Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Unnecessary, But Needed Policies

Today's story of stating the obvious via new rules and regulations comes to us from Utah and the Canyons School District where, according to the fine folks over there at the Salt Lake Tribune, the superintendent of said school district is "...considering drafting strict rules that should keep teachers from ever having inappropriate relationships with students." I don't know whether I should be beating my head against a wall because something like this should be unnecessary or if I should be beating my head against a wall because something like this IS necessary. Either way, I'm going to have a headache by the end of this post.

According to the superintendent, a one David Doty, "In order to really prevent [sexual relations between teachers and students] from happening, you've got to draw the line way back from physical contact, but draw the lines in a way that they're not so rigid that people feel like they can't have any kind of meaningful interaction with students." Now my question is "Don't we already have a line?" And if we don't, "What happened to that line?" But probably my most pressing question to that statement is, "Where are people getting confused?"

While I agree with the man that you've got to draw the line way back from physical contact, I think I don't believe his assertion that drawing those lines will "really prevent sexual relations between teachers and students from happening." I have yet to hear any of the teachers that are caught having "inappropriate relationships" with their students (Translation: Having sex with 14 & 15 year old boys.) say that they went ahead with all of the sex because there was no line. There is a line. There is a HUGE line. There always HAS been a line. But for some reason, it seems as if there is a more frequent occurrence of people not giving a fat rat's ass about the line and therefore jumping right on over the line and into bed with an adolescent male. (The adolescent male, by the way, is the one who cares the absolute least about the line. To him, having sex with his teacher is not crossing the line. In that example, the line is very far away. The line is so far away, the line is a dot to the 15 year old guy who is banging his teacher.)

Superintendent Doty continued with "Such cases [of sexual misconduct] are rare, but I feel very strongly that if there's one thing schools should have zero tolerance for, it is inappropriate physical and emotional relationships between students and teachers." Well, YES! In fact, if there's one thing EVERYONE should have zero tolerance for, it is inappropriate physical and emotional relationships between children and adults...PERIOD! And if they were as "rare" as he tries to make them sound, I don't know that he would be spending a whole lot of time on crafting new policy to address such an issue because they are...wait for it....rare, that is correct!

It's not like policies that define what a teacher's role should be and what activities a teacher should refrain from engaging in are new. "Many districts....have policies in place that prohibit teachers from giving rides to students, dining off-campus with students, or hosting activities in their home or off-campus without prior permission from the school principal." Um, hey. Wait a minute. "Hosting activities in their home"?? You know, I've taught classes before. Let me tell you, the last thing I would ever consider doing, not to mention want to do is to have my students in my freaking house! NO way! Never. Since when did that become an issue?? And what is with "Without prior permission from the school principal"?? I don't think there should be circumstances where a teacher is hosting some sort of a function for his or her students at their home ever, even with permission! You shouldn't be asking for permission because you shouldn't want to have your students at your home. They have their own homes! They can go there. (I can see that whatever policy he comes up with will be strong! Sure. It will solve everything! What could possibly go wrong?)

"Policies regarding gifts, e-mail, text messages and other electronic communication such as social profiles on the Internet, however, are new to most districts....At the same time, crafting policy should reflect technological innovation in communications. "You've got to look at personal e-mail, texts and MySpace communications with students." Again, why would a teacher want to do or participate in the majority of those? A teacher has a school email address and the students can email the teacher at that email address. (The cool thing about the Internet is that all of those tubes and pipes and things that connect it all together make it so you can check your email anywhere at anytime. How convenient!) I do not recall being in high school and having some pressing need to get in contact with one of my teachers immediately. (Well, not while I was in high school. After I was out? That's a story for a different day!) Why would a student and a teacher need to be texting? And if you're a teacher and you're leaving comments on your student's MySpace pages, you need to stop doing that. Now. And if you're not willing to stop doing that, you need to quit. Now.

