Drawing the Social Line

I tend to blend my work and personal lives together. I have one computer that I mostly use. My living room serves as my main work, relax, and inside play area. I grade papers while the kids run amok. I will talk about my kids and share the highlights of my weekend with my students.

But I have always tried to draw some lines. I don’t share my political or religious views with my students. I certainly stay away from some of my wilder youth stories (if there are any).

The Internet has a caused me to reconsider some of the lines I’ve drawn over the years. Initially this blog had no name on it – while I didn’t hide my identity, I didn’t publicize it. I wrote about politics and made semi-veiled references to events in my classroom. Once Dan McDowell publicly became A History Teacher, those posts stopped. My audience clearly became other teachers and educational technologists. The more personal posts disappeared, or at least only made occasional appearances. I’m sure some students found and occasionally read a post, but I think most would have found them boring.

As the tools for networking continue to expand, so do the possibilities for greater and more varied connections. I use my Twitter and Flickr accounts for both professional and personal uses – even my 365 in 2009 images include a mix of images taken at school and at home. About a year ago I set up a Facebook account and connected to a handful of other educational technology types. Eventually some former students found me and I accepted their friend invitations. I rarely, if ever looked at it until about three months ago. Some old high school and college friends started adding me as friends. Then my wife got on it with her network of friends and before I knew it I had: educational technology contacts, former professors, teachers from my school, former students, family members, college friends, high school friends, and parents of my kids friends. All in the same room.

Now I only have about 50 friends in Facebook, but it is a diverse and high quality group. There might be a story or two (remember I said might) from high school or college that I wouldn’t want passed on to my family or former students or current co-workers. A friend (both in Facebook and real life) related to me a incident where he asked another friend to take down some college party-type pictures because he was concerned about his professional contacts seeing the images.

I already strictly adhere to the rule that I don’t friend current students, but this is now bigger than just sharing information with students. I’ve always had parts of my life compartmentalized with only occasionaly cross-over. To truely enjoy and continue some of these friendships in Facebook, I have to blur the lines I’ve drawn for my entire life. I am just grappling with how to do that now.

No doubt I am not the only one experiencing this, what are you doing about it?

12 thoughts on “Drawing the Social Line”

  1. Dan I think this is a great post. I’ve grappled with this all the time, especially as a younger teacher with whom students tend to associate, or at least want to, on a more personal level. I actually stayed away from Facebook for a long time due to my discomfort with having too much access to their lives. I don’t really fear what people might learn about me, but instead worry about being tempted to see what my students are up to. So I’ve got a basic policy, as do you: Just Say No to current students on Facebook. I have colleagues who completely disagree, and use facebook to communicate homework assignments, etc.
    Twitter, on the other hand, is a bit different. There’s no pictures, no personal info…just what you want to update. In the last few weeks students have started joining twitter, and while at first I was uncomfortable with it, I now love that my students follow me, and I follow them back. It’s been very enjoyable and has, I would claim, granted more mutual respect in those relationships.
    I got a funny tweet the other day. I was supervising kids doing researching in the library, had tweetdeck open, and one of my students in the class tweeted: “Aren’t you supposed to be teaching kids?” I tweeted back “Aren’t you supposed to be learning?”

    Keep up the good posts, I enjoy reading them.

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    1. You are right about also knowing too much about the students. Many don’t know how to self-filter online and I just don’t want to know some things about them. I definitely agree with that line. I’ve considered setting up a class Twitter account, I think there might be some value there.

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  2. I had this same dilemma when a friend from high school made a comment that was, let’s just say inappropriate. I also have professors, family, etc on my FB. I was lucky enough to catch the comment immediately and remove it. I immediately let my friend know the ground rules. So, just be diligent and follow up asap with anyone who crosses the line. Most people know not to do it, but a few need to know where YOU draw the line.

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  3. As a new blogger — one who has seen this one come up a couple times — I was struck by some of the experiences and issues described here. (Wish I’d read it before I launched!) Anyway, thanks for the insight. Glad to add this to my reader.

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  4. I too struggle with this, status updates about events in the workplace that I wish I hadn’t said – comments by relatives that I wish my business friends wouldn’t see, or vice-versa.
    I do categorize my Facebook friends and adjust my privacy settings accordingly. One young, more Facebook savvy friend recommends grouping your facebook friends into friends, close friends and really close friends, then adjusting your privacy settings so that to start with “Friends” can see nothing. Close friends, see for instance your personal info and certain photos but not all, and really close friends see your status updates as well as everything else.

    As for blogging publicly, yes, one needs to “think before you speak”

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  5. I just got onto Facbook, and I have only my profile picture on it because, as I have repeatedly warned my students and my kids, no matter what your settings, these things are not private– they’re on the internet. (One almost wants to add, “Duh.”)

    I have a strict no student as friend policy. A former student who moved away wanted to befriend me, but since he’s friends with students at my school, and since he knows my school email if he wants to say hi, I declined. He’s a great kid, but we’ve had two teachers this year alone get into trouble with how they contacted students on the net or other forms of communication.

    As I have constantly reminded myself at my anonymous blog, you cannot control what information you’ve shared once it’s on the net or in any electronic form. I am also very careful about what I reveal about my students or my school on the blog, even though no one at school knows I write it. I know this has made my blog less interesting. Anything I do write about, I hide identities and obfuscate any particulars that are unnecessary.

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  6. I think that lives are laid so bare on the internet and the younger generation sometimes seem to fundamentally misunderstand that. I was always of the opinion that over time the online world and the offline world would be so integrated that they would be somewhat indistinguishable, but as many of these social networks have aged the code of conduct people observe has not integrated as I would have expected. I really have to spend some time thinking about why this might be the case, but in general I think a certain filter and boundaries are extremely healthy things and to the extent you are one of those who can actually draw that line I would say go ahead.

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  7. It is tough to find where to draw that line between your personal web presence and your professional one. I do always try to keep my personal areas just that but yet at a level of decency that I would expect any employer to easily scrutinize. It is tough to do and requires diligence but for teachers especially it must be done.

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  8. I realize this is an older post, but I felt compelled to respond.

    I’m a college graduate who has had the “Be careful what you do online” sword dangled over my head since I started my education program. My roommate and I both found an interesting solution to blurring the line between our social lives and our classroom lives. We both have facebook and have gone over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure all of our content is appropriate for possible employers as well as parents. Yet there was a lot on our profiles that we felt captured our personality — but was not the business of our students. This included religious and political ideas, as well as some of our dorky hobbies. Both of us felt uncomfortable at the end of our student teaching friending students.

    So we both created second facebooks. The idea actually started with one of our fellow graduate-teachers. My social facebook, while content appropriate, is completely unsearchable. However, my professional facebook, made for students, fellow teacher, and professors, is open to anyone and has served well to keep lines of communication open, without revealing anything I consider gray areas for my students.

    As for blogging, I’m somewhat brand new on that scene. I’ve decided to keep my name, location, and technical information unpublished. Even though I doubt I will post anything troublesome, I figured it would be the safest route to take.

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  9. This was great to read because as a college student working towards becoming a teacher I am in the center of the networking world through Facebook and other sources. I think often whether when I become a teacher if I should keep my networking accounts from high school and college. This was a great point of view to look at to give me some feedback on the pros and cons for when I do finally start the process of looking for a teaching job, and when I actually am a teacher in a few years. Thanks!
    -Lydia

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  10. I have drawn my own lines to because its necessary,there are things to share and things to hide.
    As teachers we are in a very delicate position so we need to be cautious.

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