Teaching Stuff

Like Work/Life Boundaries in Teaching? Don’t Give Your Students Your Real Cell Phone Number!

(Note: this was inspired by a mass email I received touting a service that I actually do use. I’m not being paid anything for this, but it does open up a bigger conversation about where to draw lines in the technology realm.)

When I was teaching online, I had several students ask me if they could have my home phone or cell phone number so they could call me with questions. One student actually found my home phone number and called me (even though it wasn’t published on my syllabus).

OK, first…let’s talk boundaries. When I was teaching online, I provided ample opportunities for students to reach out to me. My institution at the time used Blackboard IM (and Pronto IM before that) for synchronous chat between instructors and students – students could talk to each other, or talk with their instructor – or a controlled group chat could occur. It was great and it did allow for voice communication.

I’ve always been of the opinion that unless my institution is directly paying for my cell phone, I’m under no obligation to give that information out to anyone – faculty, staff, or students. It’s a boundary that I set between myself and the workplace. Do I get work email and calendar information on my phone? Sure, but that’s a choice I make, and if I want to take Slack or my work email/calendar off my phone at anytime, I can do so without having to answer questions. For example, if I choose to uninstall Slack or take my work account off my phone during vacation because it’s my vacation, I can do without worrying about someone sanctioning me for doing so. It’s my phone, my device – my choice.

So I did think about what to do though that would preserve my privacy but meet my online students’ need to reach out to me via text message versus email. I found my solution in Google Voice. First, the price is right (FREE!) and I have an alternate phone number that I can give out that allows me to receive messages and calls without me giving up my personal phone number. Now, I do have to purchase credits if I want to make outgoing phone calls via Voice, but I make it clear that the number is for texting only. If they do call me, they call my Voice number – my actual real cell phone number is obscured.

Since I teach on campus now, I don’t feel a need to hand out a phone number other than my office phone number to my students. However, recently I did have a student ask if they could call me during my office hours due to being out of town for interviews that day. I gave the student my Google Voice number, and they called me – and we had a great conversation. Since I don’t do my office hours in my work office, the student had a number to reach me at, and we could have a conversation without me giving up my personal information.

What are the drawbacks? Well, inbound calls and all texts are free. Outbound calls require you to have paid credits. Also, if you don’t have any activity on there for a while, Google will threaten to pull your Voice account (I fix this by just calling my Voice number from my home phone number and answering via Voice). Also, you might not get a local number so if your students call, they could have to pay any long distance charges – if that’s even a thing anymore.

So here’s my final thought – if you feel a need to give your students a phone number to call or text you and you want to keep your personal number private, consider a Google Voice account or another service that will shield your personal phone number.