Are You Ever Friends With Your Students?

June 5, 2008

Am I ever friends with my students?

If you mean, “Do I have some students whose personalities resonate well with mine?” the answer is yes. ”Are there some students who I really hope will keep in touch with me after they have moved on academically and in life to let me know how they are doing? Yes, again.

If you are asking whether or not I perceive any of my current students as friends-would I go to them with a problem or personal need, would I contact them when I wanted someone to talk to-the answer has to be “no,” for at least two reasons. One, my students don’t really get to know me like people outside of the classroom do. They think they know me because I talk in front of them for hours and hours and sometimes I tell personal stories to illustrate points.

But here is how my students see me: Every time they hear me talk, I seem like the smartest guy in the room, but it’s only because I am leading the discussions about the one thing I know best-history. In other settings, I’m hardly always the expert. Almost every time my students hear me talk, I’m the funniest guy in the room. Now actually, I am kind of a funny guy-but in the classroom, the deck is stacked in my favor because, again, I’m driving the discussions.

Finally, in the classroom, I’m in charge; I’m the alpha male, but that is certainly not always the case elsewhere. Two, besides the fact that my students don’t really get to know me, there’s the whole power thing. I do not have an equal relationship with them-I will be giving them a grade. And that one class my have greater ramifications for a student than the one grade; it might affect GPA and scholarship opportunities or recommendation letters. Imagine if I wanted to be your friend, but you didn’t want to be mine. Would you be comfortable brushing me off, given my position of power over you?

If your question was code for “Do I think it is okay for professors to date their students?” my answer is an emphatic “NO” for all the reasons above. I think schools should have clearly stated policies against professors dating any of their current students.


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Timothy D. Holder, Ph. D., is the co-author of Ask the Professor: What Freshmen need to Know” and author of Nixon and His Men.” Visit his website at


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