Welcome to the Fishbowl



 

There are no secrets in a school.  Everything you do or say as a teacher is observed, catalogued and analyzed by students.  It then shows up in the hallways, in the cafeteria, on the bus, in the family car, in the bleachers and on the streets of the community. Teachers must be above reproach, choose their words carefully and be temperate in word and manner.  A single off-handed remark can spread like wildfire and put you on the defensive overnight.  Most importantly, be VERY careful in situations that involve close physical proximity with students.  You can't avoid it entirely, but you can minimize your risk.

 

I didn't give hugs or slap backs.  Occasional high fives or handshakes were as far as I went. If I had to lean down to a student to help them at their desk, I pointed with one hand and put the other in my pocket or the small of my back.  Survival Rule #1 for me was to not be alone in a room with a student.  If there was no other choice, we worked right up front with the door open and I would tell another teacher nearby.  Sometimes we would go to another classroom where there were people.  Our staff covered each other that way all the time. 

 

This precaution is especially important if you are a middle-aged male teacher since society thinks we're the predators. Unfortunately, this stuff does go on but it's not confined to male teachers.  There have been a number of high profile cases involving female teachers.  And for every case that turns out to be the real thing, there's no telling how many allegations turn out to be bogus, but they can be equally damaging.  All it takes is one hint of inappropriate or suggestive behavior and your career can be over.  The school,  the district and the union will drop you like a leper. You're guilty until proven innocent.  I've seen it.

 

When I first retired from the Marines and was still in grad school, I signed on with Junior Achievement as a classroom instructor.  It was a good way to get some classroom time.  I went into schools at all levels and taught classes about money and finances.   One of the middle schools I frequented was rocked by a major scandal.  A young male gym teacher took two female students out to the track to make up a fitness run.  There was no one else around. When it was over, they made allegations of sexual advances against him.  He was immediately suspended.

 

The police did a thorough investigation.  After several weeks, the girls finally admitted they had made the whole thing up because they couldn't pass the run. But the young gym teacher didn't come back.  He knew he was a walking talking question mark now and couldn't live it down. The girls walked away scot-free.

 

Now this isn't to say that an accused teacher shouldn't be suspended if allegations are made.  Obviously, the school can't risk keeping them around.  The point is that even if an investigation finds charges unfounded,  you're never really cleared.  You must do everything in your power to avoid compromising situations.  Mr. Gym Teacher was trying to be a nice guy and run a special make-up just for these two girls.  He didn't protect himself and it ended his career.  Don't let the same thing happen to you.

 

Welcome to the fishbowl.

 

Si facile, omnes esset facere....Mister L.