Friday, January 20, 2012

Year 2: Week 18 - Why A Teacher Is Not A Friend

"No, I'm not your friend."

Usually when I say this to one of my students, I'm joking around. But every once in a while I need to have a conversation with one of my students when they get too comfortable with me and I need to explain to them the nature of our relationship. A teacher is a lot of things, but a friend is not one of them. Every time this topic comes to mind I think about Katya.

Katya was one of my students when I was student teaching. She was a sophomore flute player and she quickly became comfortable confiding in me. Every day she would come to band, walk by the desk and give me an enthusiastic greeting and fill me in on the events of her day.

One of my jobs as a student teacher was to enforce the students’ marching band dress code. This was important to set and standard for the band and create a uniform look which helped during competitions. One of the requirements was that all of the students had to wear black socks.

At the end of one football game, I walked by Katya as the band was lining up and deciding to be cute she said "hey Mr. Tang, check out my socks." Looking down I noticed that she was wearing pinks socks.

"Katya, you know the deal, anything but black socks are going to be points off your grade." I told her.

"You're not going to report me, c'mon Tang" she said smiling back at me.

But I did report her to my supervising teacher, and Katya got called and had to deal the consequence of her actions. The next week Katya walked right by my desk instead of stopping to say hello. In class she was polite to me, did everything I asked but it ended right there. No more happy greetings, updates of her day and asking me for help with issues with her life,

That's how it was between Katya and I for the last half of my time student teaching at her school. I missed the relationship we had developed but I knew I did the right thing. Even though we had become friendly, my job was not to be her friend. Her "liking" me simply
wasn't as important as being fair. I told myself all of this but it didn't change how I missed seeing her smiling face greet me every morning.

On my last day student teaching, I sat in the office during lunch finishing up some work and I heard Katya's voice greeting me. She didn't greet me the way we did before I reported her but there was warmth to her voice beyond simply acknowledging my presence. She sat down, told me about her day and what had been going on her life. Then she told me that should would miss me and said goodbye.

Somehow in that moment I knew we had an understanding even though we never talked about what happened. Her goodbye was the way that Katya showed me that and with her simple words she helped me finally feel that I had done the right thing.

A teacher's relationship with a student is a difficult thing to define. It's relationship that has certain strict boundaries but others that we have to define for ourselves.

If we base our decisions as teachers on being a friend we are doing a disservice to our students and ourselves. This is something that students rarely comprehend and almost never thank us for, however every once in a while a student will let you that they understand.

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