16

I have been thinking about this question for a while and did a few googling here and there; but, didn't get anything good. Probably, academia could help.

I am early in my teaching career as a lecturer (I am just 25 now) and also working towards my PhD.

My classes are very interactive and I sometimes become very friendly with my students. Sometimes, I make difficult theory so simple for them to understand in their own language or sense. Maybe that is good for students. However, it kills a lot of my time inside the class.

Sometimes, I can feel that students are trying to take undue advantages of this friendly behavior of mine. They try to become very frank when the papers are evaluated. They just sometimes make my time horrible so that they get a better mark than they deserve. Is it the outcome of my style of teaching?

In general, should a young lecturer be friendly with his/her students, either inside a class or outside of class?

I have felt that here students are more focused on grades than learning something new. (I am making it generalized; however, ratio-wise it is true)

10
  • 12
    I always go by 'be friendly, but not familiar'
    – user65092
    Nov 19, 2016 at 10:30
  • 8
    Sure, by all means be friendly - maintain a rapport, but keep a 'professional distance'. Set yourself some lesson goals, outline these goals at the start of a lesson and stick to them. Put the onus on problem solving on the students by focusing on what skills they need to develop (alongside the knowledge base)
    – user65092
    Nov 19, 2016 at 11:00
  • 3
    I have made the mistake of being too friendly with my students while being a TA. They didn't take their homeworks and projects seriously as they should have been. I advice you to keep the distance.
    – Nikey Mike
    Nov 19, 2016 at 12:07
  • 3
    Stuff I wish I'd read when starting out: Krantz's "How to Teach Mathematics", Bain's "What the Best College Teachers Do", "How Learning Works". Nov 19, 2016 at 14:38
  • 1
    @MikeyMike When I was a TA, I was quite good friends with many of my students, and none of them ever tried to take advantage of our relationship. I can certainly imagine situations where it can take away from your effectiveness as a teacher, but in certain school/cultures, I think there is little problem.
    – Kimball
    Nov 20, 2016 at 0:44

3 Answers 3

18

Krantz in How to Teach Mathematics does actually want to become friends with his students (Sec. 3.1, Breaking the Ice):

Since I so enjoy a class once we have all become friends, I find the period of tooling up to that happy steady state generally too long and too painful. What usually happens is that there is a period of two to five weeks during which the students look at me as though I am from Mars... You should consider ways to make yourself seem like a human being to your students... Find some way to open up to your students so that they will open up to you... My view is that you should show students from day one that you are a person, and that you are going to spend the term doing your best to communicate with them.

But elsewhere gives this warning (Section 2.10, Grading):

You do not want to develop the reputation among students as an instructor with whom grades can be negotiated. I've had this rep, and I don't know how I got it... This process is unpleasant and (can be) degrading both for you and the student. Doing a careful job of grading in the first place, and posting carefully written solutions for students to see, can help to assuage much of student discomfort with grades.

Now, Krantz is a teacher "of long experience" (Sec. 3.1), and I can see this being interpreted differently/incorrectly if you are close in age to your students. Also, this will vary based on your institution and quality/maturity of students that you're getting. In my experience at community colleges, the strategy I was forced to start using early on was to be relatively strict at the start of the semester (adamantly not allowing any bit of variation from the course policies when students test them), and then becoming a bit more flexible and friendly later in the semester.

Added: More Krantz (Section 5.9, Begging and Pleading):

It really is true that if you look and/or act like a student then students will find you more approachable. They will more readily come to you with propositions that they wouldn't consider broaching with a more wizened (or older) faculty member. In short, younger faculty are more vulnerable. This is one reason for dressing differently from students and maintaining a slight distance. Again, this may sound cold. But I speak here from hard personal experience.

1
  • 2
    Your experience which you shared last will be very helpful to me. Thanks for the post. Next semester i should try. (+1)
    – Coder
    Nov 19, 2016 at 18:29
0

There is certainly nothing wrong with being friendly with students; all other things being equal, it is desirable to do so. However, it is important to ensure the being friendly does not detract from your authority and objectivity as a teacher/assessor of their work.

In regards to reviewing marking of assessment, you should make it clear to students that you are open to considering questions/objections on your marking, but once those questions/objections are made, you will make a professional judgment and decide on an appropriate response (including the possibility that there is no change in marks). Frank objections to your marking are fine, but frankness is a two-way street --- you are the subject-matter expert here, not them. In terms of process, you should correct your marking if you genuinely believe you did it wrongly (i.e., if the student gives a convincing explanation of a problem with the mark), but you should not allow yourself to be brow-beaten into raising marks simply because a student is upset, or unreasonably persistent. Listen to their explanation, make a professional judgment on its merit, and respond in a calm but firm manner. If the student seeks to persistently argue the point ---beyond what is reasonable--- you can calmly state that you are not convinced by their explanation and you do not propose to change the marks you have allocated. In the rare case where a student escalates to the point of rudeness, you should try to remain calm and friendly, but let them know they need to take it down a notch.

As a secondary point, take note of the laws of economics: if you incentivise students being horrible to you (by rewarding this with unwarranted increases in marks) then they will respond to this incentive by increasing the supply of horribleness. If you allow students to argue with you in a belligerent manner, and do nothing to draw attention to this, they will hold steady the supply of belligerence.

Now, since you're only twenty-five, you're not that much older than the students you are teaching. This is inherently going to mean that you have more in common with them, you may be seen as more approachable/soft, and you are more likely to be seen as a friendly figure with less authority. (And indeed, since you are junior, you probably do have less authority than the senior professors.) That comes with benefits and drawbacks. I recommend you try to maintain your instinct for friendliness, but ensure that you maintain professional objectivity and authority.

2
  • "However, it is important to ensure the being friendly does not detract from your authority" --- well, that's the main problem. There seems to be a trade-off between friendship and authority, isn't it?
    – Dilworth
    Jan 28 at 15:54
  • @Dilworth: There can be a trade-off in some cases, but I don't think it's an inherent trade-off. If the OP practices some of the methods suggested in the answer then they will be able to maintain authority without detracting from being friendly.
    – Ben
    Jan 28 at 22:18
0

I am more or less the same with you. I am in my thirties however the majority of our master program is taken either by professionals or by students who are doing a second master program, so in general I am around the same age as my students.

I maintain my distance all the way. I rarely use names to address people for example, always Sir/Madame and formal you (this would probably sound very awkward in English, but it is not so much in French). This keeps me relatively unbiased during the evaluation of assignments, and grading.

The distance is not so wide to keep students from approaching when there is a problem with an assignment or a deadline, or from frictions when they thought they got a grade that they did not deserve. They feel this not due to my relationship with them, but due to my teaching style and general pedagogical approach.

I would say keep your relationship with students as formal as possible, and keep the teaching as pedagogical as possible. Your time is better spent not managing their feelings, but making the course better.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .