Mr. Johnson, will you be my friend?

I overheard a conversation a few days back (yes, I eavesdrop on my students) about the pen pal networks.

"I only have twenty followers," a kid says.  

"It's okay.  Jesus only had twelve."  

"That's not true.  Jesus had thousands of followers.  He just had his top eight.  Except it was his top twelve." 

"True.  So, maybe you're not Jesus.  But I'm your friend and though I won't follow you around, I'll always pick you for short stop even on your worst day."  

*    *    *

I receive a request from the insecure short stop asking if I'd be his friend.  I ignore the request.  Okay, that's not entirely true. I think about my own childhood and shudder.  I can't imagine walking to kids' homes and seeing a list of the top eight and realizing that I don't make the cut.  It would be like relational tryouts and I wouldn't have made the junior varsity popularity team.  I can't imagine what it would be like, in the formative years, when I was experimenting with how to interact with others, to have this massive public network of social relationships advertising to the world that I was a loser.

Still, it's not as if I can follow the kid or friend him.  For what it's worth, I'd like to keep "friend" a noun rather than a verb.  Can't a friend be the last refuge of permanence in an industrial world of change?  We've already lost place and we're quickly losing thing. Let's keep person.

It's just that he and I can't be friends.  I can't invite him with me to the pub.  I'm his teacher. He's my student. We aren't going to share stories about work or talk politics (and our shared anger at the McKinley administration for failing to deliver either hope or change in their Caravan to the Top initiative)  

A few days go by and then he stops me in class.  "Why did you ignore my friend request?"  he asks, calling me out on my act of passive-aggression.  

"I'm sorry.  You're my student and I just don't think we can be friends.  Some day, when you're older, send me a friend request again, okay?"  

He walks away, head hung low.  He'll understand, right? 

*     *     *

When I tell Mr. Brown, his answer surprises me.  "I would have accepted his invitation.  I know there is a difference in age and I am concerned with the graying of adulthood and childhood in our country.  Though, to be quite honest, we still have kids working in the factories.  I just think that the last person a kid wants to have reject him is his teacher.  Socially awkward short stop boy looks up to you."

"What about his parents?"  

"I would have become their friends, too.  I would have explained it all to them and talked about his need for a mentor."  

So, I'm left perplexed.  I set up rigid rules for social engagement and they seem to make sense to me.  They are set up to protect myself from rumors.  But in my goal to be safe, I've unintentionally crushed a kid.  


  1. Putting my money where my mouth is... I weighed in on this discussion over at Classroom 2.0 Forum. The arguments for and against swirled around there. This is what I said:

    "I notice this morning another class member has tried to 'friend' me on Facebook. I'll probably add her to my limited list. She is nine so I don't think I will see too many drunken parties on her wall. She will see none on mine. This is a shy girl who contacts me through our school email accounts, Ning Network, Twitter and wiki discussions. I think in almost every case she has simply said 'hi'.

    "I am a product of my generation of teachers. When I began teaching in rural Saskatchewan in the 1980's I was reluctant to enter the local bar or be seen leaving the liquor store. My life was so private that I was finally called into the principal's office where I was confronted by a school trustee who apologetically confided that there were rumors I had a private drinking problem. I was surprised. The community was more relaxed about teacher behavior than I thought. I became more open about myself but events helped keep me cautious. I enjoyed the staff parties until I had one of those likely all too familiar moments when a drunken colleague decided that it was time to have a frank discussion with our administrator. After that I was back to discretion.

    We talk about teaching our five hours and needing to return to privacy; keep things separate. Facebook "friends" is a misnomer. Facebook is a billboard beside the freeway folks. Nothing you do there is private and the world tags you. You're in the mall so if you decide to share a tantrum with your three year old be aware someone not so very close to you is watching.

    I'm a product of my environment. How small was your town? My town was so small the main drag was a transvestite (old joke). My town was so small the local bar was the town's only restaurant so if you went out for a drink your fourteen year old student might be at the next table with his parents scarfing chips and gravy chased with a coke. You really have only once choice in that circumstance: be a responsible adult."

    The other comments were interesting so check it out if you have time:

  2. I love your response to this. It's tricky for me. I don't drink much, so a kid will never see me drunk. I don't have a wild life. I'm pretty transparent.

    As for Facebook friends and Twitter followers, I'm not sure how private to make this. I'm also not sure when it's okay (later in life) to allow kids to be my "friend" on Facebook. It's tricky stuff.

  3. I just found your blog and also just started following you on Twitter. Thanks. And you have been added to the list of teachers I have my students follow in their comments4teachers assignment. I teach EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. It is the only technology class students in the College of Education have to take. If you are interested check out the EDM310 Class Blog.

    After all of that let me comment on your post. Here are the definitions of friend found at
    1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
    2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
    3.a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?
    4.a member of the same nation, party, etc.
    5.(initial capital letter) a member of the Religious Society of Friends; a Quaker.

    Going backwards:
    5 does not apply in my case.
    4. maybe, but I don't think you are interested in that.
    3. I think you would eagerly accept me as friend using this definition as I would you.
    2. Again absolutely. That's what we do as teachers and also why we do it.
    1. Now here's the problem. Regard is OK. But affection? Problems arise. And yet I have great affection for some of my former teachers. So where do I stand? Eagerly accept definitions 2 and 3 and 1 b. Cautiously approach 1a.

    A very interesting question. I will continue to think about it which is what I suppose you wanted us to do. Thanks!

  4. I found your blog as I was searching for sites to add to my PLN as part of an assignment for my EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I shared this site with my professor , Dr. Strange and he gave me this site to follow as an assignment for the next few weeks. Please feel free to check out my personal blog and my EDM310 class blog.
    Your blog post was very interesting. I like the word mentor instead of friend. As a future teacher, I hope to be a mentor to many students, but am not necessarily interested in being their friend. I like the idea of including the parents in the process of mentoring. I think the parents should be there anyway.

  5. I am a non-drinker and a non-smoker (is there a way to say that, that doesn't involve apophasis??).

    But I am a fire-breather and a juggler and a fire-spinner, and I worry how kids react to that other side of my life. In the various Facebook changes to privacy systems, my photos were briefly unlocked to the world, and some of my photos became very public; a good many of my friends in that world engage in very odd behaviors (sword-swallowing among them, and other less savory things), and I sometimes get tarred with the same feather. I don't do the same things as my friends at all (for one, I work in a school so busy that I rarely ever see them), but we are often identified as having the same code and standards as our friends... no matter how obvious the differences might be.