To Sir, on FB
The teacher-student relationship has undergone a sea change in the recent past. Shefali Tripathi Mehta wonders if this is a good trend
Because my teacher said so! This statement always clamps any further discussion on any subject between little ones and their parents. The teacher’s word is final, something parents bow down to, and not always willingly.Most children have played out the role of a teacher during play time and have dreamt of becoming one too, some day. Teachers were idols. They were held in high esteem in society too. Parents never referred to teachers without the title sir/miss/ma’am.
Every student had his/her favourite guru and most of these teachers were not just good teachers and masters of their subjects, but also counsellors and friends.
Students and teachers today share a more easy and casual relationship. They are Facebook friends and even text message each other. The general culture of informality in society, spurred by superfast means of communication, including email, text messaging and social networking, have radically altered the relationship between students and their teachers.
Familiarity over formality
In the past, a chance meeting with a teacher in the market or movie hall would catapult a student into an object of envy among other students at school. They would be full of curious questions about the teacher — what they said, what they wore, who was with them. Teachers did not exist outside the school then. Now students ‘Like’ and comment on their teachers’ holiday pictures on social networking sites; and call or text them at odd, after-school hours.
Very often, emails and text messages are without greeting or salutation and writing etiquette is dispensed with in order to get the message across instantaneously. What was once downright rude is now cool. Is this level of over-familiarity good for the relationship that must rest on discipline and decorum?
School lives are essentially organised and actions are clearly right or wrong. There is punishment for wrong and reward for good. The early years ensured there was discipline. Everyone knows that the foremost impression of a teacher in the classroom is about his or her ability to assume and demonstrate authority — command and control the class. Some teachers achieved this by being stern while others were gentle and friendly. But the line that divided the student and the teacher stayed firmly in place — sometimes tautly stretched, sometimes a little lax, but rarely down.
Blurring boundaries can lead to a lot of other problems other than that of discipline. Casual communication tends to get too personal. Students are emboldened to ask questions they would not have the courage to ask in person. Crushes on teachers are commonplace, but so are the more damaging romantic or inappropriate relationships. These have existed even before, but spur-of-the-moment communication and unclear private and professional boundaries lead to greater propensity of such.
But there is enough evidence to state that most schools and teachers are struggling with the complexities that are emerging out of the changing dynamics of student-teacher interaction. Thanks to this, many have laid down clear guidelines on interaction with students outside of and after school; and appropriate and acceptable conduct.
To connect or not
Many argue that teachers are more accessible now, which is good for students. Schools have websites where they encourage interaction with teachers and students; post announcements, results and assignments; and even encourage real-time chat.
Is this required? Is it really good for both parties? Some teachers believe that it helps them understand and know their students better. But wasn’t the teacher-student bond much stronger in the pre-Facebook days? Didn’t the teachers then take time out during school hours and within school to offer help and guidance?
Better implementation of appropriate guidelines will do everyone good in the long run.