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How-To: Develop as a Professional

Relating to Your Students Judy Jones

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 confidantes!

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.


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