Student Teaching: Defining the Lines Between Teacher and Friend

Teacher-Salary-Math-ChalkboardBy Dana Berens — In many classes at Marquette, we learn that one of the most important traits for being a good teacher is to have unconditional positive regard for all students.

We also learn to be a custodian of knowledge, a content expert, and a guide through the information we are bringing to or providing for our students. As a student teacher, I have significantly less experience in these three areas than my cooperating teacher. I also have significantly less experience at navigating the difficult boundary between friend and teacher.

One obstacle is creating a trusting emotional relationship with students. From my experiences at day camps, day cares, and babysitting, I can establish relationships with children well. But these settings provide for a more playful authoritative relationship. At school, I still need to maintain a professional relationship while showing that I still care.

My first graders often tell me things like: “you are my friend,” “ I love that we are best friends,” and “you are so nice to me!”

I always tell them that it is nice being their friend too and getting to know them, but wonder if this will make discipline more difficult.

A second obstacle I face, being a young teacher, is that so many students in the MPS system have siblings around my age. They know how to make me laugh, know how to look up to me as an adult, but also how to flip the attitude switch on. When this happens, I can’t help but feel they do not see me as an adult, and the friendship piece has a part to do with this. While I am able to discipline students, how much does “friendship” with student’s blur the authoritative role, especially for a younger teacher such as myself. I want them to know I care for them, but sometimes cooperating teachers feel I come about this in too casual of a manner.

As a teacher, especially in inner city schools, I think it is fundamental that students know you care, and that you will be a constant in their lives day in and day out. I want them to feel comfortable with me and trust in me. I want them to know I care for their academics, but equally for their well-being.

I feel that establishing this relationship is hard, without coming down to their age once in a while, but is this just a naïve notion? Will it hurt me in the long run in terms of discipline?

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