Why You Should Never, Ever Be Friends With Students

One of the keys to effective classroom management is to build relationships with students. Making personal connections–through humor, kindness, likeability, and more–is a powerful way to influence behavior.

It can also be astonishingly rewarding.

The give-and-take with students, the trusting rapport, the shared affection–these are the things that make teaching more than just a job.

But there is a danger in building relationships with students. There is a line that can never be crossed. If you try to connect with students on their level–in a peer-to-peer-like friendship–then your efforts to influence their behavior will backfire.

And you’ll struggle with classroom management.

Here’s why:

They won’t respect you.

Your students need someone to look up to, not a buddy to hang out with. You’re not a peer and therefore should never behave like one. When you use slang or try to be cool or become overly familiar, they’ll lose respect for you. Your influence comes from your position as their teacher, not their friend.

They’ll stop listening to you.

Becoming too informal or casual in your interactions with students will weaken the power of your words. The urgency for your students to listen and learn will wane as the year rolls on and more of them begin wearing a too-cool-for-school attitude.

They’ll challenge you.

As soon as students get a whiff of your “cool teacher” vibe, they’ll start challenging and testing you. And you’ll likely find yourself in a showdown with a few or more students bent on wresting control of the classroom from you.

Rules will no longer apply.

Your students will react to your buddy-buddy management style by routinely and nonchalantly breaking your rules. They’ll stand and approach you in the middle of a lesson. They’ll stop raising their hand. They’ll assume, since you are friends, that the rules don’t really apply to them.

Consequences are taken personally.

Your students will start reacting to being placed in time-out by blaming you. They’ll become hurt and angry with you for merely doing what you said you would. Some may even pout, have a mini temper tantrum, or refuse to talk to you.

Accountability no longer works.

Accountability only works when students acknowledge internally that they indeed made a mistake. But if, when sitting in time-out, they’re mad at you because they feel you betrayed them by putting them there, then there is no accountability and no motivation to improve their behavior.

You become lax in following your classroom management plan.

Because your students tend to act dramatically when given a consequence, you will naturally begin to shy away from following your classroom management plan. You’ll tiptoe around them. So instead of you having leverage to influence their behavior, they now have leverage with you.

Tips For Building Influence

Building influential relationships with students without confusing them about who you are and what your role is isn’t difficult. Follow the tips below, and you’ll be the teacher they need instead of the friend who disappoints them.

  • Be a teacher, mentor, and role model, but never a friend.
  • Maintain a polite but warm level of professional distance.
  • Engage in the same friendly banter with all students.
  • Don’t use slang or terms popular with them.
  • Model politeness and expect it in return.
  • Follow your classroom management plan as it’s written.
  • Focus less on individual relationships and more on creating a classroom your students love coming to every day.

Influence that is powerful enough to get your students to want to behave and want to learn is not born of peer-like friendship, casualness, or laid-back coolness.

It is born of likeability and respect.

If your students like you because you’re friendly and good-humored, and they respect you because you always do what you say you’re going to do…

Then influence grows naturally.

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32 Responses to Why You Should Never, Ever Be Friends With Students

  1. Bryan May 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Thanks for that EXCELLENT post Michael!

    Everything you mentioned about becoming friends with students is absolutely true. I think the same thing happens to parents who try to become best friends with their child.

    I wanted to mention another consequence of becoming too friendly with some students: If you are only friendly with some it will cause resentment from the other students. Fairness and equal treatment is VERY important in the classroom and kids pick up on it if a teacher treats certain students better.

    I get students who want to hit “knuckles” …what would you do in that case?

    Thanks,

    Bryan

    • Michael Linsin May 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

      Hi Bryan,

      You’re absolutely right. It’s important that a teacher is friendly to all students. As for bumping knuckles, again, as long as you freely do it with all students–and it’s initiated by you–I think it’s fine. If they are reaching their fist out to you, I think it’s okay as long as they are doing it in a respectful manner.

      Michael

  2. Virginia Reardon July 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Very interesting post. I am always worried about crossing the line into “friend-zone” with my students. I teach art class K-8, which is fun and relaxed subject to begin with. I am 26 but look 16, and I am guilty of using their “slang” words when I am trying to get something across to them. Whoops, something to work on. I also get the students who want to hit knuckles. I just do it quickly and half-heartedly because I prefer that over the students who want to hug. I will hug the K-2nd grade without hesitation, 3rd-5th with a little hesitation. I usually turn down anyone older and I tell them “I am your teacher, not your friend”, and they usually make a big deal of it saying “Ouch. I got treated”, etc. It is mostly a problem with the boys because I question their intentions. (It has become “cool” to crush on me, so I’ve have had problems with boys being disrespectful and inappropriate in discrete ways) Any suggestions as to how to better deal with the hugging?

    • Michael Linsin July 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      Hi Virginia,

      The best way to handle it is to be honest and straightforward. Say, “I really appreciate your hugs, and you know how wonderful I think you all are, but no hugging please.” And then move on. They won’t think any different of you and no one will feel slighted or embarrassed if you announce it to the entire class(es).

