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.