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nothing personal
tales out of school
by robert castle

Rule 21: The Teacher is not the student’s friend

The rule is obvious to administrators and teachers. Not to students.

There will always be students who lack friends in school and seek out the teacher for everything. And the teacher feels sorry for the kid and responds to her every whimper of desperation, which the student interprets as interest to the point of affection. The teacher then can’t shake the kid and regrets all forms of sympathy toward any needy students.

During my student days, I never once thought about my teachers as human beings, only teachers who either fair (but still pains in the ass) or rat bastards. Thus, I’m taken aback when my students ask what I did over the weekend or asked for details about my wife.

“Why do you want to know?” I respond.

“We’re just being friendly,” says Patty.

“I’m not telling you.”

“Aren’t we your friends?” asks Brittany.


They pout.

A few days later, they’re asking where I live and how they’d like to visit me and see my house.

I must be brutal this time.

“Seriously, it’s nothing personal toward you girls. I know very few people. I don’t want people close to me. I make it a point not to have many friends. I didn’t have many friends in school, either.”

The girls felt sorry for me.

A vocational psychologist did an evaluation of me at the age of sixteen. One conclusion: he would not call me ‘anti-social’ but, rather, non-social. Yes, I had few friends but those friendships were deep ones.

Perhaps I am shy and in a noble attempt to justify my shyness I have decided to side with Alexander Hamilton’s distrust of human nature. Human beings are no damn good. If one can limit the availability of one’s emotions and thoughts toward a select few, the emphasis on ‘select’, most of them not being members of one’s family, then one can live a relatively sedate, comforting life.

How would I define friendship? The high familiarity one allows to another person. Trust. The pleasure of the other person’s company. Oddly, I see my friends less than anyone else involved in my life. As friends, we do not need the daily, weekly, or even monthly support, at least, in the flesh.

Does this become a self-fulfilling prophecy? People will avoid me, knowing that I have little tolerance for superficial relationships. It’s true. I am relatively unburdened by typical friendships I see every day: the back slapping buddy buddy stuff; the kidding around and getting drunk together; the noisome worrying over each other’s birthdays.

Given these parameters, what chance does a student have to get close to me? The teenage world, as Pete Townsend wrote, is a wasteland. I disgustedly think about my own teen years when I ignorantly plowed toward adulthood. What were my concerns? Asking my religion teacher how anyone knew Mary, the mother of Christ, was a Virgin – pushing the point so far as to suggest that St. Luke, a doctor, may have inspected her. But that was brilliance compared to my insistence not to learn French because I thought that my teacher had screwed me on a report card grade. Teenage waste. I deliberately chose a path that would scuttle the foundation for learning a foreign language and, ultimately, limit my intellectual possibilities and capabilities as an adult.

Worse, all teenager issues are imperative and immediate. One must always respond to them or the students get mad, feisty, and brooding. Even though, I know, we know, the world knows, there’s nothing imperative about modern teenage existence. The teenage life is the barrier to early adulthood and responsibility. Society wants it that way. What can I do? I try not to give in to the students’ imperatives and vanities but it’s hopeless. I am weak. The teacher as co-dependent to teenage wasteland.

My alienation towards students even lingers after they have passed through the school system. I never want to see them again. It would be embarrassing to let them think I shared an iota of anguish and joy. More embarrassing that I couldn’t remember their names.

“Mr. C., why are you a teacher if you don’t like students?” Patty asks.

“I never said I didn’t like you.”

“You don’t want to be our friends. You never said you liked us.”

“Some things are better left unsaid.”


I have had three books published: A Sardine on Vacation, fiction; The End of Travel, creative nonfiction; and Odd Pursuits, a collection of stories. I teach U.S. History and Film at a small academy outside Trenton, NJ.

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