You’re a teacher – and a person. You have a life and activities outside of the classroom. (Sometimes). Like most people, you are on social media.
And so are your students.
What’s the appropriate boundary between teacher and student? Some people have hard lines, ones never crossed. Other teachers are comfortable interacting freely outside of the classroom. I’m in the middle of those two.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I will explain what I do, and how my friends who are teachers handle it – no judgement! Like so much, it depends on each situation and person. If you are seeking personal and social media boundaries as a teacher, here are some ideas.
What I do: My personal Facebook page is private. As I explain rules and guidelines the first days of school, I also tell students this. I’m not friends with my students on Facebook. My blog has a Facebook page, but as I joke, they might find it boring.
The exception is once students graduate. The final day with seniors, I tell them that I will accept their friend requests. I will not request them, but if they want to connect on Facebook, that’s fine. I haven’t had any problems with this policy.
What others do: Most of my teacher friends are friends with their students on Facebook. The adults know this, and never post anything but generic information, maybe a few pictures. Other teachers have two accounts – one for students (where they make announcements and post “teacher-y” type things) and one for personal life. I’ve only run across one teacher who has said she is never friends with a student, past or present.
What I do: I give students my work email (naturally). I check this email before I go to bed and reply to student or parent questions. I have forgotten to check, however. I now tell students I try to check my email, and almost always do.
What others do: Aside from work email, some teachers give students a personal email address too. This is easier for providing feedback on papers or clarifying homework. Some teachers check email at work, period.
I’m not super possessive of my email address, and I used to give students a personal one. Over the years, I’ve had one problem. Students frequently change email addresses as they head to college or get married. Their old emails spam me! I imagine they don’t have access to old email addresses (like I don’t!) and it’s annoying.
What I do: I have two Twitter and Pinterest accounts. One is for work, the other is personal. On Twitter, my personal account is private.
On my @elaclassroom Twitter account, I post educational ideas, blog posts from other teachers, educational products… I imagine most students wouldn’t find it too engaging. Perfect. If they do follow it? That’s perfect too.
What others do: Unless you only have secret Pinterest boards, Pinterest is open. Twitter – private or not.
What I do: I do not give my cell phone numbers out. My landline is unlisted.
The only exception to this was when I was a class sponsor. During Homecoming and prom weeks, I wanted the student council to communicate with me while buying products, meeting for float building, etc. I asked them not to give my phone number out, and I was never pranked.
What others do: I had a coworker once who put her home phone number in her class syllabus. She said it was never abused and had very few phone calls. Other teachers don’t take pains to hide their phone number, but don’t freely give it either.
Other teachers use a service to communicate with teachers and parents.
I remember several school years ago, a teacher telling my class that she lived out of town and that her phone number was unlisted. Twenty years changes situations. I just searched for that very teacher on Facebook, and she popped up.
Some school districts have guidelines or rules in place for teacher-student communication. If not, the choice will largely be yours. What do you feel is professional? What makes you and your family comfortable? When deciding personal and social media boundaries for teachers, consider a range of potential problems and benefits.