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Created: Friday, 13 June 2014

Strange and sad series of events

 
We have a family friends who have a daughter the same grade as my twin daughters.  This friends daughter had  graduation from High School yesterday.   The graduation was nice, it was held at their football field.   The principal bragged about his students for nearly 30 minutes.  He had been with the school for thirty years while our high school has had 5 principals in four years.  This principal knew his students well, and ours simply didn't. I left the graduation with a real admiration of that school. I was so impressed with their school and jealous that their daughter had a much better high school to attend than ours did.  
 
While the principal was speaking something was eating in the back of him mind.  By the end of the night the cat would be out of the bag and the school which he was so proud of would be featured  on the evening news.   Despite all the great things going for the school the name would be tarnished   One of the teachers had a student from six years ago accuse her of having a sexual affair that lasted for years and occurred on school property.  
 
Unlike many stories we've heard over the past few years this one was different.  This was a well respected female teacher who had an undergraduate degree from a prestigious private college and a masters from a local state college. She was highly regarded teacher who was very popular.  This was a bit more rare in the sense that the alleged victim is also female.  The victim said the affair happened from 2004 to 2008 and started when she was 15.  Today she is 25.  The teacher today  appears to be happily married with a husband, two daughters, and a baby boy  on the way.   These are young children that will grow up with a single dad because mom will be in prison. 
 
 I got a phone call from this family to ask if I could take prom photos.  They were just checking on my availability, but as it turns out the group of students wanted to hire a teacher at the school to take the photos instead.   No big loss, I can understand.  They actually showed me the resulting images last week, and they were nice.  They fit into the realm of  photography with a lot of filters which is very common these days.   They were somewhere between "Okay" and "Nice."  The students were somewhat pleased but the mom we knew really wasn't.  As it turns out, this was the teacher who is being accused. 
 
I feel horrible for our family friends.  There is nothing that happened with our friends daughter, but the bond of trust has been breached.   What do you do when someone you respect  falls from grace in such a public way.  How can this not affect the way they perceive people of authority in the future?   Better question, why does this keep happening?  It used to be the creepy older male teacher,  then it became the younger creepy guy who was an after school athletics coach in his twenties.   Then it became more mainstream teachers who are young, popular and attractive.   This story is so common that in this particular case the story died in the local media in less than a day.  
 
This isn't a  new story, one of the teachers in my Jr. High was sent away for molesting a student.   At the time it was a crime so horrific that the staff and the students just never mentioned his name again, almost like he never existed.   Back then teachers didn't wear fashionable clothing to work, didn't try to pretend to be younger than they were, and kept a barrier between themselves and the students.   We would never refer to them by their first names, even if we knew it.  Yes, this was a long time ago.   But today  when teachers interact with students on a more casual basis these things will occur more often.
 
On a professional level I have come across this issue  of personal barriers many times. I've had bridal couples tell me "Steve, when your job is over, we want you to join our wedding as a guest and enjoy yourself, have a few drinks, relax."   I never do, though I appreciate the offer. There has to be a barrier, even with adults.  Don't get me wrong, I have developed long term relationships with former clients who are now friends.   But when it comes to me doing a job that I am getting paid to do I keep it very clean.   I just don't think you can be a hired professional one minute and a partying guest the next.     What would it look like if I were to walk a drunk bridesmaid back to her room even if nothing really did happen?   People will see us and make assumptions.  The best way to avoid this from happening is to simply go home and let someone else walk her to her room.   Now this all seems second nature to me, but there was a time I would tell myself "These really aren't your friends (though it really does feel like they are) this isn't your party, go home" 
 