      Michael

  3. Sangria Divine December 1, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    I happen to be a student myself. Many of my teachers are my in school friends. And I am highly aware that even though they are my friends I am no different from the other people.

    • Ash May 21, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

      Exactly. I feel like when you are friends with your teachers you want to behave more to keep with the ‘perfect student’ title. It also makes it easier for them to understand if your in a bad situation. I was friends with a few of my teachers and in those classes I had the best grades.

  4. Sangria Divine December 1, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Excuse my above typos..

    But I forgot to add, the above list isn’t always the case, but mainly the case at times. Also, I think a teacher of mine reads this and her class is wonderful. You’ve influenced many, great article!!

    • Michael Linsin December 2, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      Thanks Sangria!

  5. eja January 25, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    hi,
    i sometimes looking for something that would make them participate in a class discussion.. but my lecture is in big hall accommodated about 200-300 pax.so any suggestion? pls PM me.. tq

    • Michael Linsin January 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

      Hi Eja,

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. Can you please email me? I’m happy to help.

      Michael

  6. june March 7, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi, Michael:
    I just don’t know what will work for me! I work with urban, 4th graders in a school where fights occur regularly. I’m in a leave of absence classroom, where I’m challenged by disruptive and disrespectful children daily (not all of them). I try to be stern, nice, accommodating, but they backtalk, display blatant disregard. I do get angry when this happens…almost to the point of smacking some of them…(never acted on it). I’m tired everyday, and at times, I want to quit because I’m failing and I want a “good classroom,” too. I’m trying to help myself by using your articles for ideas, etc…talking to other teachers. I feel as though alot of the students don’t really like me, and that bothers me because if they did, perhaps I wouldn’t have alot of the problems that I do. I do take it personally! I’ve thrown up my hands! I’m feeling like I need to use my Master’s in Education for something else! Please help me!

    • Michael Linsin March 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

      Hi June,

      This site is for people like you. The principles and strategies you read about here were all tested and proven in the toughest of schools. My best advice is to spend one long weekend on the website, working your way through the archive, and then when you feel ready and prepared, start over from scratch with not only a new classroom management plan but a new attitude and new commitment to building influential relationships with your students. What you read on this site really works, but you must put it into action. You’ll never create the class you really want if you have friction with your students–if they don’t like you and you don’t like them.

      Michael

  7. zingrin April 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    What are your views on teachers and students being facebook friends?

    • Michael Linsin April 10, 2012 at 6:58 am #

      Hi Zingrin,

      I think it’s a terrible idea, unprofessional and inappropriate.

      Michael

  8. Wendi November 14, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Hi, I am a jr high teacher with 13 years in the classroom. This year, I teach jr high science, and I also teach my daughter and her friends. This has been, by far, my most challenging year with classroom management/discipline issues. Because many of my students have been to my house because of their friendship with my daughter, the teacher-student relationship has been diminished. They only see me as their friend’s mother. This has caused so many problems for me as a classroom teacher, and even though I do have 13 years experience, I’ve never been in this situation. Does anyone have any advice or suggestions as to how I can regain control in my classroom as a teacher rather than a friend’s mother?

    • Michael Linsin November 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      Hi Wendi,

      You need to meet with this group and explain (in your normally kind and comfortable tone) that in your role as a teacher you have certain responsibilities–different from that as a mother. And in order to fulfill your responsibilities and be an effective teacher to all your students, they need to follow the rules of your classroom just like anyone else–and will be held accountable like anyone else. From now on they’ll have to interact with you, and behave in your class, as their teacher only, and not their friend’s mom. You should be prepared, however, if your agreement gets tested, to follow through and do exactly what you say, even if it risks your cool-parent status. 🙂

      Good luck, Wendi! You should be able to fix this, no problem.

      Michael

  9. Ms. Garrido May 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. I am guilty of the being friends with students. I am a special education instructional Aide and I feel that the students do not respect me at times, now I understand why. I talk like them because I am 25 years old (still look and feel young). But it is not working. I need to make them realize that I am someone that is there to help them along the way but that I am not their friend. I am too casual with them, no wonder they do not respect me. They call me over to help them with their work, at least they know they can count on me for that, but I want them to see me as their teacher not their friends. Where do I go from here? How do I regain respect and keep it?

    • Michael Linsin May 11, 2013 at 8:46 am #

      Hi Ms. Garrido,

      The solution is simple and contained in the bullet points at the bottom of the article. In short time, they’ll begin seeing you as their leader and teacher, not as their friend.

      :)Michael

  10. Higor Cavalcante May 11, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thought-provoking post, but as a teacher of adults in Brazil, I have to say I disagree 100% with you. You can be friends with your students and still have everything you said we can’t with every single one of them. Perhaps I’d agree with you regarding young learners –is that what you mean?– but if we’re talking about teaching adults here, then I really, truly don’t agree with you.

    Do you teach adults? Do you believe these tips are valid concerning adults?

    • Michael Linsin May 11, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      Hi Higor,

      The website is based on my experience teaching students in grades kindergarten through eight. Teachers of students older than that may or may not find them valid. Certainly in this case I agree with you.

