Not Your Friend

It breaks my heart every time I hear someone say: “I’m not your friend. I’m your teacher.”

I think I can appreciate the sentiment that the person is trying to convey.  I think that the speaker is trying to maintain a level of professionalism.  The speaker is trying to do his/her job and not let feelings or personal relationships get in the way.  

But all I hear is “I don’t care about you.  I care about this piece of work.  Get to it.”  Whenever I hear those words, I think of Rita Pierson:

While Rita’s reasoning is sound (“You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”), I’m not sure it appeals to the educators that say “I’m not your friend.  I’m your teacher.”

Here’s an alternative:

“So often we are concerned about the classroom climate, but forget the purpose of warm, trustworthy, empathetic climates.  The primary purpose is to allow students to feel okay about making mistakes and not knowing, and to establish a climate in which we welcome error as opportunities.  Learning thrives on error; a fundamental role for teachers is to seek out misconceptions, misunderstandings, and lack of knowledge.  While teachers may have warm interpersonal interactions, this is not the point.  The point is: do the students believe that the climate of the class is fair, empathetic, and trustworthy? Can students readily indicate that they do not know, do not understand – without getting snide comments, looks, and sneers from peers?”

Positive teacher/student relationships allow for evidence gathering to proceed with ease.


While products can be assessed without much dialogue, observation and especially conversations rely on honest and intimate sharing from both teachers and students.  How can this occur when there is no relationship, or – worse still – a poisonous relationship between teacher and student?  Evidence-based teaching relies heavily on cues given and received through a relationship between educator and student.  No relationship = no data.

Time spent on interpersonal relationships in a class is never wasted.  Educators can see from a warm and fuzzy perspective, or they can see it from a data-driven perspective.

…but I hope they see it.


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