Student-teacher friendships are complicated affairs, some of them developing into real affairs – I have several married acquaintances who met in the classroom as teacher and student. This may seem unremarkable here, but in the UK a teacher who embarks on a relationship with a student, no matter what the student’s age, is viewed as unprofessional at best and, at worst, is in danger of losing their job.
So what should a teacher do when a student asks to be a Facebook friend? Call me naïve, but when I was first placed in this position I accepted without a second thought. It was from an 18 year old moving on to university and seemed a natural way of keeping up a casual connection.
It seems that in the UK, such an action might lay me open to an accusation of abusing my position. Reading a British teachers’ forum the other day I was startled to find a strand by a panic-stricken teacher asking for advice after receiving a friendship request from a 10 year old in her class. I know 10 year olds aren’t supposed to be on Facebook, but as long as they register as 14 there is nothing to stop them. This poor woman was asking whether she should “confess” the sin of this request to her line manager in case it was discovered later and held against her. Needless to say, she was looking for a way to decline the invitation without hurting the child’s feelings.
Incidentally, I now also think that turning down Facebook friendships with current students is a good idea. I’ve discovered too late that, for many, I’ve become their online homework advisor – a role I do not relish when I’m winding down from work. Thanks to a technologically savvy friend, I have now made good use of my privacy options. This offended one student to the extent that she “de-friended” me. It seems that for her the only attraction of being friends with a teacher was snooping. With friends like that…
Another dilemma is seeing things that your younger students have posted that maybe you shouldn’t. I’m often amazed at the (admittedly trivial) insights into the lives of students, and it can help in class discussions. Sometimes, though, ignorance would be bliss.
Having a wide circle of friends can prove very stimulating, and if you’re lucky enough to have international friends then you have the opportunity to read comments in other languages, which can widen vocabulary and give you the chance to read articles you might not otherwise have found. One friend regularly posts from British newspapers that I never have time to browse. I also get to broaden my musical taste.
I’d never heard of the Bloody Beetroots until a recently ex-student posted about the experience of attending one of their concerts. He wrote: “Went crowd surfing, pogoing, got knocked out and was kissed by a random girl.” Facebook is definitely an education for everybody!