I loved some things about being in a close-knit community, I really did. I loved getting to know all the kids over the years, I loved the village that was the staff room, where I learned almost everything I ever needed to know about being a spouse and a parent and a grownup. And I really enjoyed the company of many of the parents.
There were some things I didn't like, too: the close-knit community sometimes felt too boundary-less to me. The kids sometimes acted infuriatingly entitled. I didn't like all the parents, especially the ones who were also infuriatingly entitled, and didn't like how the structure and nature of the school sometimes left me unprotected from their (I'm pseudonymous here, and don't work there any more, so I'll just say it) craziness. When there was a solid and supportive administrator in charge, that craziness was generally buffered. But there were several years, including my last few, when such was not the case.
Anyway, then I left. Left that school, that metropolitan area, that country. I missed the kids, and many of my colleagues, and some of the parents, but, hey, whee! Clean break! I never have to see the ones I don't like again!
Except, not so much.
Because now we have Facebook. All of us. And our exes and elementary-school friends and high-school teachers and everyone else we thought was faded out of our lives forever, adrift in the world somewhere, well, they can all find us. And we can find them. And we can all be Facebook friends in the great big cafeteria/mall/staff room in the ether, forever.
I am Facebook friends with some of my old co-workers (a few of whom read this blog-- Hi! hi there!!), and that is swell and it makes me much less lonely to be in touch with them and hear how things are going. So that is really nice.
Then, a few months ago, one of my old students sent me a Facebook friend request, and I haven't replied yet. I like her a lot, but I know this student isn't fourteen, and I don't think she's even thirteen, and even though she's not my student any more I wasn't really comfortable with letting her into my grownup facebook life. Just tonight, I got another friend request from another former student. This one is a year older, and again, I like her a lot and would be happy to be in touch with her but just don't want her to see all my stuff. I figure there will be other friend requests from other former students--I wasn't a hugely popular figure, but some kids, the bookish, thoughtful ones, liked me and I liked them, and some more will probably friend me when they think about it or see me commenting on one of their teachers' Facebook pages. I need to figure out what to do about this.
Then there are the parents. I thought I had decided for myself, in my new, happily non-boundary-challenged life, that I would not friend parents from my old school (unless they were also former co-workers). But then I got a friend request from one of my very, very, very favorite parents ever, the mom of one of my very, very, very favorite students ever, and a woman I'd always liked and thought would be a good person to be friends with, but felt somewhat constrained by my professional role. So I accepted her friend request.
And now I see that of course she's friends with other parents, including a few I'd rather not have much to do with, and they will see my comments if I write on her page, and then they and I will no longer be forever out of each other's lives. They might friend me, and I don't want to friend them, but now that I've friended this parent will they be all upset if I don't friend them too?
I have to remind myself that it doesn't really matter, that they are no longer my employer or anything like it (some of them thought they were, which drove me nuts and made me very jumpy), they can't complain to the principal because I won't Facebook-friend them or because they don't like something I wrote on my page. I can friend who I want and not friend who I don't want. That I am a grownup and that--on Facebook and in real, non-Internet life--I don't have to like all my friends' friends.
I'm curious about other people, and would love to know if you want to write in comments: What do you do? If you work at a school or a church or some other similar institution, or are a parent, or just for one reason or another need to set boundaries about who you let into your Facebook-- how do you decide?