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Did I miss a memo- why do I keep see teachers calling their students “friends?” When did that become a thing?

likefunnyhelpful
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So, I think this can go one of two ways. I have encountered, many times, and especially among younger teachers teaching older kids, teachers who really blurry professional boundaries and have actively referred to kids as their friends in the sense of, “I think Michelle just really needs a friend, and I can be there for her right now, and she’s just really fun to talk to.” I’ve seen teachers who meet up for study time with students outside of work at Starbucks. They are Pal’s on personal social media (I’ll add thoughts on that), and this never seems to work out well. It’s too much.
I work with middle schoolers, sixth grade to be specific, in a very rural area with a lot of parental and guardianship issues, a lot of drug use, and a lot of very lonely kids, especially during virtual learning and throughout the pandemic. These kids respond best to someone they feel they can trust, who provides steady but kind authority, and doesn’t represent “the system” that they’ve learned to fear. They also are at an age where terms of respect from adults and things that give them a sense of more grown up agency mean a lot. So, when I address my class as a whole, I often say things like, “and that, my friends, is the wonder and horror is decomposers.” I say, “Good morning, friends, what good news do you have for me?” If a kid is giving me a hard time, they know I will not tolerate it, but I do give the kid a chance to solve the problem in problem in the classroom, and if it’s someone who I know is going to respond with a little levity in the mix, I’ll go so far as to say, “Dude, not cool. What have I done to deserve this level of disrespect?” And the tone shifts from hostility to openness.
My students like a friendly, open teacher and they need authoritative boundaries. Those things are not mutually exclusive. At the points they ask me if we can be friends on Instagram, or invite me to parties, I tell them no, I’m their teacher, but it’s weird for a thirty something to be friends with a kid. But, they can follow my classroom Instagram which posts fun pictures from hikes and things I’m doing through the day that relate to our content. I think classroom social media can be a great tool for reinforcing content, and reaching kids in a way that appeals to them.
I started teaching older kids, eighth graders when I was pretty young, about 24, and that was difficult because I looked young, younger than 24, and the kids tended to think of me as not quite an adult. So I started a trend then, that we could not be friends, but the day they graduate high school I will be glad to count them among my friends and will buy them a coffee. When they’re in college, I’ll buy them lunch. (We have a pretty high dropout rate.) In the last decade that I’ve been teaching, I’ve kept that motto. And now, I have former students who are in college and when they come in on breaks, they will email me and ask if we can go get coffee. I always say yes, and are we really friends, probably not. Usually they want me to look over a paper, to share their successes, to tell me a little bit about how their family is responding to them being the first person to go to college, or to count on the fact that they know I will buy their cup of coffee. But at this point, when these young adults who thought they didn’t stand a chance remind me that I told them that they did, and that they looked forward to graduating and doing some thing so that we could go have a cup of coffee, I can’t help but get the warm and fuzzies.

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Lol, yeah, when I break that one out it’s serious.

My friends, I think we’re taking things a little too seriously. (I mean, do you now believe I view you all as close friends or did you understand I was simply using it as a warm way to address an audience?) The word “friend” has evolved through the years, in both formal and informal contexts. It’s not the word “friend” that makes the difference; it’s how we use it and how we act, speak to them and conduct ourselves on a daily basis that gives them their cues. If you ACT like their friend, they will see you as a friend (even if you don’t say “friend”). If you act like a professional, boundary-respecting, caring educator, they will see you as a boundary-respecting educator.

“Remember, my friends, the MP closes soon so get your work in ASAP” is VERY different from, “Look, you can tell me anything. I’m your friend.” If the kids are too informal it’s because of a number of factors, not because they hear a single word. We train them how to view and treat us every day.

Kids test boundaries. It’s what they’re supposed to do; it’s part of their social-emotional development. Its not always because of something we’re doing wrong or misleading. It’s a sign that they’re growing. It’s our job to guide that process the best we can, for the kids in front of us.

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound preachy. I just think we teachers need to stop judging each other. Things like this depend on the culture of the school environment, the age of the kids, and your own personality. You teach your subject differently than others: you have your own methods. So you connect with students differently than the teachers across the hall. Or a different building. Or town. Or state. Now, if a teacher is violating a code of conduct, intervene and help them out. If they are venting that their students are too informal and wants suggestions to be more authoritative, then cool - advise a change in their salutations. Until then, I just think there’s a better uses of our valuable time than passing judgments - from a distance - on relationships we’re not in. This job is complicated and hard enough, and the world is harsh and cold enough without us criticizing the ways people try to make it better.

