As a student, I have experienced different kinds of teachers. Teachers who maintain a distance, teachers who are friendly, and teachers who become friends. Personally, however much a teacher has given me the freedom, I never took the liberty to become friends with them because then I might not respect their words as much as I should. Perhaps it differs from person to person. So, I have always maintained some level of respect and perhaps, for lack of a better word, a distance, because I feel my teacher is my teacher. They are higher in a certain aspect. I have had teachers who were super friendly, yet I treated them as teachers and not as friends.
However, when I became a teacher, I don’t think I thought this through completely. I never raised that question to myself to operate with that clarity. I was a teacher but became friends too. I can’t say people took advantage of it. Because just as I did with my teachers, most of them, still saw see me as a friendly teacher than a friend. So the sanctity was maintained. Rarely, some would assume such a level of friendliness that it affected the learning relationship at times. We both took for granted my time, efforts, and skill. Only after that happened, did I pause to ask myself – should I have maintained friendliness without becoming a friend?
My sister too asked me this question once, several years back – which really makes me think – even to date. She said, “Narmada, do you have any friends whom you do not coach or counsel?” I was surprised at the unexpected question. I was silent. Everyone, including me, took my profession more seriously than myself. My profession merged to become synonymous with me. I won’t get into whether it is good or bad. But on reflection, I found that it wasn’t healthy. People have expectations based on their idea of me as a professional rather than looking at me as a person. I was available anytime, anyone needed me. It’s of course not their problem that I was. It was mine that I took my own profession so seriously that I didn’t know when and how to draw a line. I paid heed to this pattern of mine only when some began to express their need as a sense of entitlement. That’s when the equation went out of balance to become unhealthy.
My learning was to respect my time, my skill, and my profession. If I didn’t, others wouldn’t too. Being too available for no cost can make people be momentarily grateful, but in the long run, feel entitled as they consider themselves an ‘insider’. Students who become friends might develop an unconscious expectation or entitlement to experience the benefits of being a student while being a friend – without the responsibilities that come along with being a student. And as a friend, I might lose sight of it too and deliver more value for no value in return. That’s when gratitude, responsibility for learning, and respect for the teacher, maybe compromised; although not intentionally!
A person who is unable to breathe values oxygen much more than the rest of us who are able to breathe with no difficulty. We don’t give oxygen masks for someone who has no difficulty in breathing right? We give it only when someone has difficulty breathing. If we simply make it a habit to keep providing oxygen masks when it is not needed, the other person forgets to do their natural job and depend on additional aids – to the extent that they may even feel a sense of entitlement to get the additional aid, otherwise there’s something wrong being done on to them. So, even good gestures can set off wrong expectations unnecessarily and create a fake sense of dependency and entitlement.
To request for something is one thing but to demand it or think that ‘I deserve it’ means I am demonstrating a sense of entitlement. As a student, one would be open to receiving whatever the teacher imparts. As a friend, one might demonstrate that sense of entitlement as if it’s their personal right. That’s when the equation completely goes off because graciousness and humility may not be present.
I was speaking to a teacher with over 40 years of experience and was a President award winner during her times for being an outstanding teacher. She said one thing that I shall remember – She said it is important to be friendly and understanding. But it is also equally important to not become friends and rub shoulders with them because then you can’t balance the equation and emphasize the seriousness of lessons at times, like how a teacher would. Valuable input I thought. I never pondered about the difference between being friendly and being a friend, as a teacher – but now that life demanded it, it was indeed a great insight. Again, there’s no one right way or one right idea. But something that just seems to make sense for me currently – until the next idea or lesson arrives. 🙂