Yesterday at the Oppi Festival of Education Sugatra Mitra, asked what the role of the teacher in the future was, said “to be a friend”, “a friend who leads students to discover learning, doesn’t teach them”. He specifically said not a guide, but a friend.
The different reaction to this from the audience here and from those following on Twitter back in the UK has left me wondering if this is a key cultural difference between, at least, Finland and the UK. When @MrMichaelShaw asked "Should teachers’ main aim be to become their pupils’ “friend”" the responses united commentators who more often disagree:
@johndavidblake: I couldn't be friends with my students, we disagree too strongly abt who is the best X Factor judge.
@Mr_Chas: Never EVER, please !
@edujdw: in short, no. Teachers can be friendly, but can never be 'a friend'.
My colleague Janet Downs commented
that the idea of teachers being a friend was "unprofessional".
"Friends don't set homework"
@tombennett71: "If a pupil needs to be directed/ reprimanded, being a friend is a huge impediment. The word we need here is teacher. Friends don't set homework"
But nobody I have asked who is Finnish have expressed dismay about the idea. Indeed I asked one young Finn this morning what was great about her school and, unprompted, she said "The teachers were our friends". Now I don't think she meant that they had become close companions, that they would invite her for dinner. But it was certainly a statement that they were on her side.
In the UK talking of being "a friend" seems to UK minds raise issues of safeguarding and of reducing their authority. But I know students whose friendship with specific teachers kept them on track. At one high-performing school near me in Hackney every member of staff (from the headteacher to the caretaker) establishes a close relationship with a small group of students. The idea is that every young person in the school has at least one adult who they see as on their side.
I'd love your thoughts. Can a teacher be a friend to their students? Should they?