Why can’t we be friends?

December 7, 2016
  • (3017) Views

As your teachers, we need to keep a bit of distance. We have to be able to review your performance and deliver objective feedback. At the same time, we are your professional progenitors, and you are our professional progeny. And we know you want more from us than we seem willing to give.

So how do you transform the teacher-student relationship into a meaningful mentor relationship, or – dare we say – a friendship?

We know it can happen, because it’s happened to us. But what can you do to create a change of relationship status? We’ve compiled a list of simple steps that can help you lay the groundwork to convert your teacher into your friend.

  1. Google us. Chances are that if we’re teaching on the university level, we have some visibility on the internet. Who knows? You might find out some tidbits that will help you figure out how to approach us.
  2. Ask us to mentor you. As teachers, we’re obligated to impart our knowledge to you. But as mentors, we also have your back. Mentorship means additional responsibility for us, so you have to make it worth our while.
  3. Show a true interest. We have students who, before every weekend, ask what our plans are. They notice when we’re under the weather. They ask personal (but not too personal!) questions. These are not students attempting to get in our good graces so that we will view them in a favorable light. These are people who are genuinely interested in creating and maintaining a relationship with us. Newsflash: We can tell the difference.
  4.  Do your best to stand out (in a good way). Be prepared for your patient care. Complete assignments before they are due. The less grief you give us, the more likely it is that we will want to spend additional time with you.
  5.  Offer assistance. We are often overextended and sometimes overwhelmed. Help out in any way you can. By definition, teachers are in a service role, and students are the ones we serve. Turn that around. Try to identify when and how we need help, and then act on that knowledge.
  6. Ask us to join you and your friend for a cup of coffee off-campus. The first overture must come from you. No matter how we feel about you, we cannot single one student out of a group; we are required to be equitable in our treatment of all of our students. Also, you have to include a friend in these initial plans, because we’re not going to want to put ourselves in the vulnerable position of socializing with one student.
  7. Be persistent. We’re busy. It’s not that we don’t want to spend additional time with you, but we may have trouble finding that time. Don’t take it personally.  It’s not you – it’s us!

The transformation from teacher to friend is complicated. But as time goes on, mutual trust and admiration might develop. And then, once you graduate and the teacher-student hierarchy of power no longer exists, we might be able to take that mutual trust and admiration to the next level: friendship.

Finally, remember that this is a relationship, just like every other relationship in your life. If you are only interested in what we can do for you, the relationship will go nowhere. But if you are genuinely interested in a mutually caring relationship, then this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

After all, teachers are people, too!