Monday, April 6, 2009

Professional boundaries

Back when I was on my local teacher union executive, we found that what with more sexual information on the Internet, access to blue movies, and children who were victims of abuse, neglect, and the increase of oppositional disorder due to these issues, many more teachers were being charged with abuse.

More cases of sexual touching and sexual relations seem to come up in the news. I tend to think that we have simply underreported them, but I could be wrong. Either way, it must be stopped. These children will be impacted for the rest of their lives.

An April 5, 2009, article in the Ottawa Citizen:

Female teacher sexual transgressions rare: Records show male teachers make up 92 per cent of cases

During my 3 years on executive, we had approximately 15 false accusations of child abuse. Some included alleged improper hand touch, one included a child claiming a hand on a knee, under a very low kindergarten table. Most cases that go to court are older cases, back from days when we knew less than we know now.

Boundary issues are blurring with the Internet and cell phones. You must carefully examine your interactions, less is better.

In my case, I found that I would often react as a parent. For example, with three children I might tap their hands in mock play. One time I was bribing students with the cookies they had made in our home economics class. When they handed me their work, they could take a cokie from the cookie jar. One student reached in when he shouldn't have and I tapped that top of his hand. This is what I would have done with my own children, as a wise and judicious parent, and I immediately went to my principal and told him what happened. Just in case.

There are things to do to protect yourself.

  • Never touch a child. Simple as that. Children do not understand good touch and bad touch, especially when they go home and complain to parents.
  • Ensure that you work with several children in a classroom at a time. Never alone.
  • Keep your classroom door open when working with only a few children. Encourage volunteers, especially parents who seem strangely hostile. Let them see the great job you are doing. Make them part of your classroom.
  • If you do e-mail students, do so with an understanding that you place yourself at risk. (Save all your e-mail.) I had one student, who would send work to me to print for her, who began sending me bad jokes, and then gag photos that included revealing body parts. I had to tell her to stop, and that I found the jokes offensive. This is a teachable moment, for both of us.
  • If you hear of a colleague who is overstepping boundaries, talk to him/her. They may need help and you must protect our children. Talk to your principal.
  • If you have an incident write down everything you remember in an Aid Memoir. If it is a minor incident, tell your principal. Prepare them, just in case your actions were misunderstood and there are ramifications. If it is a more serious incident, call your union immediately. Talk to no one.
  • Make sure that you are well, and well rested. Behaviour that is normal, may be intolerable when you are tired, stressed. Take mental health days when you need them.
  • Take advantage of EAP programs. Many school boards offer them. It is helpful to talk to professionals. They are bound by confidentiality and will help you if you find your life overwhelming.
  • Many have created Absence Management Counsellors, in harmony with unions, who will help you determine how to get healthier and get back to work.
  • Eat well, exercise, balance your personal and professional life. A tired, stressed teacher can make mistakes. You health is not worth it.

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