Relating to Your Students Judy
How Close is Too Close?
Most of us go into teaching because we care deeply about young people.
We want to help them gain the skills and the confidence they need
to become productive, happy adults. However, the line between supportive
caring and becoming too close is illusive and potentially dangerous.
There are many variables that affect how you demonstrate your care
. Your age, gender, and even your ethnicity can affect the degree
of closeness you can express.
Question Your Motives
As a young, new, female teacher many years ago, I learned to always
question my motivations and my needs. I wanted to make sure that
I was not becoming close to a student simply to satisfy my need
for affection or to enhance my sense of importance. I tried to put
the needs of the student foremost in my mind and by doing that,
I was usually able to determine how best to relate to each student.
Now, as a middle-aged mother and teacher, I find that method is
still valuable. Make sure that your goal is always the well being
of your students.
Friendship is Not the Goal
There are many words that can describe the relationship between
teacher and student. It is best to think of yourself as a mentor,
an adviser, a counselor, and always a teacher. But when you make
your goal friendship, you begin to expect the student to provide
something back to you. The relationship between teacher and student
is really a "one-way-street." Our job as a teacher is to give the
student what is needed without expecting that the student will meet
any of our emotional needs. (Of course, knowing that you have helped
a young person through difficult times or have made his/her experience
in your classroom more joyful, can be very satisfying.) A teen I
have been working with shared with me her reluctance to go to one
of our professionals because that person shares her own problems
with the teen. It reminded me very clearly that teens want and need
our help and advice, but they really don't want to be our reciprocal
Be Careful with Touching
I happen to be a "hugger" of students now that I am in my fifties
and I am older than most of my student's parents! But when I was
a young teacher, I was more careful with touching and hugging. There
are many times that a student needs a caring touch but you do need
to be careful. When any of my students are emotionally distressed,
I find that an arm around the shoulders or a hand on an arm can
be consoling without being intrusive. However, young male teachers
need to exercise extreme caution if the student in need is a young
female. I would suggest that it is better to use a caring and consoling
tone of voice rather than using physical support. Young females
are very quick to misinterpret the actions of a young male teacher.
And of course, young female teachers should be somewhat cautious
around their young male students. If you develop your intuition
and sensitivity, you will begin to know what actions and words are
appropriate in different situations.
There Are Some Times to Share With Students
When my father was very ill last year (he eventually died), I needed
to make trips to California and I was certainly preoccupied at times.
I found that sharing a little of my experience with my students
was helpful. Teens are so quick to think that a sad or upset teacher
must be angry at them; they are afraid that they have done something
to provoke the teacher's reaction. By sharing with them, I relieved
their feelings and I gave them a chance to care in return. However,
I did not use them for my primary source of consolation. I was still
thinking about what they needed from me in the situation rather
than what I needed from them. I went to my close friends and family
for the deep caring that I needed. So, my advice would be to share
with students when events in your life affect your classroom demeanor,
so that you can help your students understand the situation.