I hug my students all the time. I pat them on the shoulder, the back, and occasionally the top of the head. I've even allowed a few tearful, graduating seniors to give me a farewell kiss - on the cheek, of course.
But I have never, not even for the slightest moment, ever been inclined to engage in improper behavior with any of my students, or anyone else for that matter. In my early days of teaching, while still in my 20s and a size 12, I did have my fair share of problem crushes, a few love-struck teenage boys who became infatuated with my scintillating personality and even more vibrant intelligence, not to mention my mesmerizing modesty.
I've had roses on my desk, poetry in my mailbox and even a few night stalkers. I dealt with it, primarily by allowing time to do its job.
I've ignored the foolishness, encouraged propriety and generally kept the little boogers so busy reading and writing they didn't have time to be smitten.
All of which is to say, we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can't tell our teachers they mustn't be human and loving and kind to our children, or else we've become a society of robotic cyborgs, properly programmed but painfully passionless.
Educating students is as much about showing them how to care for one other as it is about long division or the Civil War. If the very adults they model everyday, generally for far more hours than they do their parents, are forced to wrap their feelings in emotional straitjackets, what kind of bizarre environment are we creating?
In addition, when some nefarious person does do harm, are we then to start shooting at everything in sight?
There are predators, pedophiles and perverts in every community. They must be stopped and punished. We certainly can't go back to the days when I was child, when it seemed the only recourse, if such abuse was discovered, was keeping a closer eye on the young'uns while cutting a wide berth around the offenders.
But should we instead become some kind of hysterical lynch mob determined to make everyone within a 40-mile radius remotely connected to a crime pay an exorbitant price? If the administrators of a school make a mistake and fail to report an offense in a timely manner, is that truly just cause for ruining their lives, for taking away their careers? Does no one realize they have hundreds, if not thousands, of children to look after everyday, and that dozens of these individuals are extremely difficult to manage?
Yes, supervisors should be held accountable, but it seems to me we're far too eager to crucify too many folks just caught up in the whirlwind of trouble. There's a big difference in expecting a person to rectify a mistake and in assassinating his reputation and retirement goals.
One has to ask the question why. Why are we so eager to blame, to point fingers? Is it because we're mad, frustrated and upset with the spiritual and moral decline we see spiraling all around us? Is it because we somehow believe pulling up every bush in sight will prevent a future forest fire? Is it because we're afraid of someone pointing the finger at us?
But if we continue on this maniacal witch hunt, who's going to teach our young people, once we've succeeded in not only running off everyone already trying to teach, but half the people who've considered training for it? I have only a tiny handful of students who are even remotely thinking about becoming teachers. Most future-educator groups in high schools and colleges are practically defunct. Heck, at the rate we're going, working in Iraq seems less perilous at times!
Educators have become our new scapegoats. Although evil abounds in every sector, other professionals aren't nearly as vilified. We're scared of lawyers, afraid they'll sue us if we say or do too much to them directly.
We don't want to anger our doctors too overtly or they might quit prescribing all that medicine we need for acid reflux and anxiety. And heaven knows, we don't want to attack our ministers; what would God think?
So, we go after the most vulnerable, the poorest paid, and least appreciated among us. In some kind of vicious societal barnyard, we peck them to death, while expecting them to remain "positive" day in and day out for our offspring.
What is truly incumbent upon all of us is to remain level-headed, to weed out the chaff without destroying the wheat, to realize that none of us is perfect or infallible, and to stop allowing our sense of right and wrong to sway whichever way the wind blows.
(Mindy Jeffers, a teacher at Curtis Baptist High School, is a Martinez resident.)
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