Without a shadow of a doubt, building strong relationships with the children you teach is an important part of the job.
The problems come when adults in schools go from caring about the children they teach to feeling responsible for them. I don’t mean the responsibility that comes with reminding them to put on goggles when they’re about to blow something up in science, or stopping them from running into a road on a school trip. I’m talking about that fine line between caring for your students and caring too much. It can be a painful line to learn not to cross.
It is easily done. Some children you work with are incredibly needy, often neglected. They are crying out for someone to trust, who values them. It could be Asha, who is bone-thin because mum doesn’t feed her enough. Or Glen, whose dad started humiliating him when he came out as gay. It could even be Darcy, the super-clever science buff, who could change the world, only her parents just want her to do hair and beauty because that’s all they know.
It is common to want to change children’s worlds, and not just through great learning. I hear so many people tell me, “if I could just take him/her home.” But there has to be a professional barrier for everyone’s sake. You must always remain their teacher and never become their friend, their sibling or their pseudo-parent. These children often have such complicated lives that getting personally involved can make things worse. Obviously, report on any concerns you have and ask if action has been taken, but be mindful that you may not be allowed to know what the action or outcome was.
Try not to get involved on a personal level: no lifts home, no cash given, no personal emails. And always inform your line manager about anything you do. After all, your idea of support could one day be misconstrued as grooming.
Be kind to that student, but definitely do not be their friend. Retain high standards – expect homework to be done, expect equipment to be brought – but also be elastic enough to lend a pen or provide a space that homework can be completed in. No child ever thrived from having all adults in their lives lower their expectations.
Of course teachers care about their students. When supporting staff after children in their classes have died, or have been very ill, or have arrived with black eyes, their human response has been genuine and appropriate. But these responses should always be acted on through the appropriate channels. We should never take it upon ourselves to step over that fine line.
Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and head of Q3 Academy Tipton. She tweets at @keziah70