Think about a skill that you have learned from someone else, a skill that you soon excelled at. Maybe it’s learning how to play video games or organizing an event, or a social skill, like flirting. Chances are, you learned such skills not from a teacher or a coach or a parent, but from a friend.
As the never-ending debate surrounding revolutionizing education continues, I propose a radical idea: what if all a student’s teachers were also his or her friends? What if learning was contingent on intrapersonal skills and not just academic instruction?
Humans learn best from those who empathize and try to understand them. If this idea were to transfer to the classroom, the implications of the student-teacher relationship could be forever changed for the better. Teachers would no longer be “untouchable” figures that students fear to approach when they face academic challenges. One usually is not afraid to talk to their friend if they have a problem, and so it should be with teachers, too. Teachers must show their authority in the classroom from day one, and rightfully so, as they ought to show that they are responsible for students’ well-beings and actions.
However, in many classes, this authority settles into educational dynamics and creates a rift between the student and teacher populations. In the prototypical lecture-based classroom, it is almost like an invisible line separates where the teacher is when they are lecturing and where students sit.
“Most classes are probably a teacher at the front of the room at the chalkboard and [students] sitting in rows and desks,” Principal Kim Diorio says. “The idea is that in the future, there’s going to be a lot less of the ‘sage on the stage’ and more of the ‘teacher by the side.’”
Mentorship is what students need; they need a mutual relationship in which there is two-way dialogue and an understood goal of achieving personal development. The current grade-based educational model — which is something that is not the fault of teachers — promotes a fearful education, one in which students fear approaching teachers because academic struggle is considered failure.
“It’s okay to have a teacher trying to be a student’s friend,” a 17-year-old student named Alyssa said in the 23rd issue of Canada’s Faze Magazine. “It makes you enjoy the class more, which allows you to learn more effectively. Also having friendly teachers makes the task of going to school a lot less painful since not only are you connecting with your friends sitting next to you, but also the one at the front of the class.”
Arguably the most important reason students would benefit from more meaningful relationships with teachers is that they need the person who helps them learn to understand the world they are coming from. In the 21st century, this means understanding what students are going through each day and also employing tools that students connect better with.
“One of the things I really want [teachers] to think about is that the students born today are all digital natives,” Diorio said. “[We need to be] making sure that learning is more student-driven and not teacher-driven. That’s a big shift in education.”
A common saying is “don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” If all teachers put themselves in the shoes of their students and tried to imagine how a student feels in their class or how they manage to keep on top of their busy schedules, their methods of instruction would reflect this and thus benefit students. We as students, more than anything, just want to know that our teachers care about us.
“I like it when teachers try to be our friends,” 16-year-old Katie told Faze Magazine. “It makes me care more about the subject because it seems that the teachers care about you since they know you on a different level. Teachers also try to relate more to you and make school seem more like real life if they are your friends rather than just your professors.”
One would be ignorant to think that all teachers are some sort of imposing and dominant figure, since there are many teachers who do make wholehearted efforts to connect with their students both inside and outside the classroom.
I myself have been lucky enough to have such teachers through my years at Palo Alto High School, and not surprisingly, those classes have been among my favorite. But imagine if all teachers were like this — imagine the systemic impact this would have on education about the school, which can allow them to make a decision on whether the school is a fit for them.