“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'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10687935@N04/4957401535 by: Robert S. Donovan