Dual Role of Teacher and Aunt
by Laura Young1
As MK educators, we have a unique situation in which we develop relationships with our students as both “teacher” and “aunt/uncle.” We have the awesome opportunity to be their teacher and pour into them as a beloved “family member” beyond the classroom. Growing up as an MK in Cameroon, Africa, I experienced this myself: I had multiple teachers with who my family spent a lot of time and became like family to us, earning them the name “Aunt ____.” Now as I serve as a teacher and principal in an MK school, I’m experiencing the other side of that. Below are some practical tips that will help you navigate these special relationships.
Be careful not to let something get lost. You are their teacher and there is a level of professionalism that you must maintain. They are watching you as a model of what you’re teaching them both in and out of the classroom. The authority that you’re automatically granted as their teacher does make you different; you are held to a high standard.
Be a professional at work. My students call me Mrs. Young when we’re at school, not “Miss Laura” or “Aunt Laura.” If you want to establish yourself as an authority figure at school, you need to expect students to treat you with respect. I always have my students call me Mrs. Young, which is more formal, but it does establish that sense of authority. It’s also important to dress professionally.
Be consistent and reliable in who you are. I am the same person in and out of school: someone who is kind, keeps my word, students can confide in, and has high expectations and grace. Your students have a lot of transition in their lives and having an adult they can trust to be a constant is reassuring and stabilizing for them.
Gently remind students who know you well outside of school and forget to call you Mrs./Mr. I have a student at school who stands inside the gate calling out, “Hi Aunt Laura!” and then as soon as my foot passes the threshold, “Hi, Mrs. Young!” Sometimes I step back out and we play that little game back and forth…don’t take it too seriously. What’s important is the relationship.
Treat students equally regardless of the depth of the relationships you have with them outside of school. It can be awkward when students who don’t know me outside of school overhear someone call me “Aunt Laura” or “Miss Laura” – they can feel left out. I’m in a school with children who live both on and off our center, so I don’t know them all equally.
I made a rule for myself not to “friend” any students on social media and never respond to an email or text from them without also including their parents in the reply. Yes, even if they are “like family” to me because of my friendship with their parents. This protects both me and the student and is generally good practice.
As an MK, I felt a special connection to my teachers who were also in ministry like my parents – like they understood where I was coming from. Some MKs will take comfort in knowing that you share similar values to that of their families. While this can be an asset for our MKs, how can we intentionally connect with students who aren’t MKs?
What a privilege it is to be a teacher of MKs and TCKs! The most important and valuable piece of advice I have is to commit your time teaching and your time outside the classroom to the Lord and ask him to give you wisdom and understanding as you interact with the many children he puts in your life.
Laura is an MK who grew up in Africa and currently serves in Papua New Guinea as a teacher, school administrator, mom and “aunt.”