Teaching across boundaries
Here’s an unusual perspective. A professor at the University of Derby has suggested that ‘flirting’ is a normal and appropriate teaching technique. His suggestion was prompted by an email complaint he received, which stated that it was ‘outrageous the way you flirt in class’. But the professor, writing in the UK Huffington Post, thought that in fact flirting was a ‘powerful way of engaging students in learning’, and an ‘intellectual “come on”‘. Indeed he concluded that the complaining email was perhaps motivated by the writer’s irritation at not having been the subject of the professor’s flirting.
Of course it all depends on what we mean by ‘flirting’. A standard definition is to ‘behave as though attracted to or trying to attract someone’. Of course this can be innocent, and I don’t doubt that the professor in question had no improper intent. But the relationship of teacher and student, even in higher education, is not one of equals, or one between people with an equivalent ability to manage boundaries between what is and what is not appropriate. Of course the teacher should engage the interest of the student, and using skills of personal engagement is part of that. But that is not flirting.
I am sure that the professor was not stepping beyond the acceptable boundaries. But his response does not suggest that these boundaries are as clearly understood as perhaps they should be.