The transition of a teacher-student relationship to one of friendship is sometimes tricky to accomplish. Both have complex parts. I see Teacher’s as having a special kind of power that is not a part of a healthy and productive friendship.
In a learning environment there is an unspoken agreement or contract that the teacher will share knowledge, often based on facts, or specific concepts, that the student needs to accomplish his or her goals. In some ways the teacher needs to be somewhat detached from personalities and may seem impersonal. A good teacher is objective.
A friendship is more subjective and personal. Good friendships are built on trust and respect. Great friendships allow differences in the individuals and don’t allow those differences to interfere with their connection. I call this the element of tolerance.
I Have two examples that highlight how tricky it is to transition between the two and some additions thoughts.
I have been seeing a Nutritionist for over ten years, and we have become fast friends. I now have to travel two hours, one way, to see her. We keep in touch by phone, send texts or have face to face visits frequently. When I have an appointment with her she pencils in one hour for the consultation and one hour for us to visit and catch up on what has been going on in both of our lives. There is no hint of a power struggle between us. There is ample trust and respect between us. We both have acknowledged that we feel a kind of sisterhood. The “teacher” and “friend” are clearly defined and completely compatible.
The second example involves a professor at a university and his student, named Matt, who were in a communications undergraduate program focusing on journalism and creative writing. The professor took note of Matt and spent some years following him and mentoring him in several areas. During Matt’s senior year he and the professor began working on some projects together, both at school and outside of school, and became, what both referred to, as friends. They worked on the university’s newspaper together and spoke or saw each other almost daily, sharing life events from each other’s present and past experiences. Matt was clearly the professors “Star student”. Matt was encouraged to apply for a slot in the department’s Master Program by his teacher and friend.
At one point Matt was asked to research and write an editorial on something current in the political world and submit it to the school newspaper for publication. He did, and the professor went ballistic when he read Matt’s work. Evidently Matt’s’ piece went against the professors personal beliefs. From that day on there was never a personal exchange between the two. Matt reached out several times, thinking the storm was temporary. Not only did the “friendship” end, so did the teaching and mentoring aspect that they shared go by the wayside. Matt was replaced on the school paper. A week later Matt got word that he had not been accepted into the Masters Program. Matt realized that what he considered a friendship was no more than an illusion. He figured out that he had been viewed as a protegé, an extension of his professor, and not a friend in the truest sense of the word. Friends have the capability of being tolerant of differences of opinions and can be respectful of one another by setting those differences aside. Matt went on to enter another Masters Program at another University and did exceedingly well. He never forgot the lessons he had learned under his professor. So some good did come out of this story.
There are other reasons why Teacher-Student relationships do not transition into friendships. Teachers and mentors usually have many students. It is impossible to have the time to “friend” them all. They can however keep in touch from a distance. I once had an English professor, in a writing class, in a Junior College, who offered to proof any thing her students wrote, after the course was over, if they were trying to get their work published. I thought that was very generous. One student in that class was encouraged to write technical papers in her chosen field. I hope she continued and called upon our professor to help her as a mentor.
So, yes a teacher-student relationship can transition into a friendship, but I think it is very rare. There is a different set of requirements for both. One seems more technical and fact based, while the other tends to be more subjective. “Time” needed and spent for both is usually different and a concern. Some needs to be set aside for a friendship to survive. I see “Power” as being a huge hurdle to get past. The elements of tolerance, power, trust, and respect have been touched on in these stories. For a friendship to emerge a lot of all four need to be present. They provide a feeling of safety, which is paramount in a successful friendship, in my opinion.
I look forward to writing more about “FRIENDSHIP” in the future.
SPECIAL NOTE: This fictional story is based on a real life experience between me and a person with the screen name Rick Atridim. His real name is Richard M. Masbruch. It was not played out in a university setting, but on Facebook.
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