Teachers 'getting too close to students'

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 09:22 09/09/2012

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Teachers are getting too friendly with their students and the blame is being levelled at teacher training institutions.

Patrick Walsh, president of the secondary principals' association, is also on the teachers' disciplinary tribunal and he's seen a rising tide of teachers charged with serious misconduct.

"It comes on the back of the sexual abuse case up in Kaitaia and also the report from the teachers' council where there was an offender who was able to work in a number of schools," he said. "There is an indication that teacher education providers don't attach sufficient weight and importance to teachers respecting professional boundaries between themselves and students."

Last month, Pamapuria School deputy principal James Parker pleaded guilty to 49 charges of indecent assault, performing an indecent act and of unlawful sexual connection.

The attacks, on boys aged under 16, occurred over a period of nearly eight years up until his arrest.

Parker's conviction came the same week a ministerial inquiry into sexual offender Henry Te Rito Miki was released.

Miki pleaded guilty in April to seven charges of using a fake CV and birth certificate to gain employment, then fobbed off a suspicious principal who confronted him about his convictions by saying he had a twin brother.

Walsh said a small minority of teachers breach professional boundaries at a serious level but he was worried about a trend for teachers to be too close to their students.

"We've had a number of cases, male and female teachers, ending up in sexual relationships with students, and in some cases teachers have become pregnant to students," he said.

"It's also quite a common occurrence for teachers to text students and when it's done on a professional basis that's fine, but a number of cases before the tribunal have resulted in inappropriate relationships between teachers and students."

Walsh said texting students about getting homework in on time or football practice is useful, but the messages that have come before the tribunal prove that some teachers do not understand boundaries.

"The texts that often end up before the tribunal are saying 'I like the way you dress' and 'I'm having problems with my boyfriend, can I talk to you about it'," he said.

"They're sent by students, and teachers who are unfortunately talking about their own marital problems.

"You would think common sense would dictate that is not a good idea but it's something we cannot assume and has to be spelt out."

Walsh said training institutions need to reinforce that teachers are not there to be friends with students.

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"It seems to me they should be bringing in experienced principals to talk to teacher trainees about what the expectation is in the school setting and some of the things that have gone wrong," he said.

"That includes pointing out some of the cases that have ended up at the disciplinary tribunal and what the expectations are of parents, boards and principals in relation to the way they behave and what can go wrong for them if the breach those protocols.

"It's very easy to become too involved; we've moved away from that very strict relationship into one that is a lot more personal."

Teachers' council director Peter Lind said not all the blame can be put on teacher training institutions, and that schools themselves need to take stronger measures.

"You just cant front load everything into pre-service teacher education," he said.

Walsh also called for ways of testing a person's readiness for teaching that look at their maturity and ability to relate to students "in an appropriate manner".

"But how you go about testing that I'm not too sure."

Lind said testing the mental capacity of trainee teachers came though clearly in Mel Smith's ministerial inquiry into sexual offender Miki.

"We do need to think very carefully about who gets selected into programmes, who gets employed as teaches and what their dispositions might be," he said. "There needs to be in-depth interviewing of individuals."

- Taranaki Daily News

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