“Damn, mister,” one of my students during my summer Institute program said. “I thought you’d have, like, a picture of you in a tie or something, but you got your shirt off!”
When dealing with internet-savvy students, privacy requires some consideration. Some of my friends opted to delete their Facebook profiles, or make them unsearchable. I didn’t take this route, but the barrage of comments I was subjected to when my students saw one of my profile pictures (a shot of me, shirtless, grabbing a chicken out of midair; don’t ask) made me wary of giving students a too-accurate glimpse into my “real” life.
Not exactly like this, but you get the idea.
It’s an odd thing having to create a separate persona for work and home. Obviously everyone has to do this to some extent, but my youth makes it even more of a necessity. I don’t particularly want my students to know that I am (in some cases) only 5 or 6 years their senior.
My assistant principal told me, in my first week of teaching, “They’re going to try to pull you in and make you one of them, and then you’ll be lost.” I understand what he meant, but I tend to err on the side of over-friendliness. I occasionally answer personal questions (although never the most popular one, regarding my age) and I play video games with my favorite students on Friday afternoons.
It's a lot like this.
Still, I try to maintain my boundaries. I was hesitant to allow students to call my cell phone, but Google Voice has an ingenious service through which one can set up a proxy number that forwards calls to one’s usual phone. By using the service, I can block calls at certain times of the day, and record a more professional-sounding answering machine. Plus, it allows students to reach me when they really need help.
I always get a text message or two when a project is due, asking last-minute questions, but occasionally I get something more amusing – a “whatz up” peppered with smiley faces, or a “yo mr. n howz it goin???????” These texts are illuminating as a writing teacher, as I now know the source of their unusual ideas regarding punctuation. By far my favorite call, however, was from a student I will call “The Anteater.” Observe:
T.A.: “Hey Mr. N. How’s it going?”
Mr. N: “Well, and you?”
T.A.: “Good. Did we have any homework tonight?”
Mr. N: “Nope.”
T.A.: “Also I have another question.”
At this point his words started tumbling out at high speed.
He was panting into the telephone receiver, deathly afraid of what he had done. I began to laugh. Earlier that day, I taught an ecology lesson about invasive species, and over and over again decried the evils of ants; I talked about their ability to reproduce and spread and destroy habitats, so he assumed that, given all of their terrible qualities, they must be poisonous to boot. I tried to stifle my laughter enough to convince him that he’d be fine.
It is undeniably flattering to be the first person a student calls when he suspects he is overdosing on ants.