We are what we do

As well as eat, say and wear but mostly we are what we do.

And this is never more true than when you herd cats teach for a living.

Since becoming a teacher it is fair to say I have lost a few friends. Both figuratively and literally.

A number have fallen by the wayside through a mix of my complete unavailability on a week night and inability to talk about anything other than school.

I have also, it must be said, physically removed a fair few. More like 600 actually.

In life BT (Before Teaching), I worked in a very sociable industry and used ‘the’ Facebook for networking and exchanging information with friends and colleagues who were, to a large extent, the same people. Status updates were prefixed with ‘is’ and were, by nature, fairly self indulgent. If you were tagged with someone they automatically became your friend and it was a free for all on group membership; the sillier the name, the better.

I was eventually lucky enough to break free of said industry and travel to various corners of the world. Being on Facebook enabled me to keep in contact with my nearest and dearest as well as connect with new friends while informing old friends that life was much better now. It gradually became one huge 24 hour, multi time zone party that everyone was invited to and no one cared who was there first or who gatecrashed or even if they knew each other at all. It was one big conversation with me in the middle. At my ‘peak’ I had over 800 friends and was tagged in over 1,000 pictures. What did it matter that I never spoke to most of them directly? It was only Facebook.

It didn’t occur to me until I was well into my first term as an NQT that the people I’m connected to on Facebook matter and can effect how I’m seen as a professional. Not until I had friend requests from a few colleagues and then from my Head of Department did I consider this, looking back now I am slightly embarrassed about this.

The friend requests from colleagues made me feel a bit uneasy it has to be said but nothing close to how I felt when the first pupil tried to add me. Apart from the very obvious boundary crossing, if I had added them how long before the Random from Randomville (who seems to add all our mutual friends) had ‘poked’ her? I wouldn’t introduce my pupils to these people so why was I leaving them open to being connected to them, albeit tenuously?

Needless to say, I didn’t accept the pupil’s request but I felt I had to accept the colleagues (which is perhaps something to examine later in itself) and when I did I also removed many, many hundreds of people that I hadn’t spoken to directly for over two years. Why? Because they can still post on my wall and while I’m aware I can fiddle around with settings to prevent that, I’d simply rather just be connected to people I actually know and trust. I am now in a profession where I can be held accountable for the image I portray, or allowed to be portrayed, online and that is not to be taken lightly.

Teachers often speak of not living near school because they don’t want to bump into pupils on the weekend or that they make sure that they don’t go on holiday to places where they know families from school favour. So why then, if you do all that, would you then risk having your weekend or holiday becoming public property through not being careful on social networking?

As I close, the TES Twitter feed shows me that Headteachers might be ‘trawling the internet‘ for evidence of misconduct by teachers online. My instinct tells me that this might be a slight overreach on behalf of the article but I wouldn’t rule out searches prior to hiring or even promotion.

So yes, teaching has made me somewhat unpopular. I have just over 100 friends. I am not searchable/findable even if you know my email address. You cannot add me as a friend and if I’m tagged in a photo it becomes invisible to all but a select group of people.

Do I miss my old Facebook? About as much as I miss sitting at a desk all day pretending what I did was important.

We are what we do.

With that in mind, some friendly advice for NQTs/Teachers on Facebook:

1. Ensure your settings are at the highest level of privacy – this has to be done manually. For example, every photo album should be set to ‘Friends only’.

2. If your profile picture is visible make sure it is something that you wouldn’t mind pupils/colleagues seeing. Or take yourself off the search index.

3. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want read on group walls. They are now searchable since Bing and Facebook joined forces.

4. Don’t add ex-pupils. They will still be friends with current pupils.

5. Make sure your status updates are also ‘Friends only’.

6. Be mindful that new Facebook means any of your friends can see the first line of what you have written on someone’s wall.