Should teachers socialise with parents?
Do we need to even ask this question?
Clearly we do.
I have known more than a handful of colleagues who meet up with parents for a drink, meal, trip to the gym or a football match. But that’s just a bit weird.
The teacher-parent relationship is a professional one and although by socialising you can still be professional, this is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Teachers who get into trouble around boundaries often confuse their personal life with their professional life.
Our job is to teach children and yes that means being in loco parentis. Yes we have to create home-school links and forge positive relationships but it doesn’t mean we go beyond that and accept an invite to a BBQ at Chole’s mum and dad’s place.
We need to be friendly but nothing more. This isn’t always easy to pull off, especially as some parents more or less force themselves on you. Some of these you might actually like.
You might see it in the playground. Some pushy parents can’t wait to meet and greet their child’s teacher and gravitate around them for a schmooze. This makes other parents want to throw up. But sharing a quick chat and then extending that into something more social can be a recipe for disaster. Don’t get on first name terms whatever you do!
You might get an invitation from a parent to attend a meal at their home. I’ve had quite a few of these and it’s awkward. You want to be polite and you obviously don’t want to offend but I’ve always declined.
This has been for my own sanity and for my own protection. I don’t want to mix school life and my private life and I don’t want to be accused of favouritising or giving a pupil and their family preferential treatment. This is why you must never accept a social media request to be ‘friends’ or ‘follow’ a parent. There is an unequal balance of power – we are not equals and we are not friends.
I think most teachers do know their boundaries and they keep things very separate but not everyone does. A boundary violation can compromise the quality of your teaching (by unwittingly being biased towards particular pupils) and undermine the trust of other families in the school community.
The nature of the relationship between teacher and parents underpins everything we do. We have to get it right. We have a duty of care to pupils and parents and a clear professional boundary needs to be maintained. We need to be aware of how we portray ourselves to the school community and aim for professional and cordial relationships with everyone, nothing more.
For our professional and private well-being, just don’t go there.
It is critical that we maintain a fiduciary relationship with pupils and parents. This involves trust and a duty to act in the best interest of the child. This is the line of duty. It’s good to socialise but with parents, the risks outweigh the benefits. Boundaries keep us safe and sane so there is nothing wrong with a bit of barbed wire.