Experiencing common ground with a teacher is understandable. However, you need to be aware and mindful of certain considerations to steer clear of awkwardness or inappropriateness in a student-teacher friendship. These considerations range from relationship essentials such as in-person boundary setting to social media guidelines.
A Strong Start
Chances are, you'd like to befriend a certain teacher because of a common interest. One way to explore a shared interest more fully is to linger after class and ask an open-ended question about something related to your teacher’s field, if not to the class. Keep the conversation alive with relevant small talk, recommends the HelpGuide article “How to Make Friends.” If you make a habit of lingering for a few minutes, you will probably find that rapport naturally grows and strengthens.
Although many of your friendships may involve the sharing of problems, or “co-rumination,” your friendship with a teacher is likely to be different. Frequent co-rumination can actually lead to increased anxiety and depression, notes psychologist Amanda Rose as reported in the American Psychological Association article “Seek the Right Kind of Social Support.” With a teacher, you have the opportunity to enjoy a relationship based on common interests rather than on common experiences. The friendship is based on topics that mentally stimulate you and do not remind you of your problems. By focusing your conversations on these topics, you will also avoid some of the awkwardness of blurred boundaries.
If the boundaries are not clear, you both might feel uncomfortable and even resentful, notes psychologist Dana Gionta in an interview for the Psych Central article “10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries.” Although doing so might initially feel awkward, have a frank discussion with your teacher. Tell her that you enjoy talking with her about matters not directly related to class but want to make sure neither of you steps on the other’s toes. Ask her what hours would be acceptable to her for you hang out in her classroom. If a potentially uncomfortable issue, perhaps involving your dating or home life, arises, ask your teacher outright if she feels comfortable discussing this with you – and don’t forget to gauge your feelings to determine your own comfort level.
The New Age of Media
There is no umbrella guideline for teacher-student interactions on social media, says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, in her Psychology Today piece “Should Teachers and Students Be Facebook Friends?” If you do reach out to your teacher in this way, keep in mind that he will be able to witness all your interactions on the site. This creates a level of familiarity that goes far beyond that which is typically experienced in the classroom. To make sure that you and your teacher are comfortable with this idea, ask whether he has a personal policy about connecting virtually with students.
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