      :)Michael

  11. Chuck May 13, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    I’m going to need to bookmark this page and read it again. I read it before, but I think the majority of my classroom management problems are stemming from this. I am holding them accountable consistently, but I still get “joking disrespect”. i.e. instead of a hand shake they want a fist bump, or a special hand-shake. They pretend to be defiant but quickly take it back because they were just joking. They’ll pretend to throw something across the room, but not really do it, or ask me inappropriate questions.

    I thought I was maintaining a boundary between friend and teacher, but I think I let my boundaries relax a bit once I really got to know them and started feeling the allure of just having fun with them.

  12. Khathazi May 30, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    hi Micheal

    I am a 21 year old first year teacher in South Africa. I teach grade 8-10 learners who are between 14-16 years old. I struggle with this phenomena because there is a student who has a serious teacher-crush and I just don’t know how to reprimand him. he makes inappropriate remarks about us ‘dating’, not in front of other learners, and he likes visiting me in class when am alone. this situation makes me very uncomfortable that I reported the learner to my head of department but nothing has happened.

    what kind of techniques can you recommend for me too use too o=put him in his place?

    • Michael Linsin May 30, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Hi Khathazi,

      You must have a classroom management plan—which includes a rule for respect. Teach it thoroughly, covering every eventuality. Then follow it to a tee. For more info, check out the Classroom Management Plan category of the archive.

      Michael

  13. Urie DC January 6, 2015 at 7:44 am #

    Hello. I’m a teacher in the secondary level and I’m wondering if I am being too friendly with my students. Sometimes, after class these students would approach me and then I suddenly find myself talking, teasing, and joking around with them. I am also guilty using ‘slang’ words these kids use. I think the reason why they like talking to me is that I know their interests by heart.

    However, during class hours my students and I becomes all serious and businesslike. They do their tasks and listen attentively during discussions. I also don’t have problems with their behavior even if when they do misbehave because a simple reminder or a meaningful glare/look would shut them up or make them attentive.

    So, what do you think? Am I crossing some line already? Do I need to tone down more and create distance from my students especially during after classes?

    • Michael Linsin January 6, 2015 at 8:36 am #

      Hi Urie,

      It sounds to me like you’ve created wonderful rapport with your students. They clearly like and respect for you. As long as there is no confusion, and they continue to do well in the classroom, I wouldn’t change a thing.

      Michael

  14. kimberly January 4, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I will be in the teaching profession soon permanently. I am currently training and will graduate soon. I have had experiences in the classroom though.one of such is the case where I had a class where 97% of the students who are teens cannot read fluently. They have no interest at all in learning and can be very disrespectful. I tried a variety of means to encourage them but nothing worked. The class had more boys than girls and sometimes they even made attempts hitting on me. I showed videos I talked to them one on one everything and yet they still are not performing and still no interest.any advice?

    • Michael Linsin January 5, 2016 at 7:45 am #

      Hi Kimberly,

      That’s a big question that we don’t have the time or space to directly cover here. However, the entire approach at SCM addresses your issue. Also, I’ll keep in mind your question for future articles.

      Michael

  15. Linda February 19, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    I feel if you’re upfront about the issue from the beginning that is much easier to establish teacher student relationships. I tell my students from the very beginning I am here to help you, to guide you in your course of study this year. It is your job to do the work and ask for help and it’s my job to make sure you get the help and the understanding needed in order for you to understand and pass the class.

  16. Gwen Feldman May 26, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    I work in a high school in a town that boasts an Ivy college. Needless to say the students are competitive and excel beyond measure. My issue is, some (15-20) students, mostly African American boys (some girls) are being given the answers, having papers written for them, and have their grade scores “adjusted” after the teacher advocates for them. These students have come to believe they don’t have to study, be polite, or even go to class because this Academic Intervention Resource teacher will take care of everything – even down to giving answers to challenging on-line courses some students take in lieu of sitting in class and behaving like normal. As the only African-American teacher in the building I am insulted that this woman does not see how she is crippling these students — all to keep the graduation rate (of African American boys) high. It is appalling and I have spoken to supervisors but the woman is defended. I don’t plan on being here next school year. I feel as if I am deserting a sinking ship. I don’t know what to do. This looks like a situation that is being condoned from higher-ups. Not good.

    • Michael Linsin May 27, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      Thanks for sharing, Gwen. It’s a tragic story. I sure feel bad for those students.

      Michael

  17. Warren S. November 26, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’m a high school choir director. A lot of my job depends on numbers and in recruiting students into my program. With this in mind, I’ve made some mistakes in the past of being too “buddy buddy” with my students, in a misguided effort to create an ensemble that students want to be part of. As my program is beginning to grow in quality, I realize the error. If I’ve made the mistake of being too friendly with students, is it possible to change into a firmer, and more professional teacher? Is it too late? A lot of these articles I’ve read are helpful, but seem to send the message that “if you make these mistakes, it’s all over for you.”

    • Michael Linsin November 27, 2016 at 11:20 am #

      Hi Warren,

      No, it isn’t too late at all. In fact, your students will adjust quickly to the new you.

      Michael