Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Last week, on Sports Day, one of the students who graduated last year came back to visit school. He was one of two alumni, actually, who returned, and I was delighted to see them both. While we chatted, this former student said something that has stayed with me for some reason.

I was discussing how Facebook etiquette was quite different between students and teachers when I was in high school. Here in Korea, it appears to be very common for students to add their teachers as friends on Facebook, especially their homeroom teachers. Teachers, of course, reciprocrate, and the result is that the already very close teacher-student relationship enters a new dimension of sharing and openness in the social networking multiverse.

Way back in the 2000s, Facebook was just starting out, and it was, in fact, still restricted to college campuses when I was a freshman. I didn't think to add any of my high school teachers as friends on Facebook (except for my awesome Yearbook class adviser, Mrs. Dotson) until after I'd graduated. Even then, not a whole lot of people over 30 even used Facebook.

Now, less than a decade later, everyone and their mom has been sucked into the relentlessly blue global social media network. Here in Korea, my host mother has added me on Facebook. My former students have added me on Facebook. Even current students have added me on Facebook, as well as current teachers at my school. That is, my co-workers, with whom I can barely communicate, want to be my friend. I don't know exactly where to draw the line. I'm not really used to this, so I've stopped adding current students as friends for the time being.

Anyway, back to my former student. I told him about how Facebook had changed so much in the past few years, and how I thought it would make the teacher-student relationship awkward if they were "friends" online. But then he told me, "Well, we never really saw you as a teacher. I mean, you weren't like the other teachers, like Teacher Lee or Teacher Roh."

That got me thinking... I could interpret his words in several ways. On the surface, of course I'm not like the other teachers. My English conversation class is almost like an elective for my students; it's nowhere near as important as their other subjects, like physics or math. So, I'm not as important as the other teachers. I do give my students tests for a grade, but my class is much easier overall than their other classes, to the extent that many of them don't really care. And generally, native English teachers at public Korean schools are not treated the same as regular faculty. We rotate in and out frequently, so we don't have to help with administrative work or even contribute to faculty get-togethers. Frankly, I just kind of do my own thing at my school, and nobody has ever objected. And to be completely honest, it makes me feel isolated and useless from time to time.

But I like to think that my student really meant that I should have considered our teacher-student relationship a little bit differently. Putting on a teaching persona doesn't have to put distance between us, necessarily. Of course, I talk to my students as if they're my friends every single moment of the day. I work out with some of them. I chat in the bathroom with some of them (Man Code? What Man Code?). I tease them and ask for fist bumps and share my food and chase them down the hallway until they reply to my "What's up?" with a feeble "Nothing much." But does that make us friends? Or does that just make me the weirdo, talkative, personal bubble-invading foreign English teacher?

I'm not like the other teachers, and my students never really saw me as one of them. I wonder if the way I have constructed my relationships with my students and with the other faculty at my school has truly been for the best?

What do you think? Do you add your students and/or teachers on Facebook? How about your co-workers? Why or why not?

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P.S. I am friends with that former student on Facebook. His current profile photo is one that he took with his friends, current 3rd-years, on Sports Day. It's too cute!

P.P.S. The title of this post is Korean abbreviation slang: "이스 가," while not a question, roughly means, "Can I add you as a friend on Facebook?"

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