Monday, February 23, 2015

"It truly is a joyful burden. It's what we do, it's why we teach: because we love our kids, and we want the best for them." Margaret Platt, History Teacher

The news is filled with stories about inappropriate teacher-student relationships. In the past two weeks, not one, but two male teachers in the same suburban Pittsburgh school district have been arrested for having a sexual relationship with female students.  I cringe in embarrassment and horror every time I hear this kind of news story.  I am and always will be a teacher, and the behavior of a few teachers in the news paints the entire teaching profession the putrid color of distrust.  I am not accusing or saying that I believe the charges against either teacher. I am simply saying that stories like this are bad for the teachers, the school districts, the community, and the students. 

I absolutely loved teaching high school for 37 years.  My school building was filled with hundreds of beautiful teenaged male and female students.  They were my STUDENTS, and I was their teacher, which I believe is a relationship to be revered.  Students looked to me to discuss grades and parents; to give advice on relationship questions and prom gowns; to help them to complete essays and job applications; and to guide them through traumas of school and growing up. I truly cared for my students, therefore,  it is inconceivable for me to entertain any possibility of crossing the line that must be drawn between teachers and students to enter into an inappropriate relationship.  I believe that teaching is much more than a job; I rather think that teaching is a calling, and it is in that capacity, that teachers must always weigh all possibilities when thinking about students. If any doubt exists concerning decisions to be made about students, the teacher must ALWAYS
choose to do what is best for the student.  In my mind, and I think in the minds of most educators, no other choice exists. 

I read with interest the front page of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE REVIEW, which boldly stated as the headline: "Plum schools lack teacher-student restriction" with a sub-headline of "Accusations against 2 instructors stir move to limit fraternization."  A code of conduct already exists in Pennsylvania, and it is listed under the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Professional Standards and Practices Commission.  According to the TRIB, this Pennsylvania law restricts sexual harassment and sexual relationships.  Plum would like to augment this law with restrictions of their own, including  prohibiting teachers from using "electronic communication such as text messaging or social media to connect with students 'to deter any sort of misconduct'". (Source: The Tribune Review, 2/19/2015, page A6)  They want to go the extra mile to protect students, now that two accusations have been made. A little late is better than never, I suppose, but it seems to me that teachers should already know better than to cross the relationship line with students. I am not sure spelling out specifics really matters.

I simply hate to see these stories in the news, because true or not, the charges hurt everyone, and in most cases, accusations alone can ruin lives and careers.  

I urge my fellow educators to avoid any scenarios which could invite accusations of inappropriate  behavior, including "friending" students on Facebook and/or posting any content on social media that could be deemed as inappropriate.  

The teaching profession needs you to be the best teacher you can be, and you must remember that you are a role model, whether you are inside or outside the classroom. In simple terms, you must always do what is best for the students, and strive to be a positive role model.  

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 

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