I teach a Year 8 girl who is very fragile and needs a lot of support. She has taken a liking to me, which is a mini breakthrough as she doesn't trust many adults. The problem is, she made a friend request to me on Facebook. I don't want to add her, and know I shouldn't in any case. But I think she is going to take it badly when I refuse. How should I do it politely?
What you said
I wouldn't be proactive in explaining it to her. Ignore the request and let it slide. If she persists and asks you directly why you haven't accepted, a simple "I keep Facebook for friends I've known for a very long time outside school, but of course I'll continue to help you in school" should be enough.
The way I deal with avoiding kids taking rejections personally is to tell them that "there are rules saying I'm not allowed to do those things and I'd get in trouble".
The expert view
This is an issue that many teachers face, particularly in an age where your profile and name are in the public arena.
It's great that you have made a breakthrough with this girl, and that is a valuable relationship that could be very important in her education. But there still need to be boundaries, and if she is fragile she might also be needy and somewhat liable to imagine that her teachers are her friends, which isn't any use to anyone. After all, the teacher's ultimate relationship is one of authority, and the more she sees you as a pal, the more she will demand and expect from you. That might lead to awkwardness when she realises that you can't be a shoulder to cry on or a chum to cover for her.
Treat her with dignity by saying, as suggested above, that you can't add her as a friend because it's not allowed and you can't make an exception for her. If she says "No one will know", you say "I will". If she forces the issue, you will be forced to be a little bit more direct and say, "I don't add students and I don't want to". Don't let her think that you'd love to, only the nasty system prevents it.
But I also agree that I wouldn't bring it up unless she does, so that she gets the chance to get the message tacitly. Eventually she will learn that you have boundaries that won't be crossed. That way, she gets an adult that she can trust, and you get a clearer, less anxious relationship with a pupil.
Also, inform your line manager about the conversations so that you are covered if she (God forbid) should take things the wrong way. But it sounds as though you have it all pretty much in hand.
Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher. Read more from Tom on his blog, behaviourguru.blogspot.com, or follow him on Twitter at @tombennett71. His latest book, Teacher, is out now, published by Continuum
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