To share or not to share – how much is too much?
As teachers, how much of ourselves and our lives do we share with our students? Do we share if we’ve been having a rough day, or do we keep everything to ourselves? This came up in a conversation I was having with some dear friends and family just the other day. I think that there are valid points for both sides of this issue. Sharing with our students is to demonstrate that we are human and that it is okay to express emotions and be impacted by difficult experiences in our lives, such as illness and stress. It can also help to encourage students to open up when they’re in the middle of difficult times in their lives, rather than to keep things bottled up, as they can know that they have a listening ear.
The flip side of this, though, is that above all things our primary role in the lives of our students is as a teacher; not their best friend, counsellor or therapist. While we may need to embody these aspects and many more in our role as a teacher, we still need to maintain professional distance and ensure that we can still be the authority figure in the classroom. I also think that there would be many students out there who couldn’t care less about what other things are going on in our lives as teachers. To a lesser extent, there will also be those students who might use any perceived weakness as an opportunity to challenge authority in the classroom, so sharing is not always the best thing to do.
Personally, I think that like many things in teaching (and in life) it comes down to a judgement call. I think that sharing is important to help explain changes in our mood that might affect our students, such as why we might be snappy or short-tempered, as this is what will most likely have the biggest effect on students in the day-to-day. I think, though, that many situations a simple, non-specific explanation would suffice here – just like we don’t need to share our life story every time someone asks “How’s it going?”. We need to share enough to explain any change in behaviour, but not so much that we “dump” on our students. I think that it also very much depends on the students and classes we teach, as the relationships we develop with our students will vary widely.