A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, January 26, 2009

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.

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At 1/27/09, 8:11 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Sad that we have to think about such things, isn't it? Good advice, all of it. Best to err on the side of too much caution...

At 1/27/09, 3:44 PM, Blogger Kim said...

I heard a new one yesterday - one of my colleagues was out last Friday, and had a sub, a young college-age guy. When he got back yesterday, my colleague started hearing from his female students that the sub had friended all of them on Facebook over the weekend, obviously using the class rosters to search for these girls. My colleague told the AP in charge of subs, who promptly took him off the school's sub list. Off the school list? Might want to let the district office know about that little liability waiting to happen!

At 1/27/09, 8:11 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Oh, wow, that is creepy! A new one for me, too! Jeez.

At 1/28/09, 6:07 AM, Blogger Deb S. said...

Great advice. Too bad life isn't so simple anymore.

At 1/28/09, 4:19 PM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

I'd think twice about texting students, as well. I use a lot of email with my seniors, but I save every single one and it is always strictly about school stuff.

I'm convinced the babysitter thing is a timebomb, but our community is so small that it is very common.

I see my male colleagues in their rooms with female students and the door closed all the time. Makes me crazy.

At 1/28/09, 4:20 PM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

Kim, we had a male sub do the same thing. It was turned over to our police liason.

At 1/29/09, 5:19 PM, Blogger Kim said...

My colleague let the principal know what happened with the facebook sub, and he about had kittens! It's not too hard to imagine the worst case scenario, and you know it would come back on the school more than the sub.

At 1/31/09, 2:46 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I don't want my students to text me either. A few years ago, one kid found out my main email account, and good grief! Every time I would check my email, I would get a dozen IMs asking me what I was doing. It was harmless stuff, really, but I turned off the IM and changed my account name.

Same thing with Facebook/Myspace-- I've heard stories of people becoming your "friend" even if you don't approve of them, and I don't need that grief. It would be great to catch up with old friends. But like it or not, teachers are public figures.


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