The summer solstice is here, the longest day of the year! The astrological event marks a natural time for pause and reflection. These days one of the things that I have been pondering is the nature of the teacher-student relationship. In particular, I have been thinking about where that boundary lies.
Often, when asked about a favorite teacher, people recall a person with whom they felt “connected,” “close,” or “friendly.” Of course, not always, there are other important factors too. But how much time and effort should teachers spend trying to forge connections and friendliness between themselves and their students? Obviously, there are clear extremes at either end that are inappropriate, like asking students out on a date, or the opposite, not knowing students’ names and looking down on them. What I am thinking about is that area in the middle. All good teachers certainly build rapport and trust between themselves and their students. However, do teachers feel, and/or act, like friends with their students, and vice versa?
No doubt the contexts play a significant role in informing any thoughtful answer to this question. For example, in a university setting, younger teachers may be more likely to be collegial with their students, especially if they were close in age. Some contexts just lend themselves to “friendly” relations between teachers and students. In my own experience, I can think of a few examples. For one, when I studied Spanish in Venezuela. There my teachers really were my friends, and a part of that small social world I inhabited. However, they never had to give me a grade or decide if I would pass their class because that was not part of the context.
Although I don’t think of the students I have now as my friends, I do feel strongly connected to them. I admire and respect them. I even “friend” them when they send me a request on Facebook (although for me this is more of a professional space than a social space; and yet, isn’t the very fact of Facebook evidence of the blurring of boundaries?).
In the end, it may come down to what each of us as teachers feel we need, and we believe our students need. Will our social and emotional efforts to bond help improve our students’ learning, or will it hinder our ability to give objective evaluation?
I’d love to hear your own experiences and beliefs about this puzzle. Were you ever friends with a teacher you had? Is it important for you as a teacher that your students “like” you?
Photo by Tim Green
_ It is March and today is the fourth. March Fourth, which sounds the same as “march forth.” A date (3/4) and a command (go forward; continue on). When I was in high school there was an inspiring science teacher named Clark Schultes. Although I never had him as a teacher, I felt his influence tangentially through peers. I know that his life and his teaching had a positive effect on thousands of students. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer at a young age. He inspired in life, and in death; he died on March Fourth. At the “celebration of his life” (he forbade a funeral) someone made the point that Clark’s message for us was that we were the ones who now had to “march forth.” Of course, this message was meant to be interpreted by each person in their own way, and so it has.
These days I am working with pre-service and in-service English teachers and I am inspired by the positive influence they have, or will have, on the lives of so many young people. And, today as I think back to that time, twenty-three years ago, I think about Clark and other teachers who have inspired me (directly and indirectly), what characteristics they had, and how they worked their magic. I’d like to hear about a teacher who inspired you and how she/he did it.
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