Some of my students think it’s OK to interact with teachers the same way they interact with their friends or peers.  These kids get into all kinds of trouble at school because of it. I try to teach my students there are boundaries that exist between students and teachers that need to be respected, and there are thing students  can do at home that they can’t do in school. This week I was given that opportunity to teach those lessons again.

We’re two weeks into the new semester, and my students are really engaged by our class blog and have taken to it like those proverbial ducks to water. Even the most reluctant readers and writers enjoy being able to contribute to the blog and see their work published.

Students had lots of fun choosing and creating avatars to represent themselves. A few students chose avatars inappropriate for the school blog, and those students, after some discussion, got to choose another more appropriate avatar. Those were the same students who when they were creating Vokis to introduce themselves to the others in the class had their Vokis say inappropriate things. Once again, after some discussion, they got to create Vokis more appropriate for the classroom.

Last Thursday, my students were working on an assignment about multiple intelligences. They really liked taking the on-line quiz to determine their own multiple intelligence profile and then seeing the results displayed in a colourful pie chart. (I think this is the best site that I’ve come across for students.) My students wanted to post their results on the class blog so they could compare. No one objected having their results posted. Why? The results showed they were smart in lots of ways, and they needed to hear that. Most of the students in the class have been identified as having learning disablilities. It was wonderful for them to see that they had all these strengths.

We ran out of time in class, and I told my students that I would post their multiple intelligence profiles after school so that we could see them on the blog the next morning. While they were leaving, some of the students were talking about Valentines Day which was on Saturday. I didn’t think anymore about Valentine’s Day until I opened a student’s file to preview it before I posted it and saw that a student had left me a message. (I always preview before a student’s work before it gets posted) The message would have been be most appropriate for a sweet Valentine’s Day card, but not at all appropriate for me, the student’s teacher.

I was stunned by what the student had written. When I finally became “unstunned”, I decided I needed to talk to the student about student/teacher boundaries and what was appropriate and what wasn’t. If the student had been just joking, that wasn’t appropriate. If the student hadn’t been just joking, that wasn’t appropriate either. Either way the message the student wrote to me, a teacher wasn’t appropriate. The student needed to hear this.

I met with the student the next day and talked about the appropriate boundaries within a student/teacher relationship and that the message the student sent wasn’t appropriate. I told the student it was necessary that we both respect the boundaries that needed to exist between a student and a teacher. I hope the student understood.

(Sorry, I don’t have the name of the person who took the photo. It was a creative commons copyright photo. If you know the name of the person please tell me, and I’ll post it.)

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24 Responses to “Helping students understand and respect boundaries”

  1. Beth on February 14th, 2009 8:38 pm


    I notice my students who have the hardest time figuring out the student/teacher appropriate boundaries behaviors are the same students who often have to act like the adult in their house because their parents don’t or can’t. That makes it harder for them to see the distinction between adults and children at school. Just my observations 🙂


  2. Teresa on February 14th, 2009 9:16 pm

    I’ve seen the same thing in my fifth grade classroom of boys. One little guy is the “man of the house” and though he acts like a real ten-year-old boy a fair bit of the time, he goes into “protector” mode if he feels that another of the boys is out of line with me. I’m trying really hard to help him understand where the line is for him–as he gets older, he may turn into the creepy boyfriend type, and I’d hate to see that happen. He’s a good kid, with a good heart. He just needs to learn where those boundaries are and what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Unfortunately, his family has been less than great at teaching him this at home 🙁

  3. Elona Hartjes on February 15th, 2009 7:08 am

    Beth and Teresa,
    Thanks for your insights. What you both say makes sense to me when I think about it.

  4. Dr. Sanford Aranoff on February 15th, 2009 9:15 am

    My website is http://www.analysis-knowledge.com/msgTeaching.htm

    The goal of a student should be to understand the material. This is what I tell my students. The goal of the teacher is to help students understand. Your discussion was on how students interact with teachers. My point is that we teachers have to reiterate our mutual goals. It may be that rude behavior is due to frustration in not understanding. My point is that this lack of understanding must be explicit. “You are acting this way because you do not get it. How do you understand the point? I’ll explain again, in a different way.”

    Teachers must understand how students think and build from there. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

  5. Elona Hartjes on February 15th, 2009 10:27 am

    Dr. Aranoff,
    I understand the behaviour when kids are frustrated because they don’t get it. That’s not the behaviour that I am talking about here. I’m talking about behaviour where kids want to treat adults and teachers like they treat their peers. They don’t see that this is not appropriate. They’re not aware that certain boundaries must be respected.

  6. Wilfred on February 16th, 2009 8:18 am

    Personally I think that the problem is not with the child but with the system and overprotective adults.

    If a student wants to show his affection for a teacher there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s this system of perceived inappropriateness that will teach our children that it is not right to show affection (or any other emotion) in school, at work or more often than not even at home.

