An investigation can start with a rumor, a social media post or an angry lie from a student that doesn’t like their grades. The next thing you know, your job and reputation are on the line, and you find yourself sitting in an attorney’s office discussing the possibility of criminal charges.
When you’re a teacher, knowing how to prevent yourself from ending up in that position is incredibly important. With more students returning to classrooms, this is a good time to brush up on some of the best steps you can take to mitigate any problems.
How can teachers protect themselves against false allegations?
First, never assume that a student won’t make an unfounded accusation. No matter how much you like them, how much you want to help them or how trustworthy you believe they are, teens don’t think like adults. They may make an accusation to improve their social standing with other teens, gain sympathy from a parent or another person, get attention or get revenge.
Next, remember these rules:
- Never be alone with a student. If you need to counsel a student, do one-on-one tutoring or give a make-up exam, keep the door open and remain visible to anybody in the hall.
- Keep it professional. Keep your private life to yourself, don’t hire your students to work on your yard, don’t invite students to your home and don’t engage in bawdy conversation or jokes with them.
- Limit all physical contact, particularly with older students. Taking a first-grader by the hand to lead them to their class is probably fine, but taking a high school freshman’s hand is not.
- Look out for troubled students. As an educator, you may yearn to reach out to the students who are most unloved, unhappy and uninspired — but be wary. Students with emotional problems may be more inclined to obsess or fantasize over a teacher who showers them with attention.
- Stop obsessions immediately. If you sense that a student is smitten with you, don’t treat the situation lightly. “Puppy love” isn’t cute; it’s dangerous. You may want to speak with your supervisor or principal right away about the issue.
Despite your best efforts, you can still end up in a compromising situation with a student. If you’re concerned about charges, speak to an experienced attorney without delay. The sooner you act, the easier it may be to minimize the damage to your life.