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Befriending Students – The Ethical Dilemma Within

In the strict “teacher-tell” model of traditional educational approaches, teachers who sought to become friends with their students were outside the norm. In some cases, this kind of behavior was actually seen as a breach of ethics. Teachers were the experts and students were the novices and the gap between them was to be maintained to preserve both order in the class and the respect for authority needed for learning to occur.

Recent research on how the brain learns has turned that view upside down in many educational environments. Although there is still some disagreement about brain-based research, it does appear to indicate students learn best that which is relevant to their lives.

How can teachers structure their content and presentation methods to reflect relevance if they have little, if any, understanding of their individual students and the way contemporary students live their lives?

And what better way to learn than to make efforts to be on friendly terms with as many students as possible? Hours spent searching the Internet might provide insight as to the likes and dislikes of students in your educational environment, but they cannot give you an understanding of the needs and wants of the specific individuals for whom you are responsible.

For some teachers, befriending students is a simple matter of being available to them as often as possible and sharing experiences. Teachers arrive early and remain after class to chat with students as frequently as possible. Attendance at all school extracurricular activities and formal functions provides additional opportunities to engage in life-centered conversations with students.

There are many things to talk about that bridge the age gap. Students may be surprised to learn teachers were equally enthralled by the musical stars of their day. Tales of struggling with homework and final examinations humanizes a teacher, and makes students feel like he or she is “one of them.” Anything that narrows the perception gap where students see teachers as out of touch with their world promotes friendship.

Befriending students is not a problem.

However, given the fact we are only human, it is possible to become friendlier with some students than others. Indeed, it is possible that attempts to befriend students may lead to the discovery that some are simply hard to like at all! And those positive and negative preferences can begin to influence classroom behavior on the part of both teacher and student.

Fairness is critical in teaching and if your behavior towards certain students with whom you are especially friendly even hints at favored treatment in any way, the other students will sense the favoritism and react accordingly.

The fairness principle applies to all educational environments – elementary education, graduate education, and industrial education. If the trainer is on a company sponsored athletic team with a few participants and appears partial to them in the class setting, that can cause problems.

This presents a real ethical dilemma for many modern teachers. Ethics is about principles of right and wrong. Certainly it is not wrong to befriend students and in fact can be beneficial. But how far can one go before friendship extends to favoritism in the class?

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