Is it ever ok for a teacher to LOVE students?

Commissioned sculpture on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

Commissioned sculpture on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania

By John Gardner

Following is an updated re-post of, “Love, Admire and Respect” as I ask and answer the question,

“Is it ever ok for a teacher to LOVE students?”


There is more to school life than what happens during the academic day. Some academic teachers are also coaches or extracurricular sponsors. Coaches develop strong bonds with their athletes. Music and theater arts teachers spend considerable extracurricular time with students – evenings, weekends, summers. These teacher/student relationships are significant and life long impacting.

In a reunion with some of the students from my first teaching job, as they were sharing memories, one person put it this way:

“Come back to teach the students of the students you taught.”

I expected to hear some of the heart-warming stories and did, but one comment caught me off guard a little. As one was listing attributes he appreciated, he included…..

“…and your smile.”

What teachers do you remember most 10-20-30 years out, and for what do you remember them?

Band is the ultimate team.

Unlike a basketball team with its starting five, there is no bench in band. Everybody is in. Everybody is a starter. Few other types of groups will involve people from such varied backgrounds. There are children of doctors and lawyers performing with children of single-parents working multiple jobs or utilizing government help. There are the students who have their own cars and those who need rides, those with the iPhones and the free phones or no phone. You will find students in most bands from every church in the community and others who have never been inside a church.

High school provides a memorable time for teens and parents to be on the same team before graduation and the empty nest.

If only it were like that for all teens.

At this most critical time in their decision-making years, if teens can’t find love, acceptance, encouragement and support from parents, teachers and mentors, they will search for it elsewhere, often with disastrous results leaving them with consequences that change lives and crush dreams.

But even more than TEAM, band is FAMILY…

Most high school athletic teams are together for a “season” — maybe six weeks with a few more for preparation. Band meets in the summer, including band camp which can be 8+hours a day. Then there is every day at school with additional rehearsals in the evenings, plus the Friday football/basketball game and the Saturday competition.

…and more functional than some.

As I stood outside Door 34, she jumped out of the passenger side of the car and ran past me, teary-eyed, crying,

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

As she went by I saw the papa, for the first time, approaching me and angrily waving a piece of paper.

“How much of this schedule is mandatory?”

I paused, if only for a moment as I thought through his reaction to my answer…

“All of it.”

After grumbling something that I probably couldn’t report, he returned to the car and didn’t quite lay rubber in his exit. The daughter was waiting in my office, still crying and apologetic. I hugged her. How does such a sweet daughter have a parent like that?

There are loving parents who are working 2-3 jobs each, going to school and dealing with the challenges of large families – and it is somewhere between difficult and impossible for them to spend a lot of time at football games, parades and competitions. I get that. But what do you say to this parent?

“We need to pull [Benjamin] out of band because he won’t clean his room and he needs to learn respect. He loves band and so this is the only valuable thing we can take away to make our point.”

Or this one?

“Why should I pay money for her to spend time spinning a flag. There are no colleges that will offer scholarships and besides, what job is that going to prepare her for?”

Or to these students?

“Can you please give me something to do. I’ll straighten the library….anything….just don’t make me go home.”

“I have a job so I can earn the money for my band fee, and I keep hiding it, but my mother keeps finding it and taking it.”

“I have to quit music lessons. My dad found out I was using some of my job money for music lessons and says that if I am going to waste my money on that – I can start paying rent.”

“Please don’t try to introduce yourself to my dad. Please don’t. Please, please, please don’t. He is not a nice man.”

I want to share the LOVE they may be missing.

Educationally, the L-word is dangerous. Administrations encourage admiration and respect, but love is conspicuously absent. Understandable. Inappropriate teacher student relationships make national news and destroy lives. Elementary teachers can hug students, but by middle school it is to be a touchless relationship. I disagree.

Sometimes an appropriate touch, handshake, high five, tap on the shoulder or even a hug – can be powerfully effective in mentoring, consoling or encouraging. It doesn’t have to be physical. It can be listening and responding when others won’t.

C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, divides the Greek vocabulary for “love” into four categories:  Storge (στοργή storgē) -affection, Philia (Philia (φιλία philía) – friendship, Éros (ἔρως érōs– romantic love, and Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē) – charity.

None of those match completely what I’m trying to define. Storge (affection) can include the physical. Philia (i.e. Philadelphia – brotherly love) comes close but can include the sexual. Éros is obviously not appropriate, and Agápe, often interpreted as the love between Christians is also close, but gets into spiritual and that is not quite it either.

I “L” my students with a parental type. I see their potential and their youthful enthusiasm and I love that. I love their willingness to share with me things that they can’t comfortably share anywhere else.

“You are always the one to trust with issues like this because you treat us like people and not just another bunch of “teenagers”.”

ADMIRE students who…

  • pay band fees out of a paycheck
  • pay for private instruction lessons out-of-pocket
  • seem completely self-supporting (clothes, obligations)
  • apologize for the way their parent(s) behaved
  • juggle the extra rehearsals and activities with job and homework — and go for the best grades without parental encouragement or expectation
  • keep a positive attitude when others have parents involved and but they don’t

Nobody said life is fair. Those who endure hardships can be the better for it later. Trust me on that. As the oldest of five children raised in a single parent family by a polio surviving mother (and if you have no idea what that means, thank God), I understand poverty, but also how to work through it, with it, around it, and above it …. so cut me some slack when I don’t expect less from the less fortunate.

Students often impress me with friend choices and for the way they support and encourage each other. It is moving to see how friends and band members surround one who is hurting, physically or emotionally. With proper relationships established, teachers can be included in, or involved separately in similar support and encouragement – even of some personal issues.

RESPECT students …

  • who work through moderate pain or discomfort without complaint
  • who have the musical ability to thrive, but can’t get the new instrument, or the private lessons, or go to the summer camps….or even stay in band, because of a parent who doesn’t see the value of band or color guard
  • expect more of themselves than their parents do
  • endure custody battles and try not to allow it to interfere with band

I hope these students appreciate how hard I try to make their situations work out.

And we have students whose parents are their biggest cheerleaders and amazing supporters…..

  • helping them earn the highest of Boy or Girl Scout honors
  • supporting their garage band
  • encouraging out of country mission trips
  • inspiring them to pursue the same vocation as the parent
  • or spending countless hours volunteering for band (committees, sewing, cooking, feeding, chaperoning, driving, etc)

We have CARING students who….

  • stand outside Wal-mart when it is below freezing to ring bells and play Salvation Army brass ensemble music
  • volunteer in nursing homes and with church youth groups in a host of different types of volunteerism
  • help raise money for those sick and injured

I am a high school teacher who appropriately loves students and hopes it is ok. If I ever lose my job for loving teens the way I do, I’ll be ok.

Teacher Student Love


17 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them. Also 4yrs as proprietor of, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

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2 comments on “Is it ever ok for a teacher to LOVE students?
  1. Brad Hayashi says:

    As a 22-year veteran high school choir teacher, I totally agree with your article. If we cannot do anything for these students the moment they leave the school campus, then by golly, I will do everything I can for them when they are on campus.

  2. Thank you — and absolutely. John

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