Willingly genuine!

Latha Vydianathan

Friendship is important, not only to mitigate teacher attrition and reduce the associated costs but to improve teacher performance and ultimately student performance. The manner in which teacher friendships influence teacher retention, performance, and the net effect it has on the quality of the school learning environment has not been focused upon much.

The politics of the staffroom can be an unholy business. You can preserve your sanity and survive more gracefully by staying out of staffroom politics as long as you can. Keeping your morale up is vital to enthuse pupils and stay on top of the job. Many schools have a happy, friendly atmosphere with a terrific principal and mutually-supportive teachers who keep each other afloat and laughing through every pitfall and challenge. In the hurly-burly of every busy day, it can become easy to lose sight of the real world. The more hours you put into the job, the more there is to do. When the principals want a job done, they tend to ask the busy members of the staff. Some teachers, driven by an innate, creative urge, or just eagerness to succeed, get carried away and spend so much time on the job, they become too tired to enjoy anything outside work. Some fall a victim to the ‘willing horse’ syndrome.

Teacher pals obviously and undeniably benefit the adults in the friendship. When you find your teacher type, you can’t imagine doing any work without them. Professionals who “get it” serve as confidants through highs and lows, challenging you to be better while acknowledging your strengths. Teacher friends spend time together at first perhaps by convenience or happenstance, but eventually, make conscious decisions to be in each other’s company outside the circumstances of the mandated school schedule.

My teacher friend taught me everything I know and apply today working as an English teacher. Since I graduated, my teacher friend and I became colleagues by chance but friends by choice. We check in on each other during the school day and enjoy sharing family dinners, days at the library, and afternoons at the coffee café’ outside the school.

In my teaching experience, there is a tendency for educators to isolate their “home” versus “school” lives. We know that not just academic content but also social skills are teachable and learnable. With this knowledge, it seems infantile not to incorporate teacher friendship into our professional practice for the benefit of students. When quality, healthy friendships are modelled, our students are more likely to develop such friendships themselves. Qualities of friendship can be categorized under three different characteristics: integrity, caring, and congeniality. My teacher friend and I are grateful to have a friendship identifiable by all three qualities listed below, and when you have such friendships with fellow teachers, you are modelling these traits for your students as well.

Trust, honesty, dependability, and loyalty: these are the marks of an integritous friendship. So, when students notice my teacher friend checking that I didn’t miss my lunch break or drink coffee past noon, they see dependability and trust in action. When I ask her advice and she gives an honest, constructive feedback, students witness a friend of quality. My teacher friend and I share students in classes who readily form strong bonds with us as teachers after observing our loyalty to each other as friends and colleagues. The students observe this and take a step forward to do errands for such teachers. They believe that such teachers can be a fallback cushion for them too. The trust, honesty, dependability, and loyalty catch some impactful contagion within our classroom communities.

My teacher friend has been by my side through the inevitable highs and lows of my teaching career. When students see us sharing our classroom closet, taking peaceful breaks in each other’s classrooms, and eating lunch together, we become trusted, cared for, respected adults in each other’s classroom cultures. When we share stories of summer nights on the porch with our families, share meals after school, or fun birthday surprises, students realize our bond is more than just a forged coincidental connection. It is organic, non-judgmental, and supportive. Students learn through our inadvertent modelling of listening and caring. The most impactful piece is that we care not because we have to but because we want to. Students can feel empowered to seek caring friendships for themselves as well when they know the possibilities.

Teachers can hold themselves to a standard of classroom managers and deliverers of content to the neglect of the human. My teacher friend and I, however, have found undeniable benefits in allowing our friendship to transparently enter our teaching practice.

There are clear practical benefits to the friendship between my teacher friend and myself. It should be noted, however, that we are not just friends out of utility; we legitimately like spending time together. While we are there for each other when confidence is low or times are tough, we are also able to have a sound friendship in our self-confidence. When we exude confidence and self-assurance, despite the fact that we need each other’s help to find it again at times, students are given permission to demonstrate this same sense of self-efficacy. They see it as a desirable trait in a friend. My teacher friend and I like to laugh and have fun together. Students then see friends not just as confidants who listen to you or defend your honour. They witness friendship adding joy to our lives.

Without truly loving what you do, it is impossible to be really good at what you do. Friendship is a joy we all deserve: teachers, students, and everyone in between. My teacher friend and I aren’t just friends because it’s convenient. We are friends because we genuinely enjoy each other’s personalities and company. I love students having the opportunity to see that, even as we grow into different roles and responsibilities with age, we never outgrow the benefits of fun and friendship.

The author is an educator and has a deep interest in the integration of life skills with literature for a purposeful and peaceful life. She can be reached at latha.vydianathan@yahoo.com.

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