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The "Buddy" Teacher: Why They are Ineffective in the Classroom

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.


The "Buddy" Teacher

Mr. Parker thought he had a formula for success. He threw out his referrals, disregarded classroom rules, and tore up the seating charts. He was going to make things easy for his high school special education students. Mr. Parker’s ultimate plan was to become their “buddy”.

So how did this work out? At first, all was well. The students liked him; he didn’t give them any work to do. Also, he impressed them with his tales of drunken nights at the numerous keg parties he went to during his college years. They also delighted in the fact that his classroom was open to them during the school day as a place to hang out and kick back in.

By December, the students were openly hostile toward him. Eventually, just a week before Christmas Break, he stormed out of his fourth period class after a student called a name he didn’t like. He never returned.

The following scenario was a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Incidents like these have occurred in schools throughout the country and abroad. And many of them stem from the same mistake certain teachers have made; they wanted to the students to view them as a friend.

It’s not uncommon for teachers to want their students to like them; however, some teachers take this need for affection to extremes. Some give out their phone numbers or e-mail addresses. Others try too hard to appear hip and relatable to the students. Either way, they tend to act more like buddies than responsible adults to children. And the results are almost always the same.

The evidence against the “buddy teacher” is staggering. There are cases in which teachers ended up walking away from their jobs – as Mr. Parker did. There are cases in which the relationship became inappropriate and led to either the teacher’s dismissal or to an arrest. In one case from New York, a teacher who regularly gave out his phone-number and address to students ended up dead after a home robbery at his residence ( allegedly committed by one of his students) went awry.

Murder, robbery, and the forming of intimate relationships are extreme cases. In many cases, the buddy teacher will have more problems in classroom management. In part, the reason is simple; they forget what the role a teacher is supposed to play.

Likability should be the furthest thing from any teacher’s mind. This is not to say that teachers should become mean and ornery.

The Teacher/Student Relationship

Teachers are there to teach, guide or mold young minds. Often, the y are experts in a particular academic or extracurricular field. They use that expertise to show the students the proper way of doing a task or to dispense their knowledge on a particular topic. In just about every case, successful teachers have established specific rules that clearly show that they are in charge.

Likability should be the furthest thing from any teacher’s mind. This is not to say that teachers should become mean and ornery. That would place them on the other side of the spectrum (best known as the “yeller”). Many of the best teachers in the profession are compassionate and care for the well-being of the students. However, they don’t cave in to their demands or go out of their way to be liked.

Finding the Balance

Successful teachers have always found balances. On top of that, they’ve been proactive. These teachers establish early in the school year what is expected from the students, and what the students should expect from them.

They’ve also fine-tuned their social skills to meet the needs of their students. Although they will hand out discipline when needed, they will show compassion, flexibility, and empathy when students when it is appropriate. Most importantly, they’ll communicate effectively what they are teaching


Signs of a Buddy Teacher and How to Avoid Becoming One

Here are few tidbits that define the Buddy teacher:

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  • Doesn’t know how to say “no”. Buddy teachers have a hard time saying this to students. As a result, they inadvertently give up control to the students. Suddenly, the students feel they can do anything they want. And, as anyone may guess, children and teenagers will use that power abusively.
  • Hands out personal information. There’s a reason some state and national legislators are considering the ban of social networking between teachers and students. The teacher/student relationship is not about making personal connections.
  • Tries Too Hard to be Relevant. Some teachers think by listening to the students’ music, dressing like them, or using their vernaculars is going to make them likable. In truth, they make themselves look awkward and creepy. On the other hand, worst yet, the students may view the teachers as immature and unfit to lead a group of kids.
  • Inconsistent Rules. Most buddy teachers may set up strong rules in the beginning of the school year, but don’t stick to it. Again, they may feel the rules hurt the students' feelings or make them turn against them (which makes one wonder why they set up rules in the first place).
  • Too trusting. Seriously, there are some teachers who would trust some students with the most ridiculous or dangerous things. In one case in California, a teacher was trusting enough to allow an elementary school student to fetch a butcher knife and cake from her car.
  • Weak lesson plans. Often, the buddy teachers’ lesson plans will be very fundamental. It will be to read a chapter in a book and do the questions at the end of it. Some may just hand out a few worksheets. There’s no real instruction from the teachers or no deadlines established. In their trusting ways, they believe the students will finish it on their own (before the quarter or semester ends, hopefully).

Avoiding these trappings are easy. One must establish early who is in control of the classroom. Also, the relationship needs to be understood that it’s more business than personal. Finally, teachers need to be wary and ready for whatever may arise in the classroom.

There’s nothing against a teacher liking or sympathizing with students. In many respects, likeability can make the job easy. However, when taken to extremes without appropriate barriers to the relationship, the consequences can be damaging for students and teachers.

Ultimately, Buddy teachers are not the teachers students remember in a positive way. Many see them as weak or ineffective. Often, the firm-but-fair teacher – the one who laid out the rules and challenged them, but showed enough flexibility when needed – are the ones they’ll remember as being an inspiration.

Teachers like Mr. Parker will eventually not be anyone’s buddy any time soon. That's a tough price to pay, for someone who just wanted to be liked.

some buddy teachers' classrooms look like this one.

some buddy teachers' classrooms look like this one.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Dean Traylor


Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on December 01, 2018:

Wow! Good points here. I don't remember having any buddy teachers growing up. If I got any favorable treatment from any, I didn't notice it. I just behaved myself and did my best in class.

Teacher on August 29, 2014:

I agree with a lot of points in this article, but disagree that the primary focus of the teacher-student relationship should be establishing control. Treating students as minds that we must mold takes all agency away from the students and ultimately devalues what they have to offer the learning process. Unfortunately this struggle for power is what many schools emphasize above all else and is a result of a system that treats education as a transaction between teacher and student.

His princesz on September 07, 2012:

You said it well Dean, the people pleaser teachers. They shouldn't be teaching you know. I had many of them in the past. Great hub! :)

KE Morgan from Arizona on May 24, 2012:

On target- it happens too frequently. Vote up and useful.

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