How to Avoid Improper Teacher Student Relationships

Maintaining proper relationships with your students is chiefly your responsibility as the teacher.  A student is not mature enough to realize all the complications and risks of having an improper teacher-student relationship.  As an adult, and especially an adult in a leadership role, you must never allow yourself to be guilty of “getting involved” with a student.

Remember your roots –
After all the years you’ve spent getting your degree, making lesson plans and attending teacher workshops, keep in mind why you are a teacher: You have a great deal of hope and concern for young people.  You love to communicate information in a way it can be understood, and you get a kick out of seeing the ‘lights come on’ behind a student’s eyes.  For these reasons and more, you don’t need an improper relationship to rob you of your career.  In order to avoid that happening, consider the following reminders:

Don’t be flattered –
It’s human nature to feel pleased when someone gives us special attention, especially if it makes us feel young and attractive.  If a student has a crush on you and openly flirts, teases or calls and sends you text messages, discuss the situation with your administrator. If you are not guilty of encouraging the student’s behavior, you have nothing to worry about.  On the other hand, letting flattery go to your head can destroy your career.

Dress accordingly –
To wear clothing that invites the wrong kind of attention sends students the wrong message.  Adolescents, because of hormonal changes and rapid physical development, are very aware of the opposite sex.  When you have their best interest at heart, you will dress like the professional you’ve trained to be.   

Dressing professionally doesn’t necessarily mean a suit.  Invest in a few quality separates you’ll enjoy wearing and rotate them with various tops (and bottoms),  jackets, sweaters and accessories.  On casual days, there’s nothing wrong with “dressing down” while still setting a good example for your students . 

Talk about your family –
Mention your spouse in class – his or her job, how long you’ve been married, places you’ve traveled, etc.  Keep a photo of your family on your desk where students can see it.  Invite your spouse to a special class function and introduce your students to your spouse and family. This, in itself, can help to discourage inappropriate attention in the classroom.

Nip it in the bud –
When a student tries to attract your attention in an inappropriate way, it’s up to you to put the brakes on.  Avoid unnecessary eye contact, do not allow yourself to be alone with the student and, in general, make it obvious you aren’t interested.  If the student makes suggestive comments or writes you notes that fantasize about a relationship, talk to your administrator.  Seeking counsel proves that you want to avoid any situation that can ruin your career.

Suppose one of your students comes by your office after hours to ask about an assignment?  Make it a point to leave the door wide open and keep the meeting very brief.  If possible, call a fellow teacher or the school secretary and report, “Hey, just checking in to say I’m meeting with ___ about an assignment.  I’ll be done shortly.”  Better yet, before the student settles in, stand up and say, “Let’s talk while I walk to the front office …”   

Appeal to your peers –
When you find yourself dealing with an uncomfortable situation, inform the teachers whose classrooms are nearest your own.  Set up a way to contact them if you need their immediate presence in your room.  If another adult is present, students are less likely to hang around or make unwelcome remarks. 

Go to your administrator –
If something questionable ever occurs, report to those in authority. For example: You leave your classroom for a few moments and return to find a DVD marked “For your eyes only.”  Immediately turn it in to your administrator, who is prepped to handle just such a situation.  If the DVD is harmless, no problem.  If it happens to be pornographic in nature, you’ve just been spared a possible lawsuit.

Take notes –
Another way to avoid inappropriate relationships is to document any meetings or personal contacts you have with a student.  Briefly note the date, time and purpose of the meeting, and do this in the presence of the student.  Make a casual comment about keeping records of each time you meet with a student.  If it is school policy that you document these meetings, say so.
Outside connections –
Find out what rules or guidelines the school has about sending and receiving emails, texts and phone calls to and from students. If there are none, set your own personal guidelines in such a way that you won’t be bombarded by students at all hours.  Be sure to go over the guidelines with each of your class groups.  

What happens if a student contacts you because he can’t remember the assignment … or needs to know what time his parents should pick him up after a class trip?  Keep your answer brief and to the point.  All personal contact with students should be documented.  If you happen to receive inappropriate emails, texts, phone calls or photos, report them immediately to your administrator.  

Remember, it’s your responsibility to avoid improper teacher-student relationships. While it’s true you should be available to your students, it should always be in a way that is above reproach.  You can be professional and still be friendly, but never encourage or permit an improper relationship to develop.  To do so puts your teaching career at great risk.  In the end – no matter who initiated the relationship – the blame will always rest on your shoulders.