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As a teacher, your primary duty to your students is to impart knowledge.Whether you employ traditional teacher-centered approach or the more effective learner-centered approach, your students see you first and foremost as a custodian of knowledge - an expert in the subject. Every good teacher explores ways to bring about positive learning outcomes.

As a teacher, there are professional ethics that dictate what is acceptable decorum regarding a more personal relationship between teacher and student. There is a line which must not be crossed. A teacher should show interest in the well-being - academic and psychological - of his/her students. But that interest should be shown to all the students equally. In other words, it would be wrong, in my opinion, for a teacher to choose to be "friends" with one or two students while relating very formally with the rest.

As a teacher, you need to show that you care; it is up to the students to individually decide if they want to be counselled at a personal level or not. It is not your call to make. You are not the school's official counsellor. This caution is even more significant in more conservative environments or cultures where 'prying' is considered unacceptable and offensive.

When I was teaching in a very conservative environment, my students mostly met me in the office for academic advice and I maintained rapport with them. Such that even senior colleagues and the Vice Chancellor often commended me based on reports from the students I had taught.

In my present job, my students are more open and would often come to my office discussing academic and family issues. I remember when last year, in one of my classes, I observed that a student who was usually active in class, was that day extremely quiet. In fact, she was late to class - which was unusual. But that trend continued the following week. After the class, I beckoned for her to walk with me. Outside the class, I asked if she was okay and gave my reasons for asking. She told me about some of the challenges her family at home was facing and how she was really worried. I sympathized with her. Then I told her that if she was going to allow the problems to negatively affect her performance at school, then she would be adding to the problems of her family. She said that she was frequently in touch with them and I encouraged her to keep that up in order to keep abreast of happenings at home. I reminded her that worrying will not solve the problem; rather it would create more problems. That is just one example of various kinds of personal counselling, most of which take place in my office. In every case, it's academic concern that leads to the discussion.

As a teacher, therefore, I would like my students to see me as their friend. Not because I have personal, intimate relationships with them but because they know that I care about them. In other words, they should read me as a teacher who is not only interested in their academics but also in their general well-being.

So, how clear is the line between being a teacher and being a friend to your students? I would say it is often as clear or defined as the students choose to draw. It's often blurred, don't you think?

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