Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Student/Teacher Relationships

            Our school is unorthodox. That’s a fact we’re all familiar with. But it’s something that most of us really love about Park. When I get the chance to describe my high school to somebody for the first time, I get visibly excited. “Imagine your house, with all of your friends over, but then inside of the rooms there are desks and whiteboards instead of beds.” Progressivism is a central doctrine of Park. We push the envelope in every angle possible, in order to maximize educational innovation. Unsurprisingly, the lines are often blurry along these fringes. We step into uncharted territory sometimes, and with no reference point but our ideals, the extent to which our school experiments can get concerning. This gives birth to an array of different issues and topics up for discussion regarding the policies of the institution. The one I want to focus on here is on the subject of student/teacher relationships.
            At the end of each year, my adviser has us complete a personal survey so that he can get a rough sense of our experience over the past nine months. One of the questions in the packet reads, “Is there a faculty member you feel comfortable talking about things with?” For me, that’s always been a yes. So much of what our philosophy preaches relies on strong ties between the kids and their teachers, and to be able to confide in one is a phenomenon that is largely absent from other schools. I’ve had conversations with my teachers as if I was gonna be hanging out with them on the weekend, a kind of intimacy that eclipses traditional conventions. When I can comfortably chat with my adviser about the private school party circuit, I realize that “teacher” doesn’t inherently mean there has to be an imbalanced power dynamic. We share a mutual respect for each other, and that allows for closer relationships.
            So when does it go too far? At what point does that comfortable nature turn uncomfortable? The distinctions are often extremely subtle and therefore complicated to discern. But there must be a line, across which lies territory that teachers and students should not step foot in. I’ve heard rumors of some fairly outlandish things happening between student and faculty, and whether they bear any truth is almost insignificant. The fact that there was even any basis to fuel these rumors speaks to our policy.
            I guess the only way to go about this issue is with specifics; each situation has its own circumstances. Let’s take, for instance, a teacher inviting a student over for dinner to talk about an independent project. Some might be weary of this depending on the gender disparity, but for me it doesn’t matter. It’s fuckin dinner, people. There’s nothing suspicious about that. “What if it’s a male teacher inviting a girl over!” To be honest, I just don’t think there are any teachers like that at our school. I see it as an innocent, but friendly gesture (this is assuming the proposal wasn’t entirely surprising).
            What about a student gossiping with a teacher about who’s been hooking up with who? The thought of this just makes me laugh. I think it’s hilarious when a teacher is curious enough to ask about that kind of thing. And for the most part, there are no ulterior motives there. They just wanna know what’s up with their students—details aside, of course. But to say something like, “oh yeah, your advisee got with so and so this weekend,” is frankly harmless. They have enough tact not to make any awkward remarks. And I like seeing their reactions, I like letting my teachers peek into my life away from school.
            I’d say it starts to get weird when things leave the context of an academic environment altogether. Like, a female student going to her male English teacher’s adult recreational softball game…the moment when the activity encroaches on being something irrelevant to school life. And I hate to make the distinction of gender differences, but 95% of the time that significantly changes things. It wouldn’t be as alarming, statistically speaking, if it was a girl going to her female teacher’s game, because that just seems to me like the development of a real friendship away from school, which I certainly don’t have a problem with. Once you add in the gender-opposite aspect, however, assumptions arise regarding a potential sexual nature to the relationship, which is problematic.
            I’m definitely an advocate for strong relations between the kids and their teachers. We just have to be careful not to venture into the aforementioned territory. I think it’s been a seldom occurrence at our school, but that kind of stuff always has the potential of developing, especially at Park.

23 comments:

  1. Alright, I agree with you all the way on this but what inspired this post? Have there been faculty-student relationships of opposite genders that seem inappropriate to you?

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  2. wow you've cat to be kitten me right meow.

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  3. can you not tell your teachers about your personal party life... it brings in your friends and they might not want their teachers knowing shit about them from outside of school.

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  4. PP recommended the nuva ring for me!!! is that crossing the line?

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  5. You dont know what its like in other schools..your all bratty park kids

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  6. And *you're all too embarrassed to put your name behind your comments... At this point everyone should know how I feel about anonymous comments. If you're too afraid to put your name on something then don't say it. In case you forgot: http://studentparkingonly.blogspot.com/2011/11/anonymous.html

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  7. I have to say that I, the original Anonymous who prompted your post, at least had something real (if a little harsh) to say. But seriously, "you've cat to be kitten me?" "live love lax?" Come on. Stop disrespecting us real anonymous commenters who, at the very least, give a damn about the subject on which we're writing (or commenting).

    A comment does not a cool person make, a relevant criticism, comment, or idea is a good place to start.

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  8. i dont agree with the gender bias. at all. why should it be less creepy for a female student to go to a female teacher's game or what not out side of school! sorry if i don't believe in gender biases and think they are a complete shit that anyone even goes along with them in the first place. and what if i was a male who self identified as a female, but nobody knew, would it still be weird to go to a female teacher's whatever?

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. yes, it's completely reasonable for people to assume that a male who looks like a male will identify as a male, and like females unless there's a clear indication that that is not the case. And the reason it is less creepy is because with this standard of what we naturally assume there's no indication of an inappropriate relationship but just a relationship that has developed more than is normal between a student and teacher.

