As we travel from school to college, most of us, as students, carry memories of our friends with us. While our paths and destinations vary, friendships forged during school days tend to be treasured beyond words. Having a friend symbolizes a connection that feels intimate, secure, and joyous; there is no need for pretense with a friend when the relationship is based on understanding and love. One can always display our joys and sorrows, celebrate our successes, and crib about our vulnerabilities to our friends. I am sure that when reading this most of us would have imagined friendships between students of similar age groups or one would have imagined a group of like-minded students being friends. However, should friendships in school be only limited to those between students? Can we re-imagine a school setting with friendships between teachers and students?
The reason I bring up friendships between teachers and students is that many other forms of cordial relationships such as between parents and teachers, parents and the school management, or even parents and children are widely talked about. However, there is hardly any discourse around student-teacher friendships. It is understandable as to why adult relationships are emphasized more in schools. Adult friendships can be easier to navigate mainly because power dynamics are much more fluid. However, with a teacher-student relationship the power dynamic is concretized in more apparent ways. Apart from that, a teacher is always expected to be a role model, a fountainhead of knowledge and wisdom, and be infallible. Hence, people wonder how all these can be achieved if teachers and students are friends.
In my view, however, these are the precise reasons for fostering friendships between teachers and students. In this day and age, a teacher is no longer a facilitator for information rather he/she embodies a sense of responsibility of building the roots of a child. A teacher’s role has become more like that of a compass where she/he guides the students in life not just in academics. If truth be told, most of us remember our teachers for their character, connect and compassion rather than for academics. Friendships between teachers allow room for building a connection beyond the classrooms, which are always special. Both the teacher and student get to learn something more personal about each other and develop each other’s character.
For instance, when I was in my eighth grade, I had gone for a walk with my teacher and discovered that both of us were introverts. We shared similar tastes in books, spirituality and education. It was a very small observation, but it was quite enlightening. I found it surprising even because one would hardly think that teachers could be introverted at their core. We are constantly accustomed to seeing teachers in the spotlight in the classrooms where all the students’ eyes are on them and hardly ever think how it could possibly be opposed to their character too. That particular awareness had eased me up because I had found it uncomfortable to accept my own introversion during that period in my life. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I could accept my reticence as it is and still be successful like her. That one conversation had truly struck a chord because we recognized that we were more similar than we previously assumed. I am still very grateful for that brief stroll because it taught me to accept my character. That conversation brought an epiphany that somebody, despite being in a so-called extroverted profession, could also embrace their introversion and do it on their own terms was very reassuring. While small snippets of a student-teacher friendship may include such a subtle incident from a student’s life, a conversation and reassurance from an adult who carries a semblance to your character can truly be transformational for the child.
Often, a barrier that prevents the fostering of relationships between students and teachers can actually stem from a mental space. Similar to how parents are hesitant to behave in a friendly manner with their children, teachers and students can also feel the pressure of power dynamics. Clearly, the teacher holds a form of authority that could potentially act as a barrier in weaving a relationship with a student. Nevertheless, friendships can actually be defined on our own terms. There is no need to work through the power dynamics in question if the relationship is based on mutual trust, understanding, humility and love. The key element that I have always observed in teacher-student relationships is, unequivocally, love and affection.
Children tend to open up more easily if they genuinely care about the teacher and vice versa. A cornerstone of true friendships is the willingness to trust and be transparent. Especially, in a student-teacher friendship, the teacher could initiate the relationship by personally approaching the students, sharing snippets from their lives, and even sharing powerful emotions like happiness or sorrow (subject to the mental maturity of the students). For many students, candidness from the teacher can really spark a healthy way of looking at themselves or their emotions. In a post-pandemic school setting, there are many students struggling to adapt to the change. Hence, if teachers communicate how their own transition experiences are, the students will find it easier to relate in the post pandemic world. Even complaints or confessions can elicit more voices and empathy, hence, sharing of emotions and experiences is vital.
Once, in a casual conversation over lunch, another teacher had opened up about how women’s role in household chores is so gendered and challenging. It was hard to not empathize with her because it is the reality of many girls/women. Slowly, a round of confessions unleashed from each student in the group because many of us had either witnessed or experienced it. That a brief and frustrated confession could potentially trigger a positive response of empathy from many students reiterates the power of sharing vulnerabilities. A friendly (vulnerable) conversation with students can not only help the students share their own experiences but also create a space that is more humane. Instead of perpetually focusing on being a “flawless” role model, teachers’ confessions make them more human and empathetic. This ensures that many students actually step into the teachers’ shoes.
Teachers’ stories beyond subjects are worth celebrating, their struggles are inspirational and their sensitivity about students is revealed in such conversations. For students, the power dynamic is no longer an authoritative one but turns out to become collaborative. This even helps in impactful disciplining because when we hear a teacher’s perspective, we are exposed to a newer reality, hence can become more perceptive and empathetic. Further, it is easier to impart constructive feedback from both teachers and students. When a foundation is built on mutual care and love, it is more effective to give feedback to students because the students would appreciate the intention behind the teacher as friendship provides a sense of transparency. Personally, I have found that students voluntarily seek feedback only if they feel that the teacher appears likeable or friendly. This can also be used vice versa because teachers can also receive honest feedback from students as they would feel more at ease when they are more like “friends” with students.
The possibilities and positives from a teacher-student friendship are truly endless. Every student and teacher would define it in different ways. However, like every other friendship it is not compulsory that it should be established. The idea is to acknowledge and normalize its existence because it is equally memorable and beautiful like all other friendships. It is relieving and refreshing for both students and teachers alike. It humanizes and humbles the equation of being a student and teacher, which is why it becomes more special over time. Till date, after over two years of graduating from school, I still think, reminisce over the special bonds with my teachers. I am forever grateful for their friendships and hope that many more students (and teachers) get to experience it.
Happy Teacher’s Day!
The author is currently a student at Ashoka University and formerly a student of Delhi Public School, Coimbatore. She is a published author and is passionate about reading, writing, history, and geopolitics. She also loves to translate local histories, regional songs, and stories into English. She is hoping to pursue a career in public policy and publishing in the near and foreseeable future. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.