How to set boundaries with a student without hurting her feelings?
April 14, 2014 12:21 PM Subscribe
I recently finished teaching an introductory one month course for college freshmen. This is a small college in a semi rural low income region. A student (18) sent me a facebook friend request and I accepted. Our college does not have a web portal which could be used for communication between teachers and students. Facebook sometimes makes up for that lack when other platforms are not available for sharing educational materials, study resources, etc.
This student initiated fb conversations with me. First it was just to ask me about her test results and school stuff. Then she revealed she was very worried about failing, I tried to tell her about the importance of both being dedicated and not afraid of failing, about the need to persevere, etc. Over the course of the last few days, she has started revealing more about her problems.
posted by Basque13 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Her mother passed away last year, she broke up with her boyfriend a couple of months ago, there seem to be problems at home, she spoke about having been betrayed by some people she thought were her friends, etc. I tried to be encouraging and positive with my remarks while avoiding creating a sense of intimacy. I seemed to have succeeded in the former but failed in the latter.
She asked me if she could count me as her friend. I said I would be glad to help. She said I was much cooler and funnier than I showed in class.
. A few days ago she started a conversation saying she was feeling down because of her problems. I tried to cheer her up. Later when I told her I was leaving the chat session, she said I had made her day brighter, and that I had moved from "friend" to "special friend". Last Sunday night she wrote to me saying it was sad we wouldn´t be seeing each other in class anymore. A new short rant about her family problems ensued. I ended up the last conversation by telling her that she was a capable student with a pleasant personality, that I felt she would find friends worthy of her, and that many people overcome problems in life by fostering their brighter side and keeping good companies. She said she had been deeply moved by my words, which were some of the most beautiful words she had ever been told, and that she had found a very valuable friend in me. She ended by saying she hoped this did not remain a mere student/teacher relationship but turned into a true friendship.
The course is over and if things go as scheduled, I will not be teaching her group at least for 3 more years (supposing we are both at the same institution by then). I know the default response in more developed places would be to direct the student to counselling in case she reports personal problems. But there are no such resources available at the local public system, and quality private services in a larger city are too expensive for most of the kids who attend our college. I sense she may really need support from a teacher, which she may not be able to get elsewhere but I am not very comfortable with her attitude toward me and want to avoid misunderstanding on her part. The question, then, is: How can I be supportive and helpful-given the lack of outside support networks-while avoiding getting too involved? How do I set healthy boundaries without making her feel rejected? I guess I want help in translating to less brutal terms: "I care for your well-being, if you need someone to talk to, I am here for you, call me a friend if you want, but I am not your peer and don´t want you to get too emotionally invested in me"