Like EdWonk, I guess I’ve read or heard about too many cases in which teachers, the people who are charged with helping students to learn and protecting students while they are under the school’s supervision, have betrayed the trust of their students, the students’ parents, the community, and their colleagues by victimizing children. I am not prepared to say this is happening more now than it used to, because it could be that it was underreported. My husband commented that he felt that boys realize that the attention they receive from female teachers is not “cool” when I asked him what he thought. He added that “any sexualized relationship between a child and an adult is pathological on the part of the adult.” Before you ask yourself what kind of an authority he is, I should add that he writes about true crime and has made extensive studies of criminal behavior. He spoke to students at my school about the danger of revealing too much about themselves online and being safe on the Web. His presentation was very well-received by both faculty and students.
I can well believe that teaching would be attractive to child molestors. The opportunity to meet potential victims must be unparalleled for teachers. Our ed schools have got to tackle this issue head-on. I am not blaming them. However, as this issue increasingly erodes the public trust America has in its teachers, it needs to be addressed by the institutions responsible for creating new teachers. I’m not exactly sure how. I know I wanted to address it when I was in education classes.
I actually had a student sexually harass me when I was a student teacher. I reported it to his assistant principal, who disciplined him, and I had no further trouble. The problem is that high school students who are not much younger than some of our teachers look like adults sexually. We did weekly “think pieces” in our English education program that were designed to discuss issues that concerned us. We wrote two pages on the issue, passed our think pieces around the classroom, and our peers commented on them. I broached the subject of writing a think piece on the issue of this line that too many teachers seem to be crossing. My friends in class advised me against it, as they were afraid it would be misunderstood by my professors as an indication that I was attracted to students. I wanted to be careful, so I didn’t write it. Now, I wish I had. I wish we had had that dialogue about “the line.” I don’t believe necessarily that any of my classmates went on to molest a child. Nor do I necessarily believe that my think piece would have prevented it. I just think discussion of the issue is critical.
I remember years ago, Eliot Wigginton, who founded the Foxfire method of teaching in Rabun Gap, came to speak at our Foundations of Education class. He was well-known at the time — one of those celebrity teachers like Jaime Escalante, Harry Wong, or Ron Clark. He took a group of disadvantaged kids in the Appalachians and worked miracles with them. He was a teacher I admired. Then it was discovered that he was a child molestor. He spent one year in jail for this crime and was sentenced to nineteen years probation. He also had to resign from teaching. I can’t tell you how upset I was when I learned the allegations against Wigginton were true. A cursory Google search for Eliot Wigginton reveals you have to dig a bit to find references to his crime. How does one reconcile the good he did as a teacher with the evil he did? To my way of thinking, it really can’t be done. I think victimizing a child in this way is one of the most evil things a person can do, and in my view, it overshadows… perhaps even obliterates the good he did.
Teachers who victimize their students erode the public’s already shaky esteem and respect for teachers. They are the worst ambassadors for our profession. I echo Ed’s sentiment:
There’s got to be some way to put an end to this type of behavior and expel these monsters-masquerading-as-teachers from among the ranks of educators once and for all.
But what is it?