Broken Trust: Inappropriate student-teacher relationships

Student-teacher relationships overwhelmingly remain where they should, in the classroom. But sometimes the student-teacher relationship becomes something more, something inappropriate, something sexual.

Psychologist Joan Clark says teachers who prey on students often use affection or fear as a way of initiating an inappropriate relationship.

They use their position as an admired role model or as a commanding authority figure.

Clark says that violation of trust can impact the way a child views sex and intimate relationships as an adult. "Normally , what we find is that the child comes away thinking that it is wrong, that it has provoked something by bad behavior, and that it is essentially a second-class citizen or damaged goods."

These days, the classroom is just one place where students and teachers can connect and communicate. There's text messaging, Facebook, MySpace, and email. There's an entire world outside the classroom, and the potential for a world of trouble.

"There shouldn't be a time when a teacher is text messaging a student. They shouldn't be emailing from a private email address. They shouldn't be on MySpace or Facebook with a student. There are official communication systems in place that teachers should use, from the school, to the parents and to the students," said Mark Bounds with the South Carolina Department of Education's Division of Educator Quality and Leadership.

Bounds says any relationship that's not a part of the professional school day is considered inappropriate.

So how do school districts prevent those situations?

Dr. Marthena Grate Morant, Executive Director of Human Resources with the Georgetown School District , says the burden must fall on the adults. "There are certain things that teachers must do and high standards and being role models for our students. We feel we have placed the responsibility in the right location, and that's with the employee."

To ensure conduct is kept appropriate, Georgetown schools have implemented specific policies aimed at curbing improper communication between teachers and students.

Employees cannot post or send any inappropriate content through social networking sites , in or out of school. Also, they're prohibited from any sending any improper electronic messages to students.

Georgetown's policies are in addition to a statewide code all teachers are supposed to follow.

That code is taught when teachers themselves are still students.

"They're given that in writing. They're given it in a presentation , orally, and they're given an explanation throughout the program," said Dr. Patricia Piver, a Director of Clinical Experiences and Student Services at Coastal Carolina University.

She says their students learn how to teach in today's world. "Technology has presented a whole new aura of things to be concerned about."

While technology may be changing relationships at schools, at home the signs that something might be wrong are still the same.

Here are a few red flags:

-If your child begins obsessively talking about a teacher

-Or the opposite, where a child avoids talking about a teacher all together, perhaps even bothered when that person is brought up

-If a child shows reluctance to go to school

-Your child or teacher begins requesting to study outside school hours or off school grounds

Be involved. If something doesn't seem right, check it out.

There are around 50,000 South Carolina teachers. There are also volunteers, coaches, coordinators and other staff at schools with access to students.

Still, education officials stress that schools are some of the safest places children can be. That's due in great part to the majority of teachers who take their role as mentors and educators very seriously.

Over the past year, the South Carolina Department of Education, along with the non-profit Darkness to Light, has trained nearly 20,000 teachers how to avoid and identify sexual abuse in schools.

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