How much of a personal relationship with students is TOO personal?
Your mind probably jumps to those very obvious lines that were crossed by Mary Kay LeTourneu and others who join her ill-reputed ranks. Let's just assume that a sexual relationship with a minor is TOO personal. I'm not talking about sexual relationships. I'm talking more along the lines of blurring the lines of mentor & friend.
In classes and other pedagogical conferences, I've heard encouragement that teachers should share some of their personal lives with students. They will respect you if they can see you as a real person instead of a robot or just an echo of authority. Though I've heard that encouragement - and thinking back to being a student, I remember enjoying learning more about my teacher - I'll admit upfront that I don't get personal enough with my students.
In my professional, as well as personal life, I'm fairly private. I'm rather reserved and don't make a lot overt offerings of personal info; if someone asks me about my life, I'm willing to open up, but until I really get to know ya, I'll just take a quiet backseat. In my classroom, then, I don't know that I am able to push those natural personal boundaries. Because I prefer to be private, I don't naturally extend those personal questions to students, and I'm somewhat reserved in my answers to their personal questions. Additionally, the reminder is ever present in my mind that I'm their teacher, not their friend. Sometimes, I don't want to know what goes on in their personal lives -- very often, I look at them differently because of it (sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not). There's some things I don't want to know; likewise, there's some things that I don't need to know.
Still, I need to be better about engaging them personally. I am aware of my personal inhibitions, so I need to be more purposeful in overcoming them.
But then I question, how much is too much? Yes, we should be accessible to students for consultations or help. Most of us have school email addresses that students & parents could contact with questions or information. But that's a professional email address. Would you give out your personal cell phone number? There are some teachers at my school who give students their cell phone numbers and will allow students to text questions about schoolwork (I presume that's all there is). Some other teachers may need those students' cell numbers if the teacher is also a coach who may need extra points of contact. What about Facebook & Myspace? I've seen some teachers who befriend students on Facebook once the student is no longer in his/her class. I'm still uncomfortable with that. I don't want my students to see the goofy pictures/videos I take with friends/family. They already know I'm crazy, but they also need to know I'm professional. Teens like to categorize & label their world - in general, they have difficulty with "Gray" areas. Which means the pressure is on the teacher to maintain a firm line between student & teacher...and I think teachers make it more difficult on yourself, as a teacher, when you begin blurring that line. Or at least re-drawing it.
Or am I just being over-cautious & paranoid?
What do you think: where's the line? Would you give a student your personal cell phone number and allow them to text/call you?
What do you think? How much personal information/contact is too much?