3/9/12

Inappropriate Conduct with Students

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Let's keep the line clear between
authority figures and students.

Image: Oxyman
In the last month the media has revealed several instances of teachers engaged in inappropriate conduct with students. Just to name a few, there was the story of the California teacher who left his family to move in with one of his students, as well as the female substitute teacher in Long Island who had sexual relations with a 15-year old student.

All of these bring back memories of things I’ve observed or experienced when I was a student that in hindsight were inappropriate.

Just Ask a Question
In middle school there was a science teacher who always put his arms around the girls in class when they came up to his desk to ask a question. He never did this with the boys. Sure, he may have been just extra friendly, but it was enough that the girls in class whispered about how his touchiness was “weird.” It kind of made the girls not want to ask questions unless absolutely necessary. Today, I doubt schools would allow teachers to be this affectionate with students.

The Science Experiment
In my high school science class we were learning about muscles. The teacher asked us to pair up for an experiment where one person would try to isolate and move one muscle while the partner touched that muscle to feel it move. I think the point was to show how challenging it was to control only one muscle at a time since they were all connected.

I ended up without a partner so my science teacher offered to be mine. We sat on chairs across from one another. The teacher touched my thigh and asked me to isolate and move that muscle. Things to note: 1) the teacher was male, 2) I was wearing a skirt that rode up when I sat down so he was touching my bare leg, 3) he could have chosen anywhere to perform the “experiment” including less controversial areas like hands, arms, or face. At the time I thought where he chose to touch me was a bit odd, but he was a teacher – an authority figure – and this was in the name of science so I didn’t say anything. Though the experiment was brief, in hindsight I know the teacher should have made a better choice.

The Internship Interview
During my junior year of college I was looking for an internship. After an initial successful first interview at my college with a well-known greeting cards manufacturer, the company flew me to its headquarters for a second interview. One of my meetings was with a man in his 30s or 40s who sat behind his desk as I sat across from him.

Throughout the interview, the man asked me questions while sitting tilted back in his chair. He had both hands behind his head and crossed his feet ON the desk so that I got a good view of the soles of his shoes. He started tapping his foot in the air, and his shoe was partially off so that is was going flip-flop, flip-flop as his foot moved. He did this so much that eventually his shoe fell off.

The last question he asked was: “Why should I hire you when you’re probably just going to get married out of school and have babies right away?” I was shocked; I didn’t know what to say. I ended up mumbling something about how I was too young to get married and how I wanted a career.

Today with my confidence and experience I would have said, “This is an inappropriate and illegal question” and reported him to his manager as well as to my school. But back then I didn’t know that those types of questions were illegal, I was caught off guard, and I needed an internship. The company did not end up offering me a position, but in retrospect this was a blessing.

Awareness is Key
It’s sad that the instances above and worse are probably commonplace. I think today people are more cognizant about what’s appropriate or not due to more media exposure, but as parents we need to continue the discussion with our kids…including understanding that authority figures can abuse their power, too. It is through awareness that we’ll be able to arm them from harm.


1 comment:

  1. Good advice! Your story of the touchy feely teacher reminded me of a young substitute make teacher I had in high school who did show extra attention to some of us. It was an all girl's school. In retrospect, his behavior was probably suspect. These are the lessons I'm not looking forward to teaching my girls!

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