But here is where things really start to get weird. A one Carol Lear, who is the director of law and legislation (in schools) for the State Office of Education, has said "...that while every Utah school district should review teacher-student conduct policies, many are problematic for schools where the teacher may live among students. Teacher proximity to students can be hard to control, let alone monitor." What the hell does that mean? "...the teacher may live among students"? Is this some sort of weird communal school? OK, granted, it is Utah. But I lived in Utah for 20 years and I don't recall any educational communes where the teachers and students mingled freely and lived amongst each other. Does she mean "in the same community"? Because if that is what she is referring to, I see no problem with that. Yes, teachers may live in the same city as their students! And you know what else? They may do so and NOT have sex with their students! Shocking, I know! And that woman is in charge of....stuff? That might not be the best idea. I see a hypervigilant policy being unveiled in the near future.

She also says that "Many ideas sound like really great absolutes, but they have to be looked at in the context of communities and the circumstances of where the teacher lives and works." Again, what? The context of where a teacher lives in proximity to where his or her students lives has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the teacher is able to maintain an appropriate relationship with his or her students. NOTHING. The key part of a teacher not having sex with a student is self control! Not proximity! Not community! Self control.

And this is the part of the article where I realized that my world and Carol Lear's world are two very different lands. She said, "Because their social circle is often limited to the students they teach, many teachers become close friends with some students, then become so comfortable around them they forget ethical boundaries." Um, since when? Since when is a teacher's social circle "often limited to the students they teach"? I saw none of my students at the bar I went to after work to drink my sorrows away. No students there. That circle was student-free! As was my home, my car, my friend's homes, and everywhere else that wasn't work. No students! (Thank God!)

"Unless they're always vigilant, it can happen. It's not always the case that these teachers are pedophiles or psychos. Many times it's the nature of schools, and the fact that you relate to the people you're with all the time." The people I am with all the time are adults! And even when you're teaching kids, if you would rather be with those kids than with adults that are your age, there is a problem and you should not be teaching. It is not the fault of the schools that inappropriate student-teacher relationships develop. It is the fault of the teacher. That's it. It doesn't go any further than that. (Can you really fault a teenage boy for having consensual sex with his hot, hot, Algebra teacher? No way. Can you fault a hot, hot Algebra teacher for having sex with a student currently in her class? (Just had to clarify that part there.) Yes, you can fault her for that. Again, she's the what? No, not the whore! She's the adult. The ADULT. What is wrong with people?

That last quote from the misguided state worker there makes it sound like it is sooooo difficult for a teacher to not have sex with a student. Me, personally, that was probably the easiest part of my job that was always, ALWAYS left unsaid. Do not have sex with the students. OK! No problem! And it wasn't!

She's right that they all may not be pedophiles or psychos. (I would hope that the number of teachers caught engaging in this sort of behavior would NOT be "psychos", as I would want to know exactly how it came to be that the "psycho" was hired to teach at that school in the first place. I prefer schools have a "psycho-free teacher" policy firmly in place at the beginning of each school year.) But she also seems to think that having regulations and rules and policies that are strongly worded and placed into State Office of Education policies will solve the problem. It's as if she envisions specific terms defining what an "inappropriate relationship" between a teacher and a student consists of (Here's a hint: If sex is involved, it's inappropriate.) and that will solve everything! (Does she really think that a teacher might think, "Wow. That student in my second period class is really, really cute! If only it weren't for those pesky rules and regulations over there in that big thick binder! I guess I'd better not do that because the rules say not to. Darn." I don't think that's going to happen. Ever!)

I think more than anything, I'm just sad that there needs to be a policy that specifically addresses appropriate boundaries between students and teachers because either the lines have become so blurred that teachers don't know where one role stops and where another one fails to start, or too many teachers just don't care about the lines at all. And if that's what needs to be done (mainly for legal reasons, as I don't see many practical ones for it), then I'm certainly not against it. But if anyone has ridiculous expectations that a "policy" is going to change the behavior of those who would otherwise have such behavior, well, those people are in for quite a shock when that doesn't happen. If a "policy" was an actual deterrent, wouldn't cities have less crime (as a city's "policies" of what to do and what not to do are otherwise known as "laws")? Of course. But things like "policies" only work to curb undesirable behaviors in those individuals who wouldn't have had the behavior in the first place. And if that's the case, I don't know that I can actually say that it "works" at all.

For God's sake, just don't sleep with you students!! Just don't!! I don't think that I need to go into much more detail as to WHY NOT! Just don't!! And stop it!! Now!! (And put that thing away, will you? Geez! God sees everything, you know?)

I was right. My head does hurt.

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