Friend vs. Co-worker?

Every year I have said to my students, “You don’t have to be friends, but you do have to work together.” This concept is repeated throughout the months of school, and yet it appears to be a lesson that isn’t exactly mastered.

You see, the other day, I was having a conversation with a co-worker and she was expressing her frustration with the concept of being a friend while also being a co-worker. (Now, I think one important factor – from my experience – is that we work in a female-dominated building. Out of nearly 80 staff members, we have an average of 5 males. That many females in one place can put an interesting spin on daily events.)

So, she was stating that she feels like perhaps she cannot be friends with our co-workers because it puts one in a difficult situation. I understand where she is coming from because I too have felt this way. I believe in strong work ethics and in my field that would mean doing our best for the students while following the perimeters from administration. This is where the line between friend and co-worker gets challenging. If administration requires that you use certain materials, but your co-worker/friend shares with you that he/she is not using those resources and instead is choosing his/her own material, that is a challenge. Do you pretend to not know during meetings, thus being deceptive towards your employer? Or do you encourage your friend to tell the truth to administration? I think most people would suggest the second option; however, what if it falls on deaf ears? Let’s take another possibility. Both gifted and special education students have specially designed instruction by law. If your friend is open about not providing that support, what do you do? Again, I would think that having a chat with your friend would be the best route; yet what if it’s ineffective? And another possibility… what if you cannot turn in your assignment (i.e. lesson plans, grading, other paperwork…) to your administration because your co-worker/friend has not done his/her part? Again you are in a difficult situation. You are stuck between your employer and your friend. Unfortunately, this can create a negative impact on your work performance.

Truth be told, you might have a friend whom you work with who is a great friend, but a lousy employee. This becomes a struggle between being a friend, or being honest about the actions of your co-worker and the negative impact it has on the number one priority – the students. My experience has been that there’s a very fine line between being a friend, and being an effective co-worker. My choice was to put some distance between myself and others while at work in an effort to maintain genuine friendly interactions without it jeopardizing my integrity as a teacher. A great mentor of mine told me when I was in high school, “If you have more than 2-3 friends, you don’t know what a real friend is.” I never forgot that.

I’m interested to hear your responses as to how you would handle the obstacle of: being a friend, being a co-worker, or being both?


Ahmeli… that co-workers could be friends who inspire one another to become more effective employees.


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