Is teacher’s behavior normal or “over the line”?

Dear Stop It Now!,

A new gifted resource specialist (30-ish male) at my 12 year old daughter’s school has arranged for her to do extra work in the computer lab of the library under his personal supervision. She is the only student that he works with like this. He's talked to her about driving her to the high school to visit a lab class during the school day. He mentioned this to her several times rather than discussing it with me. When I told him by email that I didn't want her leaving the middle school campus he told her (not me) that he is "just trying to give you unique experiences,"  which I thought was inappropriate. Then when I saw him passing in the hallway he said nothing about it, but acted extra enthusiastic to see me. Is he just bringing new ideas/collaborations to the school, or should I be concerned?

Dear Concerned Parent,

It’s always good to hear from parents, like yourself, who are being cautious and observant and asking questions when the meaning of behaviors are unclear.  As you are finding, the motivation behind the behaviors of this teacher are hard to read. But the important thing is that you are noticing these behaviors now, you are not comfortable with them, and you have the chance to change the circumstances.

Safe and Appropriate Teacher/Student Boundaries

I agree with your feeling that the teacher is going outside boundaries that are seen as typical and acceptable between teachers and students.  In that sense, it doesn’t really matter why he is acting in these ways.  It could be because he sees his behaviors as consistent with a student who is doing an independent project, or he may be simply unaware that he is acting in ways that others might see as inappropriate. But whatever the reason, these types of behaviors on the part of a teacher are ones that could potentially place a student at risk and make them more vulnerable to the possibility of being harmed.

Addressing Concerns in School Settings

One option is to speak to the principal to find out what policies and rules the school has in place for the prevention of child sexual abuse.  There are several rules that are fairly typical of prevention policies in youth-serving organizations. Here is a quote from an article on our website (see Safety in Day Care and Educational Settings ) “It’s good practice for schools and child care settings to prohibit one-on-one contact between an adult and a child by instituting a Two Adult Rule. It’s good practice, too, to prohibit meetings with children when others can’t see or hear the interaction.”

A teacher would actually be violating both these rules by taking a student out of the school by him or herself and driving the student to another school. It would be a good idea to know if your daughter’s school has a policy in place that would automatically prohibit this teacher’s suggestion.

Helping Children Feel Safe in School

Singling out a student in ways that are not necessary for educational purposes does make children more vulnerable, and also can make them feel uncomfortable. Because of this it would also be a good idea to find out more about the structure of independent projects.  You may want to find out from the school if they see any type of educational value in having your child sit near the teacher while she is doing her independent project, and having him approach her to see if she needs help, rather than waiting to respond if she asks for help. 

It’s great that your daughter has the interest and the enthusiasm to want to learn about science both in the classroom and independently.  But schools should be willing to provide acceptable structures and rules that apply to all independent projects in order to eliminate potential risk to children and potential risk to the reputations of staff.

You may want to approach this as a wider school policy issue than address it individually with the teacher. If there are no school wide safeguards and standards as far as teacher/student interaction in independent projects, you may want to view this as an opportunity to have a conversation with the school administration about putting in place these types of behavioral safeguards. If the school does not want to do this, then you may want to reconsider having your child pursue an independent learning project. A good resource, published by the US Center for Disease Control is "Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth Serving Organizations"

Throughout this, it's important to keep general everyday safety planning on your family's agenda. When families talk about safety guidelines, set healthy boundaries and follow through on clear rules about behaviors, then there is already protective practices in place to help when there are questions about vague or suspicious bheaviors.  Please visit our website and review our prevention tools, including Create your family safety plan and Talking to children and teens.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 1st, 2012