The Impact of Teachers
Teachers can have a major impact on students' lives-for better or worse. You may think of a "good" teacher as one whose students perform well. While this is an important measure-after all, a teacher's job is to help students gain knowledge in academic subjects-teachers' influence can reach far beyond the classroom. Within the classroom, I've observed that students tend to try more and often perform better when they like a teacher. This can be true for even the most academically gifted students. The feedback students receive from teachers can influence not only their academic performance, but also their self-confidence. It would be difficult for teachers to do their jobs well without forming some kind of relationship or bond with their students. By far, I believe that the majority of these bonds have potential for positive outcomes. Teachers can be role-models for students. They can be confidants for students who are being bullied or experiencing difficulties at home that need to be addressed to keep them safe. They can inspire students to pursue higher levels of education and be sounding-boards for students to discuss their career goals. The teacher-student relationship can be a powerful one, and as Voltaire (and Uncle Ben from Spider Man) have been quoted as saying, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Unfortunately, abuses of this power have been making the news more and more in recent years, and Houston leads the nation in inappropriate (read "sexual") relationships between teachers and students. Some people believe that the increasing number of avenues of communication between teachers and students, such as texting and social media, have created a slippery slope that is leading to more incidents of inappropriate relationships. Although most schools have policies preventing students and teachers from forming social media connections, these policies are very difficult to monitor. I was recently interviewed about this by Fox News Houston.
While the potential for good remains, so does the need for boundaries in teacher-student relationships. It is important for teachers to maintain the position of "safe adult" and not "adult friend." Parents, students, and teachers need to be aware of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate student-teacher relationships, the potential for abuses of power (both sexual and otherwise), and what to do when they occur.