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"I am gay and about to graduate. My teacher is gay and recently divorced. We spend a lot of time outside of school together and she regularly talks about visiting me in college and how she’s gonna miss me so much. I can’t tell what her feelings are, but I know I am in love with her. Should I just ignore my feelings and see if it goes away once I leave?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Sara Schmidt-Kost as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Thanks for your question! This is such a tough subject, with many separate issues to consider.
First, I think it’s important to understand that teacher/student relationships are very tricky to navigate from both sides. An essential part of a teacher’s job is to build relationships with their students, to be a mentor and support them as best they can. But when that relationship crosses the line from professional mentoring into something more, things can get tricky. I think you are walking a very fine line here, one that has the potential to get both you and your teacher in trouble personally and professionally. Given the sentence about not knowing how your teacher feels, I’m going to assume nothing inappropriate has happened between you both yet. Do everything you can to keep that from happening. Careers and lives can be ruined by crossing that line from student/teacher to something more romantic.
Full disclosure, I had a teacher in high school who was caught allegedly texting inappropriate things and soliciting sex from one of my classmates. This has influenced my opinion on teacher/student relationships.
There are power dynamics in a teacher/student relationship that must be considered as well. A teacher is in a position of power and influence over impressionable children and teenagers, and as such, teachers must be cautious when developing close relationships with their students. In the “mainstream” society, the fear about LGBT teachers “influencing” children still exists, and I believe LGBT teachers (and all teachers for that matter) need to be cautious in their actions, if only to protect themselves from untrue accusations. I recognize this is probably an extreme point of view, however I think it’s the reality of the world we live in. Obviously students are bound to get crushes on young teachers, but I think teachers should discourage that from happening as much as possible. Especially as a lesbian, I am very aware of the boundaries I set up with my students because of a potential situation like this arising. While working with my students, I make sure that my interactions with them are always appropriate and professional.
In addition, there are many ways teachers can mentor and support their students, but it sounds as though your teacher has been relying on you for support after her divorce. Please understand that a teacher’s work should be to support their students, not to receive support from them. Your teacher needs to find a more appropriate means of support for herself, so she can support you while you prepare for your transition into college.
Since you’re off to college soon, start looking ahead at all the excitement and adventure waiting for you. Maybe your college has an LGBT group you can join. Maybe your future college roommate has a friend from her hometown who would be perfect for you. Maybe there will be a wonderful, gorgeous stranger in one of your exciting college courses, and your eyes will meet from across the classroom and… Anyway, my point is, there are so many possibilities out there. Don’t hold yourself back because of your teacher. Jump in feet first to the college life of 10 A.M. classes, afternoon naps, midnight cram sessions, and house parties! Do everything you can to enjoy this part of your life. You’re only young and in college once.
Hopefully once you immerse yourself in college life, your feelings for your teacher will subside. If you’re so inclined, you can keep in contact with your teacher while you are in college. As a young adult, it can be helpful to have a mentor to guide you through the tricky parts of being a young adult and entering the work world. (Networking! Am I right?) But please, keep it cordial but not intimate. As you venture out into the world, it’s important for you to be able to distinguish a professional relationship, like those with a mentor, teacher, boss, or coworker, from a platonic friendship. This relationship should stay strictly professional.
Sara Schmidt-Kost is an out, queer Educator in Minneapolis, MN. Read more about her and her work on our Second Opinions page!
One thought on “Navigating Student/Teacher Relationships”
I understand what Sara is saying in response to this question, but I also think it’s a bit one sided. When I was in high school I was in love with a teacher who was an important mentor to me and who I also spent some time with outside of school. Those feelings are very real, and can’t be determined by social norms for boundaries between teachers and students. I didn’t act on my feelings at all and didn’t even share them with this teacher, but I do think that we have a social assumption that such feelings are not mutual, are inappropriate, or are just totally taboo. I’m neither encouraging nor discouraging the person who asked this question to act on her/their/his feelings, but I also don’t particularly like the tone of the response. I will also add that I personally was glad I never shared my feelings with this teacher since I have seen her since and would feel a bit awkward (she is straight and married though), but I don’t think there is a universal right answer for every person. It is really important to learn to navigate these feelings because, at least for me, they have come up again with professors in college and it’s been important for me to know what is best for me in those situations. Best of luck to the person who asked this question.