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  11. Gender bias isn't ideal, but it's the reality. Society looks down upon relationships between male teachers/professors and female students.

    I found this post particularly interesting, as I just had a conversation with one of my art teachers today about recent family turmoils. It was also interesting to read from the perspective of a student going to a different school, I think these sorts of relationships at Hereford are much more rare.

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  12. Its really uncool to share info to faculty about other students. It is not your business. You end up getting people in trouble and you should respect the fact that some people would rather keep things quiet. Its people like you, those who share everything with the teachers because you like their reactions and to give them a taste of student life outside of school, who really mess it up for everyone else. While youre busy being selfish, there are real repercussions of your decisions on the lives other students.

    "But to say something like, 'oh yeah, your advisee got with so and so this weekend,' is frankly harmless"
    Guess what? Its not harmless! People have been getting in trouble with the school for out of school things... and you just admitted to thinking this is a harmless thing to say. If you have told a faculty member about the personal life of his/her advisee, youre either a really bad friend or just flat out selfish. You should probably think about how this is probably NOT harmless......

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  13. ^^^^^ AGREED. ^^^^^^

    Sorry to say Jake, but nobody is gonna think its okay to spread shit about your friends to the faculty.

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  14. Okay, so softball's no good... what about a female student attending a play starring her male teacher? Is the answer different if he teaches English versus science? What is the student is referred to the event by another teacher? (I'm actually interested in people's impressions here, by the way.)

    Female student+male teacher gets more scrutiny in the proposed 'system;' what about male student+female teacher? Out gay male student+male teacher? Female student+out lesbian teacher? Who's making these calls and why?

    I'm kind of wondering whom we serve by having this rickety system of 'propriety' as a function of gender, social (?) context, and heaven only knows what else. Are our thoughts about specific people's relationships with each other really based on our gut reactions to lurid news stories where some creepy dude abuses his position to coerce innocent schoolgirls into bed? Why on Earth would we embrace that system of stereotyping instead of looking past social conditioning as best we can and judging each case (when it is our role to judge) individually on its unique merits and demerits?

    One last thing before my comment is one huge teal deer: if the boundary of propriety is 'within the "academic environment," ' in what crazy alternate universe do other people's sex lives qualify?

    Food for thought.

    -SF

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  15. Alright, alright. This is in response to the person who said gossiping with teachers isn't harmless. I'm curious as to what, exactly, you think people are telling your teachers about you. If you're that worried about it, then you probably shouldn't have done it in the first place. But that's besides that point. You must have misunderstood me...I wasn't trying to say that sharing sensitive information about a student with a teacher is ok. Clearly, it isn't. I'm talking about things that are obviously less serious, and when you know that in the grand scheme of things, what you say can't hurt the person. We might just have different perspectives, but if someone told my adviser that I was hooking up with whoever, that wouldn't be a big deal at all to me. And if it was, my friend wouldn't say anything

    I would never talk to faculty about things that could get kids in trouble, so that's why I said it was harmless.

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  16. "And I hate to make the distinction of gender differences, but 95% of the time that significantly changes things. It wouldn’t be nearly as alarming if it was a girl going to her female teacher’s game, because that just seems to me like the development of a real friendship away from school, which I certainly don’t have a problem with. Once you add in the gender-opposite aspect, however, assumptions arise regarding a potential sexual nature to the relationship, which is problematic."

    Please do not assume that everyone is straight, and that everyones' anatomical sex and gender identity match up. This leads to the assumption that a relationship between a male teacher and female student is more likely to have inappropriate sexual connotations than one between a female teacher and a female student, which puts men who attempt to form platonic relationships with students of the opposite sex in an unfair and awkward position which they do not deserve to be put in.

    The fact that the author made that assumption is particularly surprising to me considering the stereotypes which he maintains are true reflect negatively on him (that is, the author is a man who is enforcing negative stereotypes of his own sex)

    As someone said earlier: "Why on Earth would we embrace that system of stereotyping instead of looking past social conditioning as best we can and judging each case (when it is our role to judge) individually on its unique merits and demerits?"

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  17. One thing you have to consider is that so many more people are straight than not straight so it would be impractical to assume that people are not straight. While I'm not saying we should just assume that someone who is openly gay is lying or unsure or something along those lines, but it would impractical not to assume that people are straight unless they give some strong indication otherwise. While I acknowledge their are exceptions, I'm saying the vast majority of people are straight and so there's no reason to just assume that people aren't a part of the vast majority.

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  18. I don't follow. "Please do not assume that everyone is straight, and that everyones' anatomical sex and gender identity match up." Where did I make that assumption? I said 95% (albeit a ballpark estimate and certainly not representative of a real statistic) because in most cases you're dealing with two heterosexual people. And in the other cases--the remaining 5%--you could be dealing with any number of combinations of gender identities and sexual orientations.

    And, "This leads to the assumption that a relationship between a male teacher and a female student is more likely to have inappropriate sexual connotations than one between a female teacher and a female student," It is, without a doubt, much more likely, according to projected rates of homosexuality. I'm not meaning to marginalize the obvious possibility that a student and teacher of the same gender can also be involved in inappropriate relations, but probability suggests a lesser likelihood.

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  19. "Some might be weary of this depending on the gender disparity . . . "

    *wary

    "What about a student gossiping with a teacher about who’s been hooking up with who?"

    *whom

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