  7. Elona Hartjes on February 16th, 2009 1:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think that it’s more complicated than if a child wants to show his affection for a teacher there’s nothing wrong with it. I think we can’t generalize either way. Sometimes it is;sometimes it isn’t. Just when is it OK, though? Is it OK for a seven year old to show affection to a teacher and vice-versa? Is it OK for a seventeen year old to show affection to a teacher and vice-versa? How much affection is OK to show? How much affection is it OK for a 17 year old high school student to show his teacher. I believe out of respect for students and teachers, there need to be boundaries.

  8. Denise on February 17th, 2009 10:24 am


    I can appreciate your response to material you felt was ‘inappropriate’ – and since you have wisely not shared details, perhaps others may have that same sense if we have read the post as well.

    However, you have generalized your sense of teacher-student boundary appropriateness to all teachers when it is quite possible your views of appropriateness in adult-child relatedness in just that – your own views.

    While there are some behaviors clearly out of bounds for any/all adult-child interaction, the level of friendliness, familiarity, etc., (what you refer to as ‘peer’ relatedness) that each teacher may see as appropriate or inappropriate may be impacted by their own backgrounds,and child-adult relatedness as much as a socially accepted ‘normative’ idea of appropriate student-teacher interaction.

    This, of course, makes it more difficult for students. Which is why it may be better to speak to them in specifics (this is what I see as appropriate in our relationship) rather than in generalized terms (this is how you should treat all teachers)- because they often have other teachers who relate to them in more casual ways due to their own personalities, backgrounds, etc. is ‘appropriate.’

    Though difficult, it may be an exceptional opportunity to ‘teach’ students that there are different ways to relate to different people based on the impact of their behavior on that specific person. A great chance to discuss cultural diversity and sensitivity. In this case, the culture may be you and your values/norms that the student may need to understand more fully in order to respond more sensitively. What does the ‘casualness’ of your interaction communicate to you? Communicate that to the student and real learning may take place.

  9. Elona Hartjes on February 17th, 2009 6:44 pm

    I hear what you’re saying. Let me share with you what the ETFO has outlined as unacceptable behaviours for teachers.

    In general, activities which take a teacher beyond the expectations of the employer could easily qualify as boundary violations. These include:

    * becoming too personally involved with students – friend, confident, surrogate parent;
    * seeing students in private or non-school settings;
    * writing or exchanging notes, letters or emails;
    * serving as a confidant with regard to a student’s decision about his/her personal issues;
    * giving gifts or money to students;
    * inviting students to one’s home or cottage;
    * having students stay overnight in one’s home/cottage;
    * driving individual students to or from school;
    * giving one student undue attention;
    * being alone with a student with the exception of an emergency situation;
    * sharing your personal problems with students;
    * sharing personal information about a student with a third party; and
    * initiating physical contact.

    These are the protective strategies we are to take.

    As a teacher, do you protect yourself by:

    * learning about the law and your liability as a teacher?
    * teaching with your classroom door open?
    * having another adult present when attending to the personal needs of special needs students?
    * complimenting or commending students without “hugging or touching” them?
    * reporting any reasonable suspicion of child abuse to proper authorities?
    * clarifying procedures with your principal regarding potentially threatening situations?
    * getting parents’ and principals’ approval regarding all activities off school property?
    * letting students know when they are overstepping your personal boundaries?
    * seeking input from colleagues or other professionals if unsure of the appropriateness of your actions or plans?

    Remember … a caring professional relationship always helps a student to learn. But this relationship has boundaries of time, place, purpose and activity.

  10. Denise on February 18th, 2009 8:30 am


    I understood the conversation related to your article to be about ‘appropriate student behaviour and boundaries’ – not about appropriate teacher behaviour and boundaries. It is interesting that you switched from one to another (from the article to your response to me. I assumed your behavior, as a teacher, was appropriate. I believe we were discussing what was appropriate in a student’s behavior toward teachers (i.e. ‘peer’ style relatedness).

  11. Elona on February 18th, 2009 11:29 am

    It is interesting that I switched one to the other. I guess I was using the same criteria for appropriate behaviour for teachers and students. It is inappropriate for me as a teacher do x,y or z; it is inappropriate for a student to do the same x, y or z. I guess maybe it’s because I always try to treat students with the same respect that I would want them to treat me with.

  12. Denise on February 18th, 2009 6:39 pm


    Since I agree with your perspective that teachers and students are not ‘peers’ – I would say my expectation of teachers’ behavior and boundaries is quite different than my expectation of students’ behavior. It would (unfortunately) be too easy to give students the responsibility of acting like adults without the authority that goes with that adulthood.

    I hold teachers to a different standard than students, therefore I do not agree with the generalization that ‘what is inappropriate for me as a teacher to do x, y or z is also the standard that I hold students responsible for. They will be held to that standard when they are adults. In the meantime, they are in a learning process (a transitional stage from childhoold to adulthood) and have developmental differences that must be factored into the equation.

    This, however, does not mean that we do not take the opportunity to teach students how others may view or respond to their behaviors that may be seen as boundary concerns. All of these situations become excellent teaching tools in the greatest classroom of all – life.

