Saturday, December 31, 2011
The Different Standards On Teacher Behavior Between The Suburbs And The City. - Which Is Appropriate?
Yesterday, the Daily News reported on a teacher that may or may not have made some inappropriate frivolous comments to a couple of female students and was also accused by a less than credible student of showing her his cellphone with a cartoon picture of a couple doing the "old one, two" which the teacher denied. The 53 year old teacher with a 30 year unblemished record was presented with 3020-a charges by the DOE and hit with a token $1,500 fine for inappropriate comments by the independent Arbitrator who found the students testimony less than credible and now the teacher is an ATR. Can you imagine that the DOE wasted all that time and money on such frivolous charges? Worse, why would those wonderful and biased investigators from SCI substantiate the obviously frivolous charges of less than credible students over the 30 year unblemished record of the teacher? Do you believe the Principal might have something to do with it since he is the one who probably called SCI in the first place and was in the room when SCI questioned the frightened students?
By contrast, in Newsday today we have a middle school teacher who actually brags about his dancing with middle school girls, go ice skating with them and attend their personal parties an yet nothing is wrong with what he does. Living in the suburbs, I always see teachers being overly friendly with students, especially coaches with players. That included kissing and hugging that is usually reserved for family and best friends and thought little of it except that such behavior in the New York City Public Schools is not only frowned on but if the Principal so chooses can get a teacher terminated. In the New York City Schools if you touch a student on the hand or shoulder, it could lead to disciplinary action. While hugging and kissing in the suburbs are tolerated as part of teacher/student interaction.
The question is why are there different rules for the school districts? Should all school districts follow New York City DOE in a "zero tolerance" policy that treat touching a shoulder or hand the same as touching a student's "you know what". Even joking with students are frowned upon and can be taken out of context and be charged with verbal abuse of a serious nature. On the other side of the spectrum, is it appropriate for teachers to have close physical contact with students, even if it is innocent and affectionate and not sexual? Is a kiss on the check the same as a kiss on the lips? Does a coach who pats his players on the backside for making a good play an appropriate action? How about going to a student's party? Do these actions cross the line? The problem here is there are no uniform standards to regulate teacher/student relationships. Of course sexual misconduct is always unacceptable and should be prosecuted but in New York City, the teacher listed above was probably charged with "sexual misconduct" by the DOE which any reasonable person knows is not. Therefore, the term "sexual misconduct" is defined differently for different school districts.
On one hand school districts want teachers to connect with their students but as soon as the teacher makes that connection he or she puts himself or herself in danger of crossing the ever moving line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. In New York City, the result is that teachers have been warned to "do not touch the students" and "stay out of their lives". The result is that teachers cannot or will not connect with their students for fear of violating the Chancellor's regulations and be brought up on 3020-a charges and terminated. Is it any wonder why NYC teachers have trouble connecting with their students ? By contrast, how far can teachers interact with students? Is a reassuring hug or a squeeze of the shoulder appropriate? A kiss on the check? Dancing with a student? I don't know what the answer is but when I was a teenage student if a teacher or coach put his or her arm around my shoulder, I felt reassured and knew the they cared about what I thought and who I am. Being a NYC schoolteacher I cannot imagine doing the same thing to a student for fear of being brought up on charges of inappropriate touching or physical contact and that is too bad because it makes my job much more difficult to connect with the very students who can use a reassuring hug or hand around the shoulder.
I do not know what the answer is but I do know the NYCDOE's policy is wrong and needs to be relaxed if they really expect teachers to connect with their students and if an occasional interaction results in a student being uncomfortable, it should not result in 3020-a charges but in a more reasonable meeting with school administrators to resolve the issue. Maybe one day there will be a uniform code of conduct for teacher/student interaction but until that day occurs it is up to individual teachers to decide how far to reach out to students without threatening their jobs and that is a real pity, especially for those students who need an adult role model in their lives.
By the way how hypocritical was the DOE about their no touching policy. Besides the picture in the article, the ex-Chancellor always seemed to be putting his hands on students. I guess that the now ex-Chancellor Joel Klein was exempt from the DOE policy. Remember these pictures?