Monday, March 15, 2010

Teacher-Student Relationship : How open is too open?

Hi everyone,

I’ve been thinking about something recently and would like to hear what you have to say about it.

Everyday we interact with our students in and out of class. Over time we may build relationships with some of our students, some closer than others. Some of us may even go out from time to time with some of those students and obviously discuss various topics, some of which may revolve around you, as some students are curious to know more about their teacher.

My question is therefore,

How open is too open?

What I mean is how much should we let our students know about ourselves as a person? Of course there is a limit, but beyond the obvious, how open should we be with our students?

Cheers,
eisensei

11 comments:

  1. It's a good question. There are a couple of points - one pedagogical, the other ethical.

    First, students are not there to listen to us pontificate. If they ask, tell them, but keep it short. If you are talking to much, they aren't. You might also stifle their self-expression, especially if they disagree with what you say but are too nervous to express it in L2, in front of the teacher.

    Ethically, especially in our position, there are unvisible lines. I mean, I have taught business people and it is appropriate to recognise them as peers - share stories about the kids, life experiences and so on. But at university... I'm old enough now, technically, to be my students' dad. I suppose I should act a bit like it. Friendly, but not friends. How's that?

    You might like this post on a similar topic.

    http://www.teachingvillage.org/2010/03/13/sometimes-less-is-more-by-anita-kwiatkowska/comment-page-1/#comment-1600

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  2. I find that I make a distinction between class time and social time, and this has changed over time for me.

    I started teaching in Japan in my 20s, and taught businessmen (among others). At my first school, their favorite activity after our evening class was to take the English teacher out for weird food and karaoke. At my second school, I was part of an English immersion program for businessmen. They lived on campus for 4 weeks. A large part of their education included learning how to interact with foreign colleagues in informal English situations (like cocktail parties, dinners, the conversations that create friendships) as well as formal business meetings and presentations. Both environments created situations where sharing personal information and opinions was natural, and it would have been odd to keep an artificial distance.

    Now, I teach senior citizens (and am closer in age to them, too). They have lots of opinions, and enjoy discussion current events (at their English level, which is limited). We share information about food, health, kids, grandkids, and other subjects relevant to their daily lives--because these are topics they are interested in talking about, and my personal information becomes a model for them to share their own. We've also socialized at flower shows, or going for lunch, and in those cases, I share more freely--and usually in Japanese. They also make a distinction between class (English) and social (Japanese).

    Thanks for your comment over on my blog, too! I appreciate your contribution.

    I also teach neighborhood children, and I often see them around. We say hello, and that's about it. To them, for the most part, I'm ancient (and would have seemed so in my 20s, too!) and they have little to no interest in my opinions about anything :)

    I know that my attitude toward this has changed as I've gotten older. I can be friendly, and share information about myself, without sharing everything. And, I think that "sharing" is the key word--if my students know more about my life and opinions than I know about theirs, then it's not sharing.

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  3. Yes, I think that Barbara summed it up nicely there - "sharing" is the key word.

    I'm pretty open with my students, they're adults so like Darren I'd have to say that there are ethical aspects to all this.

    However I would say that sometimes a solid chunk of teacher-talking is actually pretty good L1 authentic listening and shouldn't be tossed out of training.

    The other day I was telling students something from my childhood and by the end of the, I dunno, how long, 15 minutes ?- it's a crime story (stealing cherries) - I had them in stitches...

    so not only were they listening to various tenses but also lots of dramatic speech and significant breaks and pauses and ers and ums and most importantly it's a B1 level class so quite a bit of lexis they don't know yet - not understandable standing on its own yet within context: put-together-able and clear. :-) and then of course, this inspired them to tell their own childhood mishaps!

    So I say, do what feels right for you as a teacher.

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  4. " how much should we let our students know about ourselves as a person?"

    I think that a student who saw you teach "knows you as a person" already !! I am very much *myself* when I teach, and if I want to answer "curious questions" is up to me, independently of my being their teacher or not.
    I don't calculate "do they know about me than I know about them", I don't do the maths, I just feel what I want to share : sometimes I just open up to people I hardly know, but know nough to share what I feel is right to share at that moment M in life.
    ALiCe__M

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  5. " how much should we let our students know about ourselves as a person?"

    I think that a student who saw you teach "knows you as a person" already !! I am very much *myself* when I teach, and if I want to answer "curious questions" is up to me, independently of my being their teacher or not.
    I don't calculate "do they know more about me than I know about them", I don't do the maths, I just feel what I want to share : sometimes I just open up to people I hardly know, but know enough to share what I feel is right to share at that moment M in life.
    ALiCe__M

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  6. I'm with Alice. I don't play a role in terms of my own beliefs, even when I'm in my teacher role. I'm very open-minded and encourage different opinions. When I note deep-seated differences, I tend to support each party in finding ways of clarifying their positions, explaining what the values inform them, and teaching respect for other people's values. Of course there are many conflicts. I've got a few people who believe very deeply that God created the world, for example, and have trouble accepting Darwin's theory of evolution. When we discussed evolution this past year I noticed raw nerves. So what I did was bring in texts in which evolutionary biologists talked about their concepts of God. That led to a far deeper conversation, and took the focus off of those who felt their beliefs were being attacked.

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  7. In answer to the initial question, my really boring answer is that two or three factors are in play: (1) What is appropriate in the country where you are teaching? (2) What are you comfortable with? (3) Will openness about your personal life affect anyone else in your personal life, for example a spouse with a sensitive job or some other greater need for privacy?

    Me personally? I tend to be quite open. Acting naturally feels better, and it tends to work for me to. But I've only taught in German and American cities.

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  9. For me, it would be best to only open up about the things that you are comfortable sharing with. Sharing things about you that will be of value to students and not merely personal stuff that might make put you in an uncomfortable situation sooner or later will be my best advice. The academic field is very different and we must be cautious at all times since students often look up to educators.

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