By John Gardner
I get the reasons. We must protect our students…..and our teachers…. and our schools. Almost weekly we hear a national news report of a student running off with a teacher or some variation of sexual misconduct. Sometimes, a school’s proactive response is to overreact with a series of policies summed up with:
Thou shalt not type, text, touch or transport thy students.
- Don’t give students your cell number. Too late.
What is the difference between whether they call my cell, office or home phone?
- Don’t text with students. Busted.
What is the difference between text, twitter and email?
- Avoid 1-1 encounters without witnesses. The word that comes to mind is reasonableness. As a music teacher, I periodically conduct individual playing or coaching sessions in a semi-sound-proofed practice room, away from observers – on purpose. On the other hand, when possible, I teach 1-1 lessons in the music office or large ensemble room where there will likely be people coming and going. I no longer teach in my home, using the high school or university for studio space.
Should I coach in the hallway?
- Avoid physical contact. Yes, but sometimes there is something positively powerful about an appropriate touch; a handshake, high-five, hand on the shoulder or, yes, even a congratulatory or consoling student-initiated hug.
Is ALL touching over the line?
Typing. Generally Social Media Networking. When I mentioned in an evaluation meeting that I had over half the band on my Facebook “friend” list, I was cautioned to “be careful” but not told to disconnect. My personal policy on Facebook is that I do not issue friend requests to students, but I accept their invitations. Following that caution, however, I have also created a band Facebook “page” that does not require “friending”. I use both to make announcements, applaud achievers, encourage individuals or the band collective, and yes, sometimes, to have a conversation. Most of those conversations are schedule related, but occasionally I am counseling or consoling.
If it is okay to encourage, counsel or console a student in person, why is the media used challenged?
Texting. Is the problem the communication or the device? I have periodically said to students, “You may contact me but do not abuse that.” ….and they don’t. Nearly 100% of texts from students are about class, schedules, an idea or suggestion about the show (this year or next) or even a complaint that someone thinks I should hear. Unless I’m asking a band question, I seldom initiate a text communication, but I do respond to most texts received. For many students, texting has replaced email as the preferred communication technique.
Is that wrong? Again, what (exactly) is the problem?
Touching. Yes. Yes. Especially a younger teacher must be extremely careful in this area. Perhaps I take advantage of the facts that I am old, fat, bald and ugly – and more a grandfatherly-type figure to exchange handshakes and high fives. Sometimes, in a loud crowded classroom when a student is trying to tell me something and I’m struggling to hear – I will put a hand on a shoulder; as in ‘come closer and speak louder’. I’ve also used the touch of a hand on the shoulder as a form of encouragement or congratulations. I have a perfect picture example (snapped by the girl’s grandfather as she received her senior recognition….and I have my hand on her shoulder) with the band behind me and the audience in front of me.
Hugs….more rare and generally more carefully considered. Some examples, though. I periodically will exchange a hug at a graduate open house party where, usually, the student has graduated. I have received hugs after a successful solo contest performance or other such excitable moment.
I have offered hugs…. The girl stood inside the office (I sat at my desk across the room) and she was breaking down as she described and cried about her father’s verbal abuse and how badly it was hurting her. I did get out of my chair, walk over to her and offered an accepted hug. Another time was following a marching rehearsal. I noticed a cluster of color guard girls and my first thought was that someone was hurt. When I investigated, there was a circle of encouragers trying to help the freshman who was sobbing uncontrollably and saying she couldn’t do it. I put my hand on her shoulder, she latched on to me with a significant squeeze and right there, in the middle of a dozen girls, there was a teacher-student hug happening.
Sometimes there is something about an appropriate touch that is difficult to put into words yet is worth thousands of them.
Careful, yes. Reasonable, of course. But elementary students aren’t the only ones who have love to share and who (sometimes) need a touch in return.
Am I wrong?
Transporting. When I was a young teacher, back in a previous century, I taught in a rural area and had one student who had parental permission to be in band as long as the parents didn’t have to do anything – including providing transportation to/from rehearsal. His clothes often had the stench of the family owned chicken house, which is why this boy had few close friends (literally). I transported him often — and others when circumstances warranted.
In my current position, I have transported students to the local university’s band rehearsals and concerts, to solo contest, to honor band rehearsals and more. I have driven students when they forgot something for a band trip, have injured an ankle in a field rehearsal and can’t make the moderate walk back to the high school, locked a key in their car and needed to go home to get the backup, at midnight after returning from a contest when the parents forgot to pick them up and were not answering their phones, or when expected to walk home but it was raining. When school policy says teachers cannot do that without written parental permission, administrator approval and another adult in the car.
So what do I do with that midnight student?
Responding to a different post (see below) on the same topic, a student responded (on Facebook),
Sooo basically teachers are just teachers now and not people? What about all those stories people tell of an inspirational teacher they had who helped them through their difficult time and made it possible for them to be where they are now? Is that gone too?
How would you respond?