I just sat through a professional development lecture from a lawyer on teacher and school liability issues. Overall, it was an informative and helpful experience. It raised several questions often missed in the public discussion of education. Primarily, when is a teacher not a teacher?
The issues discussed in this ninety-minute session were vital to the integrity of the teaching profession and the mental, emotional, and physical growth of our students. None of it addressed student learning or achievement. The primary focus of the talk centered on expectations and liability in the teaching profession.
Being a lawyer, the speaker’s point of view represented a “better safe than sued mentality.” The speaker strongly encouraged teachers to avoid “friending” students on Facebook and talked about how our personal and professional lives should maintain a clear boundary.
I don’t accept students as friends on social media sites, but I did think about the teachers’ role in the larger community. As I age into my profession, I am teaching students who have become real friends through connections we’ve made while living in this community. I’ve taught two of my nieces and a third is currently a student at my school. My children’s friends, who’ve been to my home and who’s parents I consider my own friends will soon enter my school. I may find my own children in my classroom in the near future.
Increasingly, I have students sitting in my classroom who I’ve watched grow up. I’ve gone to church with them, lived in the same neighborhood with them, cheered for their sports teams, and more.
These connections remind me of how much responsibility I have both in school and out to the youth of my community and nation. A lawyer will recommend that we keep a clear boundary between our personal and professional lives, but the reality is that with time, a teacher who remains in the classroom and grounded in their community can’t maintain such a clear boundary and continue to be an effective teacher no matter how hard they try. This means that if they continue in the profession they must maintain a personal life that is beyond reproach.
It is a tremendous burden. Most great burdens result in triumph or tragedy… and sometimes both.