<gets off soap box>

smarthelpful
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That’s a mistake! I’m not friends with teenagers. Boundaries are essential. I’m middle - aged. I have car payments, a queen-size bed and a growing pension. I enjoy a martini in the evening with my husband and we often travel to Palm Springs. We have zero in common. I’m not friends with students, because I don’t want to create an expectation that I’ll pass them regardless and we’re not going to be sipping milkshakes at Sonic together. Let’s get real!

likefunnysmarthelpful

Building relationships is the flavor of the year, decade, actually, if my time at my school (2011 - 20) was any indicator of the trend. Remember when self esteem was the thing we addressed in building relationships?Remember when we went from seats in rows to groups, from teaching subject X to students then teaching students subject X, from teaching to facilitating? When I was in high school in the 70’s, teachers were autonomous, teaching the subjects as they saw fit. Students had to meet the standards set by those teachers. We do a lot of catering to our customers these days. Now don’t get me wrong. I thought it made sense for subject area teachers to get together to share resources to avoid recreating the wheel and utilizing various strengths among those peers. But when it evolved from suggested interactions to mandated to formal meetings to discuss test results and why teacher X was seeing lower test scores (usually me) and lockstep curricula AND building relationships, it really became too much. I couldn’t tell you how many times I wanted to say to admin, who were NOT models of building relationships, which do you want me to excel at, building relationships with subject area peers - some of whom acted like irresponsible kids - building relationships with my students when it feels artificial, or getting the curriculum handled? Especially when the latter involved changes in use of technology?

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The responses on this post are quite frankly appalling. I am can’t believe some of you are teaching. I truly believe that none of us that use the term “friends” are actually friends with our students. We use the term to be more inclusive. To let our students know they are welcome in our classroom and that it is a safe place. That is it!

likesmart

Agreed. Saw one comment that said using "dude" is incredibly unprofessional. Like, if I wanted a job where I pretend to take myself serious all day and just bark orders, I'd be in central office.

like

When they get to choose their gender and we don't know what to call them without offending anyone. I use friends for elementary, people or humans for middle & high school. I used the term friends when teaching preschool back in the late 80s. So "friends" have been around for a long time. Hope that helps.

likefunny

Um, no. I'm from the south. We don't use y'all to address just one person. It's a perfectly fine contraction.

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I call them my kiddos, and my classroom functions more like a family. I’m a special educator and have had some of the same students for 3-4 years, so you really do become like a family. My students know I love them just like I do my own children ❤️

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Same! Love Sped! And my kiddos

I think part of it is a renewed focus on SEL instruction. Teaching students how to be friends and supporting student’s social skills by encouraging them to see each other as friends. I also know I started using it daily when I was doing animal programming at the children’s museum because terms like ‘you guys’ were discouraged as being insensitive to gender, and other ways of addressing a crowd could be awkward either because of who was attending various presentations, because it seemed too sterile, or because it took too long to say and left me tripping over my tongue. ‘Friends’ was short, inclusive, and positive. 😊

likeupliftingsmart

As some others have noted, using "friend" can give the wrong impression and have less than desirous results, especially when they see the grades they are earning.

Children aren't going to realize all the different ways that friend can be utilized. They're going to think, "Oh cool, I can slide by in this classroom" without giving the thought that the teacher just may be trying to be more 'inclusive.'

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I am a third grade teacher and have always called my students- (friends , our community, our peers, etc.) because it’s more personal and has feeling of belonging. In my personal experience saying students sound sterile and nonpersonal like they’re objects. I like running my classroom like a community in which we all have valid opinions and worth. I hope this doesn’t come off too judgy- sorry.

likesmart

I agree with you. SEL is the buzz acronym, and it is getting more and more popular.

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I use ‘friends’ as a general term. Like ok friends let’s get to work, or Good morning friends and neighbors. I am totally virtual this year. I notice that I have been using it this year. I do not know if I used it in the past

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Kiddos sounds like the cool word of the day for some circles. Yuck.

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There are times I address the class as “my friends” as in “Good Morning my friends (instead of “class” or “everyone” or “boys and girls”). The students have never taken it as if we are actually personal friends! But greeting them this way seems warmer. Another general way I have addressed classes of all ages is “nice people” as in “Good Afternoon, nice people”! I had a principal once that frequently used this as her greeting to groups! It was a little unusual but kind of sweet at the same time. And it certainly does not offend anyone. So I adopted it as a catch phrase of my own. When I use it students seem to instantly stop and listen!

likehelpful

She’s my kid’s math teacher now. I always felt I had a lot to learn from her.

