Don’t Stand so Close to Me

So sang the Police many years ago about a young teacher and a sexy pouty teenage student. He was tempted, there was gossip and tension, wet bus-stops and warm cars, and it was a great song. But it’s not a great story in the real world.

As we watched the story of the Maths teacher and the 15 year old student unfold we knew it could only end badly. It is not the thing of great romance or tragic suffering: an intimate relationship between a teacher and student is always wrong. Every time, no matter the situation, the orientations of the players or the reasons. All wrong. All ways.

A teacher’s role is one of privilege, of responsibility, of care and due diligence. It is normal for students to have crushes on teachers. God knows, my daughter has had a crush on her wonderful English teacher for three years. My best mate at school had one on our hockey playing, Holden driving Science teacher, such that we trawled the A block corridors at lunchtime hoping for a chance encounter and a smile. It all came to naught, as it should.

Yes, some teachers marry their students. Yes, affairs do happen. Remember the case from the States several years ago where the PE teacher became pregnant by her 14 year old student lover? She ended up in jail. At the moment there is another teacher-student relationship storm brewing in the USA and the case of the runaway Maths teacher from Bournemouth is yet to run its sorry course.

What was he thinking? He’s twice her age. He’s in a position of responsibility – in loco parentis, it’s called, where teachers act in place of a parent. To wit they care for the child, keeping them safe and relating to them appropriately. Let’s leave aside the fact that many parents do not relate appropriately to the their own children and look at why cases of student-teacher relationships are and should be taboo.

You can’t get away from the immense imbalance in power. A student is young, vulnerable, highly impressionable. They may not be all that innocent, and they may be very compelling and sexy and tempting but they are young, unworldly and unknowing. The teacher is the adult and must remain so at all times. If you don’t understand that a distance must be kept and that you cannot indulge in an intimate relationship then you are in the wrong job.

Parents, students and the wider community trust teachers with the young people in their care. It is an awesome burden, but one we should be proud of. Remember that the public rate us in the top 3 of trusted professions: this matters. It matters because it is about the future of our society, that we do make a difference. Thus we cannot abuse that trust.

That’s not too say that it can be hard keeping that professional distance. When you teach in deprived areas, or have students who are more vulnerable than others it can be all too easy to form close attachments to students. Sometimes they need an adult in their life who cares for them, who goes the extra mile: someone upon who they can rely and trust. It is right that teachers fill that role. But at the end of the day, the teacher must go home to his/her life and so must the student. Phone calls, text messages, FB etc are not on. The line in the sand must be observed: the relationship has to remain professional, even if extremely caring. The teacher is the adult and must remain the adult, in control of the situation, aware of their own feelings and the students.

As I’ve blogged before relationships are what matter most to students, what affects their learning and their lives. But teachers who go beyond the ‘rules’, the expectations of a caring teacher, do a great deal of damage: to the student – now and later in life; to the school and to the profession at large.



How do you avoid the trouble Megan’s Maths teacher got into?

1. Be aware of your feelings, know they have become inappropriate and deal with it – transfer, or get help from someone before it’s too late

2. Never be in vulnerable situations – don’t see students alone if you suspect their feelings or your own; never ever meet them out of school

3. Do not share your contact details with students – work emails for assessment purposes is one thing, private contacts another altogether

4. Thus avoid being friends with students – current and recently former on FB – be wary of how the student is connected to others who may be in school still and privy to private info about you that can compromise you

5. Do not share Twitter accounts for the same reason, or home emails, or blog connections. Remember the electronic world can be an evilly connected place –who knows who is watching and for what diabolical purposes??

6. Finally, if you know or suspect something unseemly regarding a colleague you have to report it. There will be someone in the school looking after CP (child protection matters) who can advise you and ensure something untoward does not happen, either to the student or to your colleague.

We know teaching is a minefield. Students can and do lie about teachers. Teachers can and do abuse their positions of trust. Many of us deal with needy and vulnerable young people every day. They do not need to come from impoverished backgrounds to be needy. We need to know the lines in the sand. We need to observe them at all times, to reflect on our interactions with young people, to ensure they are safe and able to navigate their way (often with our help) through some challenging times.

Remember, never stand too close to them… (Images courtesy Google Images)


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2 Responses to “Don’t Stand so Close to Me”

  1. Therese Lee Says:

    Hi, I’ve just read your article in the Guardian from May about Gifted and Talented children. I’m a co-ordinator for this area in a secondary school and am very interested to find out a little more about your own position as co-ordinator in your previous school. Is there any possibility I could email you to quiz you a little?

    Therese Lee

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