Monday, August 29, 2016

Friends on Facebook?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

There it was, in my local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, nestled among accounts of shootings and police brutality, was an article I found so relevant to my professional context that I had to channel my mother and clip it out to take in to work. The title, Should you be Facebook Friends with Teacher?, really rang a bell with me.

I don’t have children, so I don’t need to worry about being friends with their teachers. I also don’t teach children anymore, so I don’t have to grapple with the question of friending the parents of my students. However, as a teacher of adults, I often get friend requests from my students. I also get friend requests from other teachers who are friends with their students. All these friend requests, while flattering, put me in an awkward position. I suspect I am not alone.

My Facebook Friends are my Friends

As Ciulac’s brief article in The Baltimore Sun pointed out, “Facebook is where I blow off steam to some of my dearest friends.” I am not in “teacher mode” when I am posting pictures of my husband renovating the bathroom or of my gorgeous new niece. The pictures I share on Facebook are personal, meant for friends and family who really know me. I have been known to post pictures of professional accomplishments, but Facebook gives me a chance to share my proud moments with my friends. It is not my resume. As one of the experts in Ciulac’s article argues, teachers “are entitled to a private life, as well as having their own embarrassing friends and family.”

The Gray Area between Accept and Reject

When students send me a friend request, I (with a pang of guilt) reject it. When I see the person in class, I say something along the lines of, “Thank you for your friend request, but I am only friends with my family on Facebook.” No one has ever responded negatively to that, but I can’t help but worry that I am being rude. (Don’t get me wrong. I am not so worried that I will start accepting all the requests I get. But, I worry.) That is usually the end of that.

The real gray area for me is when colleagues send me friend requests. Some of them I am friends with in real life, so accepting the request is a no-brainer. They are people who already know that my husband is notorious for doing heavy labor in flip flops and have already cooed over baby pictures of my smiling niece. However, sometimes I get requests from teachers whom I like very much, but who are friends with many of their students, who also happen to have the potential to become my students. Those requests are trickier. I hate to reject a colleague, but I also would rather keep my personal life personal. I usually have an awkward conversation with them after I’ve rejected their request and then feel bad about it for weeks. It’s certainly not the ideal situation.

Merging the Public and the Private

Some people seem to deal with this issue without the angst I feel. Dorothy Zemach, who I do happen to be Facebook friends with, has a well over 1000 friends from all around the world. She generally posts ELT and publishing related stuff, but sometimes her posts are more personal. She appears to be generally comfortable balancing the private and public aspects of her life in a way I am not. However, she does have her limits, as detailed in her posting in this very blog last year called My Dear.

In lieu of changing my personality entirely, I could create a professional Facebook account and friend colleagues and students willy-nilly. It’s true that would solve the problem completely. However, it would create two more problems.

(1) What would I do with the people who I work with but whom I am also real-life friends with? What about the woman who has an office across from me who not only shares supervision duties of our large adjunct faculty but also, from time to time, texts me inspirational quotes about staying on my diet? Is she a personal friend or a professional friend?

(2) Who has the time? I mean, seriously, it took me weeks to post pictures of my family from my holiday in Canada. How in the world can I come up with the extra time to do yet another thing for work?

So, what’s your opinion? Are you friends with all and sundry? Do you keep your friend list to a minimum? Do you eschew Facebook entirely, preferring face-to-face conversations? How do you deal with friend requests in this increasingly digital world?

Ciulac, A. (2016 August 7) Should you be Facebook friends with teacher? The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from


Comment from Tamara Jones
September 6, 2016 at 1:27 pm

I wanted to share this post that came through Facebook all the way from Iraq because (1) we have readers in Iraq – how cool is that? and (2) I thought it clearly stated what I also feel.

“I am a high school teacher in Iraq and got many friend requests from my own students yet I accepted none of them. It seems to me that Facebook is so private to your life and relates to you and your friends not your students and student`s parents. If not you`d get restricted and practice your free times and freedom.”

Thanks for sharing!

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