*eye roll* Really? This is the thing we're worried about? The answer to your question: it became a thing when we needed a gender neutral manner to refer to all students collectively. "Students" often feels too formal (though I like 'scholars,' that's a good one), 'boys and girls' or 'guys' isn't gender inclusive (and if you don't like that we have to be gender inclusive, that's a different topic), "people" sounds also weirdly formal... Friends is an easy, gender neutral option that conveys warmth.

More to the point: No student is actually confused that the teacher is their friend. Every post I read that took issue with 'friend' had vague concerns about students thinking teachers were actually their friends. Can anyone provide a single real example of a teacher using the word 'friend' as a collective pronoun and then having a student turning around and saying 'I thought you were my friend!'

High schoolers don't want to be your friend. Younger kids have enough discernment to know you're and adult ergo not their friend. You might have a couple manipulative kids try this, but no one is actually confused.

My question is: Why does anyone feel the need to moralize about this?

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Thank you!!!

like

I don’t call them friends. I don’t want to be their friend. Have you seen the way they treat their friends? Forget that!!!

funnylike

But we can role model how to treat friends...

Call me silly but I will sometimes sing the silly Mr. Rodgers song, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood, won’t you be mine could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor, Hello, neighbor”. Then I will greet with Hello, neighbor. I will get attention with “Can I have your attention in 3-2-1?”or other common attention tools. I tell my students upfront “We’re not friends, but we are a community, neighbors, and we are partners in Learning”

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likesmart

Some are. Lol

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Perhaps it is a cultural evolution of our definition of "friend".
We have people on social media who we designate as a "friend" even though we don't REALLY know them or ever plan to meet them IRL.
The definition of the word from one person to another has become amorphous.

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I think there's a substantial difference between occasionally referring to them as "friends" when addressing the class (Okay friends, does that make sense?) compared to actually considering them friends that you text and hang out with. Additionally, teachers can always give the "We aren't friends." talk to the class. They usually get it.

Wait until you start hearing, “I thought you were my friend,” when you have to be the adult. I disagree with parents being friends to their children as well. My mom was my friend. I wish I had more boundaries and was set up to strive for success. rather just coast along.

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That’s a

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Boys and squirrels, ladies and germs... I like to play. The kids laugh.

likefunnysmart

Yep! Bouys and Gulls! Lepers & Germs! They like that

funny

Folks- people-students-Patriots (our school mascot)-learners-explorers

I would never use friends since I am the authority figure in the classroom.

like

I use our mascot too, Ok Hodags...

likefunny

Who knew you could have various definitions for the same word. Let’s calm down y’all

likesmart

Like most words, friend has different applications and sub meanings. I consider some of my students “friends.” But not the same way that I consider my peers my friends. We have fewer things in common, obviously, but we still have a friendship. My children are adults now, and our relationships have grown as they have. We are certainly friends, but that will never supersede the parent-child relationship.
Expand your minds, my friends.

likesmarthelpful

I agree! If you are running your classroom right, your students will be very well aware that you are in charge and you are not their peer.  Lighten up. Geez.

like

I will not call my students friends again. When my 5th graders feel we are friends, they try to take advantage. I let them know I care about them. But we are not friends.

likesmart

AMEN!

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I use ladies and gentlemen...

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HSAT4 that hasn’t hit our conservative schools yet. But as a mother of a child who doesn’t seem to be following the normative behaviors for her gender. This post has caused me to think.

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I have a gender-fluid grandchild who said I “... should tell all teachers to refer to the kids as students, scholars, class [as a whole] and the one name that is always correct for them. The teachers do not need school-age friends so don’t call them that.”

I actually like cross generational friendships, but I also believe we need to teach boundaries. If your child was in your class, you would have your child refer to you as all the other students do, right? Then outside school you get to engage in your other relationships.

So teach “We are at our jobs at school and when we leave school we can be friends,” (or not).

likesmarthelpful

Many of our students today do not have boundaries. It is perfectly acceptable for them to yell at care givers. Look at the videos on social media of children being totally inappropriate, but be regaled as cute. Our morals are out of wack. And I am not speaking religiously. I mean as humans and being decent to each other.

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