Friday, September 23, 2011

Can you share too much personal information with your students?

In my opinion, yes. Me teacher, you students and the twain should not meet on certain issues. Students don't want to see behind the veil and the teacher shouldn't put students in that uncomfortable position. Some personal disclosures may be ok depending on their nature (mentioning personal struggles related to the coursework - yes; talking about personal struggles concerning relationships, medical issues or other private matters - a big "no") but a teacher can definitely go too far to the detriment of maintaining a productive learning environment. But hey, that's just, like, my opinion. If you want to read what other teachers think about the issue, check out this column from the Chronicle of Higher Ed and scroll through the comments. Or, leave your thoughts below in our comment section.

Here's a comment from the CHE article that sums up my feelings about this pretty well:

I think there's a real difference between "sharing a bit of yourself" and sharing  profound emotional experiences/reactions.  I frequently tell stories "on" myself to prove that students who make errors join a big club, and sometimes stories about my son that illustrate a point I am trying to make.  This practice does establish a sense of connection.  But I would certainly NOT tell stories about hugely important, hugely affective issues.  Students are a captive audience, we're there to teach them, not to have a built-in confessional.



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Jim, this is a good issue for all of us to think about. I believe there are no stock answers here. My general rule is to treat my students as my colleagues in this regard as I do in other regards. Keep in mind as you read this that I only teach 2Ls and 3Ls.

Recently, I had to miss a week of class while helping provide hospice care for my Mom at home before her death. I told both of my classes that I was going off to my parents' house to do that. (FYI, I arranged a substitute teacher for one of the two classes for the week and gave the class a quiz at the end of the week. I conducted the other course's classes online through asynchronous discussion and a quiz. I told the students as much as I could about those plans for the class and what I expected would occur, but did not get into undue details.) This may have been uncomfortable for some of the students, but I felt that they deserved to understand the nature of the personal obligation that was interfering with my ability to be with them at this early point in the semester and to know when I might be back in the classroom

I took a similar approach with respect to a surgical procedure I had a bit over a year ago--telling the students in general what I expected would occur in terms of my availability and when I expected to be back. That episode turned into major surgery, so I had to adjust my planning along the way. But we did that together.

The students were responsible participants in the educational venture and a great source of support to me in both instances. They acted like the professionals that I assumed they were and that I want them to be. This may or may not be an approach with which others are comfortable, but I figured I would share it in case it is of use to others under similar circumstances.

Posted by: Joan Heminway | Sep 24, 2011 7:33:33 AM

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