Rethinking Student-Teacher Relationships

Danielle Martin Co Editor in Chief   One of the many things that distinguish Latin from other schools of its kind is the close relationship developed between students and teachers, both in and out of the classroom. But in light of recent events, it’s time to reevaluate these relationships and send a reminder that while teachers and students may be friendly, there are professional boundaries to keep in mind.   The handbook makes it clear that students and teachers may not communicate over social media, but many are beginning to question this rule. Although Mr. Coberly, the interim head of the upper school, was not part of drafting the handbook, he was able to explain its rationale. “If you are Facebook friends with your teacher, you are going to see everything that they post about their personal life and vice versa, and that’s just not appropriate,” said Mr. Coberly. “The relationship between teachers and students, while a close one, needs to be a professional one.”   But once students graduate, they are allowed to friend their teachers on Facebook. As a result, current students share mutual friends with teachers, and students and teachers appear in one another’s newsfeeds. However, there is no rule to ensure that this does not happen—it’s up to the teacher to develop his or her own social media policy. Some simply ignore this aspect of social media, some refuse to friend students until they graduate college, some never friend former students, and others completely stay off social media for this very reason.   But although students and teachers may not communicate via social media, Mr. Coberly reveals they are allowed to communicate via text. Typically, teacher chaperones text students over Project Week, but some also find texting effective when discussing schoolwork. Others, however, find it too informal. Again, it’s up to the teacher to develop his or her own policy on the matter. “The rules and guidelines should be about the nature of communication, regardless of the type of vehicle you are using,” said Mr. Coberly.   And whether it’s at a family dinner or an advisory outing to a Cubs game, some teachers choose to see students outside of school. This type of communication is acceptable, as long as it is done appropriately. “It’s very clear that teachers should not be having any type of romantic or flirtatious communication with a student- or for that matter any former student- but part of developing close relationships in a school like Latin is that you are going to see them outside of school from time to time,” said Mr. Coberly. “I think that’s a great thing so long as it’s done professionally and with appropriate boundaries in mind.”   Because of these close relationships, teachers and students alike begin to refer to one another as friends, and this can cause conflict. “A student and teacher relationship is still a professional relationship of unequal power. I don’t think it’s accurate to call a teacher a friend in the same sense as a classmate,” said Mr. Coberly. “With a true friend, you are going to have very few limits on what you talk about, what you say to each other, and what you share.”   With that being said, Mr. Coberly believes the relationship between students and teachers can be a friendship, but it must be a modified one. Of course, teachers may discuss certain aspects of their personal life, such as their children and families, but there are some topics that should remain off limits. Teachers also have professional obligations to put students in contact with a counselor in an emotionally upsetting situation, which can create difficulty. “I don’t mean by any of that that we should be emotionless,” said Mr. Coberly. “We can be friendly, we can be compassionate, we can share experiences, but we have to be mindful that there are professional boundaries to those relationships.”  ]]>