Today I was the art teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High. This was the first time I’ve subbed for an art teacher in over two years. It was a good day. The 8th graders were making “handscapes” (landscapes that featured hands in atypical locations, such as in the place of tree branches or clouds or ears of corn). The 7th graders were making balancing toys–paper images weighted with pennies and made to balance on the end of a pencil. The 6th graders were making pictures of their dream locker interiors, which included video game systems, secret rooms, soda machines, etc. With just one exception, everyone was working on the assigned project the entire class period.
I love how middle school students are so interested in knowing who I am beyond just the substitute teacher. They ask me questions about music, literature, movies, television, whether or not I’m married, where I went to school, how old I am, what my first name is, what my wife’s name is, how I get my hair to look so awesome, etc, etc. I also have the occasional student ask if he or she can add me as a friend on Facebook. This happened today. The conversation went something like this:
Student: Hey, Mr. Valencic, what’s your first name? I want to add you as a friend on Facebook!
Me: Sorry, I don’t accept friend requests from students.
Student: Oh, okay.
I have had surprisingly few students attempt to add me a friend. Two are high school students in Mahomet. I did not accept either friend request, though. Some may think I have some sort of double-standard, because I have many, many, many friends on Facebook who are in high school. These are young men and women who I have come to know through Operation Snowball, Inc. and the Illinois Teen Institute. In each case, I have a strict policy (which I shamelessly stole from my friend and drug prevention field colleague, Rob Grupe) regarding friend requests: I do not add teens, but teens may add me. However, the relationship I have with these teens is not the same as the professional relationship I have with students. While it is a professional relationship, the nature of these prevention programs leads to a greater degree of friendship and I am also a resource for these students to find support in building up their prevention programs at home.
Due to the incredibly public nature of Facebook, despite the numerous attempts to create security restrictions, I always make sure that I would never be ashamed to let my mother, my employer, or my ecclesiastical leaders see what I have posted online. (This is also true for my blogging.) I am always shocked when I hear or read about teachers who do not maintain these professional boundaries. I have heard of a high school discipline counselor who friends teens, has joined a group dedicated to her, and has had pictures of herself drinking alcohol posted in the same mobile uploads album with pictures of her students. To me, it just makes so much more sense to treat Facebook as a semi-professional outlet and to remember that just because you can make something available online, doesn’t mean that you should.
Have a great weekend!