Well Meaning Teachers Can Easily Walk Into Legal Trouble

As an effective educator, you will want to build connections with your students. Positive, appropriate, professional connections are an important component of being an effective educator. Sometimes, however, our good intentions can be misunderstood by a child, parent, or school official. While not intentional, your actions can lead to loss of credibility, integrity, and even your job. Regardless of your intention, an inappropriate physical contact, an unprofessional comment, or an out-of-school contact with a child can result in a lawsuit or criminal filing.

As a new teacher, it is important for you to take a few minutes and consider your role in the school and your role as a teacher. Every action you take in the classroom will have a consequence—some positive, some negative. While you may see your actions as leading to positive consequences, it is important to consider how your actions will be viewed by parents, colleagues, and school officials. It may be your intention to break the tension in your room with a sarcastic remark or comeback, but is that how the student will perceive the remark? Their perception, not your intention, is what needs to be at the forefront of every decision you make.

Walking down the hallways of your school, during your observations, or even thinking back to when you were in school, you may have noticed many experienced teachers making comments, perhaps touching children on their shoulders, or using terms of endearment rather than names when addressing students. As teachers gain experience, they learn the nuances of appropriate student to teacher relationships and what is effective at building connections, and what crosses the line of appropriateness—not only at the class level, but with the individual student. While touching, using terms of endearment, and using sarcasm may be modeled by the experienced teacher, it is never appropriate for a new teacher to do those things. Unfortunately, many novice teachers attempt to imitate their experienced peers and quickly find themselves in legal trouble.

As a great teacher, you will care about your students, their happiness, and their academic success. You may even want them to know you care about them. By always remaining professional, by always controlling what you say and how you say it, by always remembering you are an adult and the student is a child, you will not only communicate that you care about the child, you will demonstrate it in your classroom.

See also

10 Quick Tips to Stay Clear of Legal Trouble