Truly horrible American educators consistently make headlines for the idiocy they commit. The latest crop is more depressing than usual.
The media is forever filled with stories of teachers gone rogue. The public loves to hear a good, sordid tale of educators abusing the system, the students, and the trust placed upon their shoulders. The truth is those tales of teachers gone wild are one in a million. Nevertheless they make the front page of the news in a flash, and teachers everywhere pay the price.
There seems to be a ranking of infractions in the public schools. You have your minor infractions made by teachers every single day (many times myself included.) Maybe they had their phone on during school hours, and (gasp!) answered it. Shame! Never mind that they may have been awaiting important medical results, or left their own sick children in someone else’s care to teach the children of strangers. Then there are the really bad infractions, the Mary Kay Letourneau infractions that will land your ass in jail. In the event that those hard lines in the sand get crossed, the consequences are grave – as they should be. Lately my news stream has been filled with poor decisions made by those we entrust with our children for some 40 hours a week. I consider these recent infractions as somewhere in the middle of the no-no spectrum: way worse than picking up your phone during silent reading time, and way better than romping with a fourteen-year-old in a supply closet. Here are some recent headlines of teachers making bad choices:
- Texas teachers give “most likely to become a terrorist” award to 13-year-old
- How a Trump piñata brought chaos to a Colorado high school
- 2 Georgia teachers give ADHD student ‘Most Likely Not to Pay Attention’ award
Well these are certainly not the headlines you want to be reading while slurping down your morning cup of joe, and screaming at your children to hurry up or they’ll miss the bus (again.) What is going on here?
Being a teacher is an interesting space in the universe. You spend so many hours with the young minds of America – many times these kids start to feel like little brothers and little sisters, sidekicks, children of your own. Lines get blurred real quick, and jokes are no longer funny and harmless. Even in our own home we have a sarcastic, intelligent, little ten-year-old who my husband banters back and forth with regularly. I often have to remind him that she is ten – and only ten – and his jokes and sarcasm are often lost on her, before he even realizes that his latest line confused and maybe even hurt her a bit. For the next ten years she will sit in that middle space. In the words of Britney Spears, she’s “not a girl, not yet a woman.” It’s a tight rope walk with this age group – between what’s funny and what’s harmful.
Getting too comfortable with students is a slippery slope, even when harm was not the original intention. Silly moments meant for entertainment purposes many times create the opposite effect. One line, one quip, one ill choice of actions of words and you’re toast. Your job is over – career actually. Those 5-8 years you spent on your fancy teaching degree is as good as a roll of toilet paper. When you are a teacher, that is only what you are. These is no cross over career. You can’t abuse the role. The teachers in the above headlines clearly made some poor choices in their words and actions. They probably learned the hard way that middle-schoolers and high-schoolers are still in fact children, children that they are responsible for both in regards to molding their young minds as well as cultivating their emotional well being. I genuinely hope that they are ashamed of the things that they said and did during school hours and in fact can learn and grow from their mistakes.
When in doubt my fellow educators: err on the side of caution. Perhaps you don’t banter and snark with your eighth graders like the teacher down the hall does. Maybe you receive less high fives and elbow bumps than the social studies teacher in the classroom to your left. Good news though: if you stick to the professionalism that you have taken a code to uphold, then you will at least get that next paycheck. This is, after all, your job. You get no raise for being the cool, funny math teacher bashing in the head of a Donald Trump piñata.