Thursday, October 25, 2012

No Gray Area

Last week was a big news week in my county, none of it good.  Last Wednesday, my daughter (who is a senior at another high school in the county where I teach) came downstairs with news that an acquaintance of hers had been sleeping with a young substitute teacher. Something went wrong (gee, what could possibly go wrong in that scenario?) and the student, now a freshman in college, had released all the naked pictures and graphic texts she had sent him. 

Immediately, students and teachers, as well as people not just in our area, but all over the country weighed in.  At the time, little was known beyond what I have just stated.  Many people thought it was no big deal for a young woman (in her early 20s) to have a relationship with a student, if he was 18.  Many blamed that student for the maliciousness of releasing those pictures and "ruining her life."  Many people, including a female administrator at my school said they felt "sorry for her" and "angry at him."  Many gave the student a high five for bedding a hot, young teacher.  I found that disturbing.  What utterly broke my heart was the racist, ignorant comments that came because the student was black and the teacher was white. 

My opinion all along has been that the teacher was in a position of trust.  At best, it is unethical and a conflict of interests.  It doesn't matter that he is eighteen.  It doesn't matter how young and attractive she is.  What matters is that school is a place where children (and yes, you are a child when you are in high school) should be safe.  No one, male or female, young or old, attractive or unattractive, who seeks out a relationship with a student is in good mental health.  This was not about love or sex.

My position was validated when I heard this morning that the substitute had been arrested on two felonies due to relationships she had with other students who were underage.  In one case, the sex occurred on school property. If one student, who was eighteen, is ethically questionable, multiple relationships show a pattern of a true predator who gets off on the power of the (I am certain) adoration she was getting from the young male students. 

As a society, we must change our thinking on two issues.  The first is that abuse where there is an older woman and a younger, male victim is somehow not abuse.  If one person is in a position of power, then it is abuse.  The second is the attitude that if the victim "liked it" then somehow, it's not as bad.  Psychological damage can take much longer to heal than physical attacks.  Think about your own baggage--is it because someone hit you or because someone messed with your mind?

I love my students and am very protective of them.  I didn't realize how much until that same day that "Substitute Teachergate" went down.  During the last period of the day, an announcement was made to shut and lock our doors and not to let anyone out.  Lockdown.  Shots had been fired in the neighborhood. This is the fear of every teacher since Columbine.  I have often wondered what I would do in my windowless classroom if we were in danger.  As my mind went to the worst possible scenario, I knew without a doubt that I would do whatever it took to keep my students safe.  I am no hero.  I am like every other teacher, whom parents put their trust in every day.  Parents trust that we will not just educate our students, but nurture and protect them.  We should always be their advocates and act in their best interest. This is a sacred trust and any teacher who violates that with any kind of questionable behavior has no place in the school system. 

To me there is no gray area. 

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