At the time it seemed to be a bit overboard but we were assured it was for our own protection as “the times, they are a changing”, and that litigation against teachers was on the rise. We were told, “It doesn’t matter, even if your intentions are good, someone might use it against you if they have an axe to grind.”
Straight after finishing my last classes and before even officially graduating, I was hired by the State Education Department. No one from the Department bothered to give me these kinds of warnings or advice. In the year or so that I was a substitute teacher, I worked at about 20 different schools. Only one of the schools bothered to give me advice along the lines of that of my favorite professor. We were told that it was school policy not to be alone in the classroom with less than 5 students.
All of these made for a paranoid first-year teacher when I was put in charge of a class of 6 year olds. How do you stop little kids from throwing their arms around your waist in the playground, or jumping on your lap as you sit down for circle time, or pecking your cheek when you are down on the floor helping with an art project? I became an expert at various techniques like deflecting the hug and turning it into a bunch of kids holding hands. I like to think I managed to walk that fine balancing line of being a warm and supportive teacher but still not place myself in a situation that could be misconstrued.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in Japan working with kids. The lines seemed more blurred than ever it was back home in Australia. Hands up if you have had the nether regions grabbed by a junior high school student? Being in Japan, and in a different culture, people let their guard slip, joking with students by hitting them with the attendance book, giving an innocent hug, or even a slap when students are misbehaving. I always warn against it but constantly get told that Japanese teachers do it, so it’s okay. No, it isn’t! Not for any of us – male or female teachers. We are being judged by a different standard. And, as my professor told me so long ago, “the times, they are a changing.”
Do yourself a favour, don’t put yourself in a situation to be judged. No hands.
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