The perils of being overly friendly to your students

If you think back to your school days one will likely recall teachers you couldn’t stand as well as teachers who were on the friendlier side. I’ve tried playing the hard ass role, have enjoyed it, and was even thanked for it. But I also enjoy the friendly role. I don’t think either of them are correct in any sense, it is just a style choice.

But there are some pretty strong disadvantages to being a friendly teacher. Case in point; the other day I was doing a writing class. No one likes, or wants to do, a writing class so I labeled it ‘storytelling’ to see who would turn up.
Pretty much nobody.
But two students did turn up (somewhat to my dismay), and we sat down to a pleasant hour of storytelling.

I wish. See, you aren’t exactly a teacher when your too friendly with the students. You are firstly, a friend, and this changes the dynamic slightly. You don’t obey friends, even when the friends know what is good for you. You want to have fun with your friends and this is where the friend/teacher compromise becomes challenging. As a teacher, you want to be fun, but you also want to be obeyed[1].

 Good luck walking the tight rope.
You give the students a simple warmer (“talk about a story you remember from Childhood”) and immediately the bartering begins “Can I talk about something that happened to me instead.” This is the choice laid clear; do you want to be the nice teacher or the mean teacher?
“Sure” you say, thinking it makes no difference. But you are wrong; it makes a difference, for now you have set the precedence of being the kind of teacher who bends to bargaining. Neither of the two students tell a particularly good story because no one is interested in the time when you were five and you made your grandmother buy a peach you didn’t really want. But what is worse is that from the teacher’s point of view the warmer failed miserably, as the students didn’t really focus on verbs as you hoped they would, but instead struggled for the word ‘oar’ and ‘raft’ (see my earlier post on context).
You give the student’s the next assignment (where they have to write stories as a team, each writing one line at a time) and you insist that they do it as quickly as possible.
Maybe they would have listened if you were the nice teacher; but you aren’t so suddnly the students morph into Gertrude fucking Stein, and every word of their story needs to be a masterpiece. What was slotted to be a 5 min assignment runs into 25 min. Frankly, I was pretty grateful that the class ended when it did.

[1] In fairness to all students everywhere, I am convinced that the particular problem I am here recounting was compacted by the low attendance of the class. If I had a class with even five students I was friendly with, I don’t think this problem would have occurred.

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