students on Facebook until they have graduated. (And then I have to re-train them to call me Andy.) However, I will connect with students on LinkedIn. I have connected with former students on other social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter), but I don’t know that I would connect with a current student. I’ve even had former students visit Toastmasters. I’m always thrilled when that happens.
Being connected to a current student on social media just feels like having a student poke his their nose in the teacher’s lounge. We’re not doing anything illicit, but get out. Mine your own business! There is always the possibility of having a student-friendly version of social media accounts, but I would need a good reason for creating and juggling one more of those.
Boundaries are personal. What feels right to me might not feel right to you, and vice versa. Also, what felt right to me as a student doesn’t feel right to me now that I am the teacher. However, I absolutely believe that it’s something we all need to think about and consider. These are important relationships, and our interactions with our students should be well considered.
What are the boundaries you’ve set with your students?