A Delicate Balance: Teacher or Friend?

line_art-thumbBy Taylor Gall — The first thing you’ve gotta know is that Shaq is the coolest kid I’ve ever met. If I were a 16 year old in High School, I’d be his best friend.

My first day of observing this past semester, he was hands down one of my favorite students to work with. He was funny, cooperative, and always willing to go the extra mile. He was a student observer’s absolute dream. On the day before Thanksgiving break when the students would rather pass notes than finish their Pre-Algebra unit tests, he asked them to all be a little more respectful. On his birthday, he made all of his teachers cupcakes.

Shaq and I had daily conversations about his work on the basketball team, getting his drivers license, and what he had done with his family that weekend. I felt that our close bond helped me reach him when it came to his schoolwork.

One day I was working with Shaq, helping him study for a test in his Theology class. I asked him when his test was scheduled, and all he did was giggle. I demanded he answer me, and he spit out, “Well Miss Gall, it’s going on right now. I needed some last minute help, if you know what I mean.”

That’s when I realized that I had crossed the line between “fun friendly teacher” and “fun friendly friend”. It’s difficult to find balance between the two, especially when student observers feel more like students than teachers. In my efforts to form trusting bonds with my students, I had lost the title of  “teacher”.

It’s hard to know how to handle a Facebook friend request from a High School Student, or what to do when a student directly defies your instructions. In Elementary and Middle Schools, the students are automatically at least half our age, but when you’re a 19-year-old sophomore observing 18 year old seniors in High School, it’s difficult to feel authoritative.

The truth is, though, that if you act like an authority figure, you’ll be viewed as one.

Students don’t know that I just rolled out of bed and dropped my peanut butter toast on my way out the door if I act like I’m the one in charge, like I’m the adult in the room. If you walk the walk of a teacher, students will view you as one. All students are able to see is that we are there, that we are ready to teach them, and that we have specific rules that they are expected to follow.

One of those being that they can’t skip class to come hang out.

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