When it comes to doing photography teachers are so casual about it now that they are trolling for work among their students.  How can this appear to be anything but a conflict of interest?  Where is the administration looking down on these types of activities? Clearly some  teachers have a problem with  differentiating between right and wrong.  Think of this sceanaio.  There is yet another teacher at the same school that is trolling for senior portrait business and states on her website that she charges between $2000 and $3000.   What if a parent held a $4000 order over her head and said "By the way, my daughter is getting a C in your class, it's very important for her college applications that she gets at least a B.  I have your quote, let me know about the B or better and I'll let you know about the order."   The teacher is going to keep a good chunk of that $4000, what difference does it make, C, B it's all the same.   Nobody will ever know, just like having a  15 year old female student kiss you in your classroom when nobody is around.  She has sworn to secrecy.  Except that a few years later after a college class and more enlightenment in the world she wonders who else this teacher has been molesting?  She is an adult now, and looks down the road and sees children in her future and worries.  In retrospect this affair wasn't such a great thing, and this teacher needs to be removed from the classroom. The world needs to be safer from her future children, she needs to speak up. 
 
My thinking is that when you become a parent and you hear of conflicts of interest, and questionable conversations or situations you really need to speak up to the administration.  There has to be some push back.   This is the reverse nature of social media. Teachers get rated online at Ratemyteacher.com. Being a popular teacher is very helpful for a career.   It can keep you in a nice school.   Thus being popular among students is something that some  teachers seem to worry about more than others.    And sometimes these teachers are having a second shot at High School popularity.   It seems silly to think what a bunch of kids think about you, but when you're adored you kinda like the attention.  
 
When affairs occur, who do they happen with?   Are they random strangers people meet online?  Are they someone you meet by chance in a lobby at a hotel?   Or are they neighbors, friends, coworkers, and people you know from social activity groups?  It's usually someone you know and are comfortable with, and it's usually not a fast thing, but something to occurs over time.  Familiarity,  comfort, and  then an affinity.  There used to be fairly black and white teacher-student relationships with barriers between them.  With the ever encroaching levels of grey these things are likely to happen.  
 
Do we blame the victim in this case?  After all, thanks to her a family is going to be torn apart.  A gifted, well liked teacher who spent years studying for her career in a prestigious private college, and then more years getting her masters degree will never get to practice her career ever again.  Will she give birth while in jail?  What does she tell her children why mom is never coming home?    She has a husband, was she having this affair while dating or married to him?  Will he stand by her side?  
 
At this same high school an art teacher has yet another side business.  She is also a photographer. She has her graduating seniors  vote on who gets photographed the following year.  It seems to be just for girls.  They have a hair and makeup artist pretty them girls up, and then have a full afternoon photo session.  Then the teacher blogs about how beautiful and wonderful the student is.  And though this is a title one high school that hands out many free school lunches this teacher says on her website that she charges between $300 for the session and the typical package is between $2000 and $3000.  This teacher has a perfect 100% rating on Ratemyteacher.com.   She is loved and respected (sound familiar?). 
 
Holy crap people, is this really going on?  High school senior portraits are far less than $1000 from most studios. The additional is what it costs to have your high school student get the spotlight shined on her from a well respected teacher.  It's amazing to be selected and to be adored.  After all it's legal but does it make it right?  This is a similar grooming process child molesters use on their victims.   But instead of having sex with her students this teacher is extracting money from their parents at a rate that is obscene. 
 
This is a great high school with so much going on.  The principal has a right to be proud of the schools accomplishments.  But there is too much nonsense going on.  He needs to lay down the law with the teachers because it looks like things are way too lax.  He needs to remind the staff how to dress, how to act, and what really is frowned upon when it comes to moonlighting on the side.  He needs to spell out what a conflict of interest looks like.   And he has to have a zero tolerance policy toward questionable activity.  Parents also need to speak up when it comes to questionable activities in the classroom. 
 
Above everything else the principal needs to be able to stand up in front of a crowd of people at graduation and say "Our school is a safe place to send your kids.  It's almost like a second home.  We do everything in our power to keep them safe.  It's our top priority."  Though the accomplishments are impressive, there is nothing more important than the health and well being of the students.