Monday, April 18, 2011

The Fine Line Between Friend and Teacher

horizon to horizon, memory written on the windLast week I was asked by a student teacher,

“How do you know where/how to draw the line between “friend” and “teacher”? I realized while reading the comments on your blog, I do lean towards that fatal first year teacher mistake of trying too hard to win over the students. So how do I know when I need to peddle back a little on the getting to know the students and move forward as a model and teacher for the students?”

I thought this was a great question that needs to be revisited often! In fact, whenever I see a teacher accused of a sex crime with a student, I think of this topic. When I see the news, I don’t know if the teacher is guilty or not, but once it is out in public, everyone assumes the teacher is guilty. If the teacher is guilty, I hope they burn him/her at the stake. I always think that if the teacher is not guilty, the teacher did not show good sense in his/her actions to prevent this situation. Too many times teachers try to be friends with students and when a student gets angry with the teacher, it could lead to this kind of situation. I’m not saying all students would do that but it is in a teacher’s best interest to assume this for all students. After I put in all that work for training to become a teacher, I would not want to risk anything in losing it all because of poor judgment.

Here is my laundry list of things I try to do:

1. The most important thing you can do is to make sure you never put yourself in any position where a student can make allegations against you and you do not have a witness to prove you did nothing wrong.

2. I am never alone with a student in a room with the door closed. The door always stays open at all times. I do not drive students alone anywhere in my car.

3. I remind myself that students are just children. They can be your best friend one moment and hate you the next. For this reason, I need to be their teacher and not their friend. Unfortunately, their immaturity will cause them to try to stab you in the back if the opportunity presents itself.

4. I do not joke with students about things concerning drugs, alcohol, or sex.

5. I do not show partiality for one student over others. This includes giving presents to one and not others.

6. I used to hug my students a lot years ago but now I restrain myself because it can be misconstrued. I do a lot of high fives, thumbs up, pats on the back or fist bumps.

7. When I was younger and closer in age to my students, I looked more in their age range (before I became an old lady). I was flattered when some of the boys would have a crush on me but I needed to make sure that I did not encourage that. I would talk about my boyfriend or husband going shopping or sightseeing together. I might even show pictures of us together. Since I attended athletic events, I would make sure I would introduce my boyfriend/husband to students. For some reason, this helped dim the crush tremendously and put us back on teacher footing.

8. I would not discuss with my students about parties or inappropriate social events (for students to attend). I needed to remember that I was a role model for my students. These stories may be shared with colleagues (but still be wary of discussing too much of your personal life with colleagues unless you are very close) but not with students.

9. If the student gets too familiar with you, you need to address it and not hope it will go away. You need to make sure that you have an administrator with you when you address it. This is why you need to make sure you never put yourself in any position where a student can accuse you of anything. A student can become embarrassed and angry and try to retaliate.

Now even though I have given all these warning, I don’t mean to scare you. I also do things to show that I care without putting myself or my career at risk.

1. I listen to them if they are troubled. I may take them out in the hall to listen to them or if they stay after class, I listen to them (but the classroom door stays open at all times.)

2. If there is a problem that needs more action besides listening, I either involve a guidance counselor or administrator.

3. I call home often and praise their good behavior.

4. I do share fun personal stories that are not inappropriate with the entire class.

5. I am firm, fair and consistent with my students when dealing with discipline. It might hurt that they are mad at me but I remind myself that this is important for their future.

6. I remind myself that I am preparing my students for their future in the real world. How would an employer act towards this student if they were not doing their job (besides firing them)?

7. I insist on being treated with respect as their teacher and not their friend. I do not allow students to call me by my first name or joke with me the way they do with their friends. They will appreciate these limits in the long run.

If you are a veteran teacher, what other advice can you give for drawing the line? Please leave comments! Thanks!

Original image: 'horizon to horizon, memory written on the wind' by: Robert S. Donovan


Sioux said...

I very directly will tell students, "I am not in a popularity contest...if there are times you don't like me, that's okay, because I am your teacher. I'm here to teach you. Your parents--when they say 'no'--that is so much harder than saying 'yes.' Part of my job is to teach you how to be the best citizen/person you can be, so there will be times when I will have to say 'no recess' or 'no group work' or I will have to send you to another room for a while because you are not behaving appropriately. And you may not like that, but as a teacher, I have expectations for you, and when you cannot behave according to what is expected of you, there are consequences...

loonyhiker said...

@Sioux These were wonderful tips! Thanks for adding to the ones I listed. It really helps to get others chiming in to this conversation! :)

Mr. David T. Miller said...

Great, practical post, here are few points I would add:

-Preventative measure helps a lot as well. Enforcing the dress policy, seating chart, attendance/tardies, and any other classroom procedures helps establish this as a mentor relationship not a friendship.

-You may have mentioned this one, but when a student says "hey buddy", gives a nickname, or goes over the line, I literally say, "Hold on a minute...that's how you talk to a friend not a teacher." I can say this in a loving way and typically the students will immediately apologize and say something like, "Oh yea! good point!" or "my bad!"

-Dressing appropiately is also important. I actually try to dress professional but not too trendy. This is more important for younger teachers than older teachers.

loonyhiker said...

@Mr. David T. Miller Thanks for the additional suggestions!! That is an important point you make about dress appropriately too.

Katie said...

I just found your blog and I thought this post was particularly interesting. I recently graduated with my degree in elementary education. I work as an aide and the 5th graders that I have were constantly picking me flowers on the playground and telling me I was pretty, nothing inappropriate at first. It then started to get a little bit worse and they would ask me about my husband (who I always say is really big and strong). The one day in the cafeteria one of the students shouted "hey (he) wants you!" That's where I drew the line. I walked over to their table sat down with them and told them if they ever said anything like that again I would talk to the male teacher that does lunch duty and he would have to talk to them about what was an appropriate way to talk to female teachers, which would be very embarrassing for everyone and I didn't think it was necessary. They haven't said another cheesy pickup line or inappropriate comment since, and they all still respect me and like me as their friend.

loonyhiker said...

@Katie What a great story! Sometimes the best way to handle a situation is to meet it head on! I loved the way you dealt with this. Thanks for sharing and reading my blog!

MousheyJ said...

It seems like younger teachers seem to have more of an issue with this. Especially high school teacher, who as you pointed out, are close to the same age as their students. I've talked to other younger teachers, who say things like "I forget who I am talking to" or "I don't feel like I am talking to a student". This is were the line becomes diminished, and it's important for the teacher to take a step back and consider what they have to lose. As K-1 teacher, I don't find myself in any of the situations that you've mentioned in your blog. Thankfully. It just concerns me, when I hear about other people allowing themselves to be in that situation.

loonyhiker said...

@MousheyJ I think as teachers we constantly need to remind ourselves of the consequences of our actions. Even though we may be innocent, we also need to think about how others may perceive our actions too. Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment!