This week, a former student came to visit me. During our conversation, I asked how her classes were going and which classes she was really enjoying? As she began to talk about classes she took the previous semester, she mentioned a particular class that I assumed would have been one of her favorites. When I made that comment, she stated, “I learned more about my professor’s life than actual content from the course.”
What?!?! Epic fail with a capital F!
Personal examples can be powerful tools in the classroom. They can help you to form connections with your students – build relationships. They make you relatable to your students – you really are an actual person outside of the classroom.
Personal examples can help to illustrate topics that you are presenting. I often use stories about my children or former teaching experiences in the K-12 setting, when they are relevant to topics that I am teaching. But, it is important to know when enough is enough. It is also important to keep in mind the appropriateness of what is being shared.
You are an authority figure. Students must respect you, your position, and the relationship you have with them. Failure to keep these boundaries can lead to consequences later. Form a connection, but remember there is still the need for boundaries.
I present personal information when it directly supports a topic being discussed. I may include a picture of my children on a powerpoint when it relates to a topic I am teaching. I may share an example from my K-12 teaching days or a personal anecdote about something that happened to me as a child, in high school, or as an undergraduate student. But, the example is always used to support the topic I am teaching.
Keeping Your Opinion to Yourself
On a similar note, there are also times when I refrain from sharing my personal stories, opinions, or experiences on a topic. I may want students to form their own opinions. Therefore, I refrain from sharing how a feel or think about a topic. I play devils advocate during this type of discussion and demonstrate respect for both sides. By sharing opposing views, students are exposed to information on the topic, and they are provided the opportunity to form or adapt their current position.
Personal Contact Information
You should also determine what type of personal contact information you will share with students. Will you provide your cell phone number? Will you include a personal email address? Will you use a system like Remind?
Jessi and I differ in the type of information we share with students. Read our individual polices below:
The classes that I teach are generally 90+ students. The majority of the students are underclassmen. In addition, I have Instructional Assistants to help me in the larger classes. Therefore, I do not share my personal cell phone with students. I also do not provide them with my personal email. My students have access to my work email and forums that are established within my class to communicate individually as well as to ask questions that the entire class can see. They are also provided the phone number to my office. I hold office hours weekly and will schedule appointments with student if they are in need of assistance. I like to keep my personal life and my professional life a bit separate when it comes to communication with my students. With that being said, I also do not “friend” my students on Social Media sites, like Facebook. I am cautious when “friending” colleagues who are connected with current students on social media sites. I keep my account set to private.
I am a bit more lenient with these boundaries after students graduate. However, this depends upon the student and the relationship I have formed with them. If they are trustworthy and responsible, then I am more likely to connect with them on social media or even provide some personal contact information. For example, I have some alumni who currently work with me as Instructional Assistants, who I am connected with on social media and they also have my personal cell phone number.
I agree with Laura – class size can dictate the types of stories and examples that get shared. I also would add that the size of the major and involvement with student clubs and other activities can also impact what you share. Overall, I am much more liberal with my information than Laura. I take time at the beginning of my classes to share personal information and events from my life with my classes. I also invite students to do the same. The stories shared help to build community and personalize the classroom. I have invited students, who are involved in a club I sponsor, to my home for a Christmas party, game nights, and scary movie nights. However, I never host these events alone; there is always another faculty member (usually from my department) present, who stays for the entire event. I do not give my address to all of my students. Furthermore, I also give select students my cell phone number. For example, students who are helping me with research projects, students I want to connect with to get coffee, or students in clubs that I sponsor have access to my personal cell phone number.
Regardless of how you plan to interact with your students, whether only during school hours on campus or by participating in off-campus activities, I still warn each of you to use caution! It is important that you are aware of the policies and procedures of the university. If communication through personal cell phones or off-campus interactions and actives are prohibited, then you must abide by the rules set forth by the institution. It is also important to remember to keep a professional relationship regardless of where and how you are interacting with students. It has been made very clear to me that if anything were ever to happen in my home or if an allegation were to be made, I would lose my job. So take time to consider the pros and cons of your interactions and ask yourself….is it worth the risk?
Moral of this story is….if your students know more about you, than the course content at the end of the semester, you have failed them! Share personal stories but do so in a conscientious and cautious manner. Remember, it is important to maintain authority while also form relationships and teach the content. Boundaries and balance are the key!