Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bad Bad Teachers

Randomly careening through CNN, I came across Bad Bad Teachers. I decided to take a peek. Wow. Some of these teachers are bone-ugly. One must conclude that only the advantage of a fiduciary relationship would make the impossible possible. Even scarier: I began browsing the archives for my state. Thankfully I didn't run into any old friends. But the number of incidents from my local school district is enough to make me wonder what they teach in administration classes about hiring and background checks, and how to assess job candidates in particular.

There has and always will be a certain amount of impropriety associated with education. A lot more of it is reported now than in the past. There are several reasons for this. First, modern forensic techniques have made it easier to go beyond "he-said-she-said." Second, there are more options in place (and legal requirements) for reporting violations. Third, the media makes its bread-and-butter on these stories now, so what does happen will get reported.

However --and perhaps this is not such a good thing -- the shift towards a more child-centered approach in education (as opposed to, oh, I don't know, common sense?) may have had an unintended consequence in suggesting to students that the quickest way out of a bad spot is to yell "assault" and get the adult in trouble. I personally know of at least one case where the accused was exonerated by overwhelming evidence on his behalf, yet the investigation proceeded on the basis that he was already proven guilty and he was treated as such. This is in no way to be construed as my saying that most accusations are baseless, or that we should treat accusers with anything but objectivity and dignity befitting any regular person. Still, careful is as careful does.

As usual, there is no one thing to blame. Administrators need to be diligent, use their guts to assess job applicants, and treat every case that comes before them with diligence, objectivity and circumspection. Teachers need to know that the rules are there for a reason, that breaking rules has consequences, and that they should never ever put themselves in a spot where their own careers may be endangered. In a litigious age, those are the breaks.

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