This year, I decided to do something I haven't in years past: add every single student I teach to Line groups for reminding them of things, posting scheduling changes, and anything else that may come up. (For those of you outside of Asia, Line is a messaging app similar to WhatsApp.)
On the flip side, the groups give students access to me via another communications medium, specifically useful for more personal issues that don't create the paper trail that email does. The primary side effect of this decision is a far closer integration between school life and home life. Have I made the right decision?
I never did this with classes I taught when I was at a government school here in Thailand; the English barrier made such an idea impractical, and I previously taught younger (middle school) students... too young to benefit from or make good use of such a group in my mind.
My current high school students, though, seem to use the groups only when necessary, and I've found it has created more unified classes (for me and them) than previous courses I've taught.
Wrong to pry
I will note that I am not a Facebook user (I just have no interest in what people are doing every ten seconds), and although I know some teachers have Facebook groups for their students, I really don't want to be prying into their lives that much-nor the other way around. Call me old fashioned, but I think there are just too many ways to get in a tight spot with that level of connection, even with profiles created separately and specifically for school use.
I'll also note that my school uses Google Classroom, an online assignment submission platform, and I've found (surprise surprise) that students tire quickly of the automatically generated emails it sends every time a teacher posts something. Line seems to fill that happy medium between too formal and too informal.
These things said, in the past I made it a point of leaving school at school, and keeping home at home. That's no longer the case; it's quite common for me to get Line messages from students asking about assignments, grammar questions, and the odd joke well past midnight, and holidays are fair game too. Is it obtrusive? Do I feel like I have to reply? Not really. But still, it's far easier to ignore an email than it is to ignore a Line notification.
Ten years ago, it would be unheard of for a teacher to keep in such close contact with all students; I'm sure my mom (a teacher) would have been fired for asking a student after hours if he/she is ok after seeing an issue in class, and I'm not sure where the line is to be drawn between being a professional educator and a mentor. I'm also still not sure how willing I am to blur the lines between work and personal life; sometimes, you just want to get away from it all, but with these kinds of connections, that simply isn't possible.
In fact, I know a teacher who I believe burned himself out with so many connections. He recently deleted Line cold-turkey, leaving everyone used to the constant interaction to wonder what happened. I'm not surprised; keeping up with that many students 24/7 can easily lead to information/gossip/interaction overload.
Still, even with all of these grey areas-and feel free to disagree - I think the social media connections have been more helpful than harmful, and I'll likely continue the practice with classes to come.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.