Though our kids are grown and we now are starting to experience the joys of being grandparents, because my wife works in the field of education, I get to hear a lot of talk regarding the current “do’s” and “don’ts” in the world of raising young people. It would appear that teachers, often the primary adults spending time with our children throughout much of the day, face many of the same challenges that parents face. One such challenge is that of whether or not parents or teachers can be “friends” with children or students. Not only is this a hotly debated topic on the internet, one does not have to look far to find books completely covering or at least touching on it, as well.
Yesterday, my wife felt badly for a substitute teacher who had experienced a particularly rough day with students. First, it might be good for you to know that my wife teaches in, and absolutely adores, junior high. I love my brilliant, soon to be “doctor of education” spouse, but as to her love for working with this particular age group? Let’s just say that I would last about five minutes in one of her classrooms. The smells alone can make one’s eyes water. But, I digress. She didn’t mention names, and she remarked that the sub had a caring heart and really put great effort into her role. However, she also noted that the sub had stated that she really wanted students to know that she could be “cool,” and that she was their “friend.” My wife deducted that the latter greatly factored into the sub’s “bad” day.
Nobody loves kids more than my wife. Even though we had three, active, rowdy-to-raise sons in just under five years, she laments the fact that we did not birth or adopt at least two or three more. As grown men, I marvel at how much our sons want to spend time with us and how much they call for advice. This is especially interesting as we had more than a few years of each one of them thinking that neither my wife nor I had much insight to offer.
One thing we never made a big deal about, either way, was being their childhood “friends.” Did they know we loved them? Yes. Did they know we valued them? Yes. Did they know we believed in them? Would be there for them? Provide for them? Keep them as safe as humanly possible? Chase the monsters out of the closets? Yes, to all the aforementioned. My wife transfers this philosophy, in theory, to her students. They know she values them, believes in them, and will do her utmost best to offer a safe, caring learning environment in which they can grow. But, she also makes it very clear to them that she is not running for Student Council, or trying out for cheerleader. She is their teacher.
Kids need guardrails and gatekeepers. They don’t need someone yelling the rules at them, 24/7, but they do need to know the boundaries . . . and that the boundaries are in place to keep them safe and on their “roads.” They don’t need to us to act like prison wardens, but they do need someone closely monitoring what is allowed to come in and out of the “gate.”
When we parent or teach with our focus being the well-being of our young people as more important than whether or not we are popular, a very ironic thing often happens. A day comes when a young man or woman calls us up, or stops by a classroom, to tell us that not only are we “cool,” but that he or she now considers us and calls us “friend.”