Helping teachers understand professional boundaries is a priority for the B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch (TRB). From time to time, it offers examples of boundary violations to help its members understand when their relationship with students crosses a line.
Here are two examples from the latest TRB magazine that might also interest parents:
John is a popular secondary school teacher. He runs the school guitar club and organizes the annual talent show. Students like to hang out in John’s class during their breaks and sometimes after school. He plays music and talks with them casually, about school, friends and their lives. However, one student developed a particular fondness for John and would often seek him out for conversation during and after school hours. They became overly close, sharing intimate details of their lives with each other, and John’s colleagues were concerned that he was falling into an unhealthy relationship.
Megan is a highly respected Grade 5 teacher. She is admired by her colleagues and often provides leadership in developing curriculum and modeling teaching. Parents always want their children to be placed in her class. But Megan went through a difficult breakup of her marriage. On days when she was feeling especially down, she would share stories with her class about her marriage troubles and her feelings about her breakup and her husband.
Both of these educators are highly effective classroom teachers, popular and respected by parents, administrators and colleagues. However, they both found themselves in situations that resulted in regulatory action and discipline. Why?
As professionals, educators need to be keenly aware of the boundaries of their relationships with students. Great teachers can develop great relationships with most, if not all, of their students. However, they also need to understand that these relationships have to stay within appropriate professional boundaries.
Teachers are role models, and they have an incredible impact on the young lives that they touch. In this position of trust, teachers are responsible for how they use their authority and influence, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Unlike pedophiles who deliberately victimize children, it is probably safe to assume that neither John nor Megan intended to engage in behaviour that could be harmful to students and to the profession. However, both of these teachers crossed boundaries as they stumbled into areas that blurred the lines between the personal and the professional.
In his first annual report, TRB commissioner Bruce Preston said most of the complaints and reports his office receives are about these sorts of boundary transgressions.