There’s a fine line to walk when writing a blog about your own life. On the one hand, I want to add enough detail to make it interesting and engaging, but on the other I don’t really want the world figuring out which Sainsbury’s you visit or what your address in New York was. Add the fact that I teach teenagers who are still technically minors and it becomes a lawless wild west of the internet. Except what is the equivalent of riding on a stagecoach with a shotgun? I don’t think there is one.
I try to avoid names on my blog and give everyone (somewhat lame) internet aliases, or refer to them obliquely. I think this is my attempt to not advertise my entire life–after all, this is a blog, not a reality show. However, even oblique references have caused me some serious trouble. Back before my wedding I wrote a rather bitter blog about people who couldn’t come because I was hurt and disappointed. After all, getting married is a time when you think of having all the people you know and love gathered round you, and I didn’t have that. I did perhaps overreact–after all, people have legitimate reasons for not flying across an ocean for a party–but even at the time I was mindful of other people’s privacy and did not mention any names, or even any details about the persons I was mentioning. Even so, I got an angry facebook message from one of the friends in question, saying basically how dare I, that I should have addressed this with him first (a fair point), but really upset that I mentioned him so publicly for shaming. Except…I don’t really think that’s what I did. The back and forth got really tense and horrible, and I think I lost a friend over it. I got a perfunctory happy birthday wall post, but the Christmas card I sent got returned, and there was not even a ‘sorry I can’t be there’ message when I invited everyone out when I was back in NYC over Easter.
Then there is the matter of students. Working with students is particularly tricky because a lot of them like to friend teachers on Facebook. It’s easy to see why–it allows students to spy on what their teachers are like after work hours. Do they really go into pods inside those lockers no one can open? Or do they exist in the real world–is such a thing even possible? I remember back before teachers wore ID badges or sent emails that had their first and last names on, my friends and I would have conversations about what our teachers’ first names were. One time I saw my history teacher leaving a store I was about to visit, and I made my dad wait in the car because I didn’t know how to cope with saying hi to a teacher outside of school, in the wild.
Nowadays though, students email their teachers regularly for homework help and to send them assignments. Friending on Facebook is the next step–they can see what their teachers’ lives are like without actually having to interact. Isn’t that the beauty of the internet for everyone? We get to see what celebrities are thinking on twitter, and they willingly share it with us. Not that I’m comparing teachers to celebrities–that would just be ridiculous.
But on the other side of the coin, perhaps that’s just the internet age–everyone expects to be able to access everyone else. I know I’m surprised when I hear that people don’t ‘do’ Facebook. My husband has a blog and I like getting mentioned in it. So again, the question becomes where the line is between public and private.
There is a teacher at my old school in NYC who used to friend students. As he was well past middle aged, this seemed a bit creepy. My policy is that students can friend me–after I’m no longer their teacher. Normally this means after they’ve graduated, but after I left my school (notice no names) last year, I said my students could friend me, and many of them did. I have to say, this is one of the best policies I’ve had. I know what’s going on at my old school and in their lives, and it’s really cool to know them as people, at least in part. I also get to see graduated students go on to bigger and better things, and I can’t help but feel a flash of pride when I see them in caps and gowns at college graduations. It is a way of staying connected to these kids who flit through your life and out again, changing you and leaving you with little idea of whether you are making any impact on them. Although based on a blog post I did have a student send me a message that made me tear up about how they won’t forget my class and still use the things I taught them, which is probably among the most wonderful things anyone’s ever said to me.
All said, while being honest and open online can have its hazards, the rewards outweigh the risks when it comes to sharing the details. I’m not about to post my Social Security number or anything, but it’s worth sharing the details.