Standing Advice for New or Naive Teachers
Okay, after a few things have caught my attention regarding teachers being accused of inappropriate behavior, I feel that it is time, once again, for the Wizened Old Broad to grab her younger, more naive colleagues by the ear and shake some sense of them. All out of love and concern, of course, with a healthy dose of "please don't bring shame upon my profession."
The roll call of shame is endless. Mary Kay Letourneau. Debra LaFave. The Tampa Bay Three-peat. Then there's this shameful compendium. The list is nauseating, and, personally, makes me want to smack a bunch of people.
So obviously there is a need for this little chat. So let me just be blunt:
1. Never be alone with a student in your room with the door closed, whether they are male or female and whether you are male or female. Always be visible in front of your door if there is a single student in there with you. Better yet, be out in the hallway.
2. If you are a coach, never be alone with a student in a dressing or locker room, no matter what, but especially if you are the opposite gender of your athletes.
3. If you take students on overnight trips, like for band or debate, never have a room to yourself-- have another staff member share with you or at least be next door. Try to have teachers of both genders represented as sponsors of these trips. Never never I MEAN NEVER allow a student into your room, door open or closed, it makes no difference. If a kid comes to you in the middle of the night and says that he/she has been tormented by their roomies and can't go back to his/her room,and you don't have another adult available, take the kid to the lobby of the hotel and sit in a brightly lit place with you on a completely different piece of furniture from the student, and be willing to sit there with the kid, but under no circumstances leave a place where you are in the presence of others, and hopefully on camera.
4. Never allow students to stay overnight at your house, no matter how innocent the circumstance.
5. Never allow students to move in with you, even if they would otherwise claim that they would be homeless. An unstable kid is trouble, no matter how much you may care for him or her.
6. I would also advise against current students being babysitters for you. Again, I did this all the time for loads of my teachers, but times are different. Former students (especially college students) are better, if you can't find kids who haven't been students at your school. I am sad to say that this a concern you must heed in today's day and age.
7. If you are male and see a young lady unsuitably clad, try to have a calm, rational female colleague address this issue if you find the attire to be detrimental to the learning environment but especially if you can't look at the student without feeling uncomfortable. Sorry to say, since I am all about gender equality, but a male teacher should see nothing below the chin on any young female person. If you comment, a defiant child will try the gambit of asking loudly and embarassingly why you would even be looking, and the conversation will degenerate from there very quickly to charges of lechery.
And here's a point: you can be sexually harassed by a student. Stand up for your right to work in an environment free of harassment.
8. If a student is showing signs of being troubled, send him/her to the counselor or the principal.
9. Be friendly to your students. Treat them with concern. Be their advocate (and this doesn't mean believing everything they say or taking their side in everything). Never sell them short by accepting less than their best effort. But do not be their friend or intimate. You are their teacher. This is far more precious of a responsibility and a relationship.
Again, sadly, it wasn't like this when I was a student. I was myself was a kid in a bad situation who was saved by a teacher who is now a beloved friend of long standing, and I thank God every day for her help in my life.
But today's students are far more sexualized, and parents are sadly often looking for any excuse for their children's behavior. Combine these with the lawsuit madness that infests modern America, and the tendency to claim victimhood, and the myriad infamous instances of inappropriate behavior on the part of educators or clergy, and this is an atmosphere in which you must be vigilant.
Do not be naive. Do not think that this could never happen to you or that your circumstances are so unique that the rules were made to be broken. Protect yourself. Even if you are proven innocent after an accusation, you will lose your livelihood and your reputation. You can lose your family or your home.
Be safe. Be wise. It could happen to you.