  13. Elona Hartjes on February 18th, 2009 6:48 pm

    “It would (unfortunately) be too easy to give students the responsibility of acting like adults without the authority that goes with that adulthood.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here given our conversation. ? Could you expand on this, please.

  14. Denise on February 19th, 2009 7:56 am


    Just that teachers should not treat students like their peers any more than students should treat teachers as theirs. By having the same expectations of students, it is in essence treating them like ‘peers.’

    Students do not have the same responsibility to maintain boundaries and to model appropriate behaviors as a teacher does as the adult. Certainly, we would like to see their behavior moving toward those goals, but we also understand they are ‘in process’ and should expect a continuum of growth toward adulthood thinking and behaving.

    (Example: a child may express that he/she does not like someone’s clothing without the sensitivity of the impact of that comment on another’s feelings – that is a developmental skill still developing. If an adult made the same comment, it would seem ‘inappropriate’ because there is an expectation of socialization at a later age).

    Your example of a student’s boundary issue may be similiar. What seems obvious to an adult is still a developing cognition in a student – the ability to apply different relational dynamics to a variety of circumstances ‘appropriately.’ (i.e. what is appropriate in peer relationships is not always appropriate in relationships of authority – teachers, bosses, etc.)

    Thanks for the dialogue.

  15. Elona Hartjes on February 19th, 2009 5:30 pm

    ou’re welcome and thanks for clarifying what you meant.

  16. Rosemary Schmid on March 6th, 2009 12:13 pm

    In this discussion, I don’t see any reference to the cultural (language?) background of the student whose Valentine greeting was seen as inappropriate.
    As a teacher of English to 18-35-year-old speakers of other languages who are in the United States, I’ve often noticed that when my hackles go up, there’s a cultural mis-understanding going on, or the student talking to me or classmates inappropriately doesn’t have the cultural and language knowledge that is needed.
    If the teachers have guidelines for appropriate behavior, then I think that overt discussion with the students of their “äppropriate behaviors” would be beneficial, and would take the attention away from an individual (save face). In my classroom, just this term,for example, I’ve dealt with the touch/don’t touch another in public issue, with distance from another while in conversation, and with means of class participation.
    While my students are college age, the same kind of thinking is appropriate from nursery school on, in my opinion.
    (I’m thankful to Larry Ferazzo for bringing me to your blog, Elona.)

  17. jenny on April 22nd, 2009 11:51 pm

    i believe what you are saying in true, but in some cases, i believe that its healthy to become quite close to a teacher. because one off my girlfriends, became quite attached to her teacher, infact this teacher was a female, she didnt want a intimate relationship, but she saw her as a mum, she felt like she understood her, the wayy her mum should understand her, i remember her telling me, she went to her house one night! she said it was the most perfect memory!
    i 100% aggrree on what your saying, but love is never wrong, no matter what the circumstances are. thank you for your time, it would be great to hear from you. 🙂

  18. Elona Hartjes on April 24th, 2009 8:05 pm

    What a wonderful story. I’m so happy for your friend. It is amazing what a positive effect we as teachers can have on other people’s lives. I try to treat my students with the same care and respect that I do for my own kids. I love being a mom, and I love being a teacher and for many of the same reasons.

  19. Anonymous on July 19th, 2010 6:32 pm

    I respect everyone’s opinion however on the other side of the coin, back in my high school days I befriended a lot of my teachers who still to this day keep in touch. There was nothing innapropriate about the friendship, I was just simply inspired and had a passion for volunteer work… to this day I’m still a workaholic. I also left my name on the honour role after graduating… so must boundaries still be in place even if the issue here is pure inspiration as opposed to innapropriate misconduct?

  20. Mikau on August 3rd, 2010 7:10 pm

    Hiya! I myself believe that if the culture accepts it and finds it perfectly normal, why not? One example of this is that in Latino culture, hugging is widely accepted, encouraged, and viewed as normal. So if the student decides that they have a particular teacher they have a liking to and want to express that in a “normal” way to that culture, I find it perfectly fine. Would you feel that you have to change that or would it be normal? I was raised in the Rio Grande Valley (Texas) and there about 3/4 of people are Mexican, of Mexican descent, or have Mexican ties through marriage or adoption or something. Would you reprimand a student for acting upon an idea that has been cultivated since childhood? You could cause the student to become confused with what is and what is not appropriate. I myself was/am very friendly with my teachers, but there was nothing inappropriate about it, that was just the way we were. Just saying and anyone and everyone else is entitled to their opinion. “Cheers”

  21. Elona Hartjes on August 3rd, 2010 7:33 pm

    I guess I think certain boundaries need to be defined so that students or teachers will not be venerable to being exploited. My thinking on this springs from my respect for persons. In an earlier comment, I outlined the guidelines that the Elementary Teacher Federation of Ontario recommend. I think that these guidelines protect both teachers and students.

  22. Martino on January 26th, 2011 8:46 am

    Your story was very interesting. But couldn’t you tell us what the student actually wrote in his (I assume it was a HE) valentine message to you? We are all dying to know….. 🙂

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