In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science of Education
What impacts do the history, culture, and social context of independent day schools have on my practice?
Well, hello to everyone because maybe you are not necessarily interested in becoming a PENN ISTR Fellow or even an educator in general. If you are, though, this is addressed to you.
If you’re anything like the wonderful fellows of my cohort or the teachers, professors, and mentors I have encountered throughout my time in the Day School Teaching Residency Program, you are probably Selfless, empathetic, and passionate about education. If you’re anything like me specifically, you probably have impossibly high standards for yourself, are a tad idealistic, and have a complicated relationship with scholarship.
I hope to be able to identify and provide context for potential inter- and intrapersonal conflicts you may encounter given my presumption of your disposition. By framing these through a relational lens, and highlighting the importance of boundaries, I also hope to center YOU in this letter. Because, as I will soon explain, it is often easy to lose sight of your needs in a profession such as teaching.
“When it comes to boundaries, we must accept that we have a lot to discover, and this means we have a lot to learn about ourselves, not just about our students” (p. 71).
In terms of boundaries, the first relationship that comes to mind is that of student/teacher. This was the topic during a session of our very first DSTR June week. You may be fresh out of college. You might even feel like you’re still a kid. Make no mistake, as the teacher, you are the adult and as such you have a moral and professional obligation to support your students’ wellbeing.
At the beginning of her article, Porter (2010) begins her article on boundaries:
The obvious place to start this discussion is with the caveat that adults should never have sexual relationships with students, but this is the easy part. What's not as easy is determining and maintaining the less obvious boundaries between adults and adolescents. (p. 68)
Immediately, Porter touches on one of the most difficult aspects of teaching – determining how to navigate the gray areas of boundaries while relationships are constantly in flux. Young teachers especially may find it tempting to join students in adolescence because they can still identify with it (Porter, 2005). She (2010) tells us that when a teacher crosses the threshold of identifying with adolescents instead of relating to them, they fail to provide the structure needed for healthy adolescent development (Porter, 2005). In such a context, student relationships become a source of emotional fulfillment and may shift the relationship to one more appropriate for peers. Avoiding emotional enmeshment from the very beginning is crucial to allowing space for your students to be what they are – children not friends...
I. You and Your Students
Before I began teaching, I definitely knew I would need to be careful with what information I choose to disclose to my students. What I hadn’t considered was the fact that this would also be true with my relationships with colleagues.
As with any job, it is common to befriend coworkers. In the context of a school though, relationships with adults are never in isolation. I learned quickly that I would have to determine their boundaries and be willing to enforce them. One specific incident occurred when a teacher whom I considered a close friend shared a detail about my personal life with students. It wasn’t objectively inappropriate to share, but it was something that I had chosen not to. I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable and somewhat blindsided as my students approached me to ask about it. I felt the information shared only served to enhance my friend’s reputation of being “in the know” with the students but did not benefit them in any way (Porter, 2005).
The situation was very likely different from my friend’s perspective. This is what makes boundaries tricky and why you will need to determine your own. After this incident, I decided to talk to my friend as a colleague and expressed my discomfort with the situation. I simply asked that they not share any details about my personal life moving forward with our students. I didn’t question or try to change what they share about their personal life (because they had never crossed a boundary I saw as dangerous) but I asked them to respect my privacy...
II. You and Your Colleagues
It was difficult for me at times, but I ultimately had to come to terms with where my school was as an institution as a whole...
III. You and Your Institution
As a fellow, learning to set boundaries was one of the most valuable skills I gained...