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Words to lead you astray: ‘Don’t tell anyone’


May 20, 2020 Cory Schoffer, ATA Secretary to Professional Conduct Committees

Pitfalls and Precautions is a series that aims to educate teachers on professional conduct issues by highlighting situations addressed by the ATA Professional Conduct Committee.

Shhh … don’t tell anyone! That’s never a precursor to anything good. It’s also a pretty significant tell that the person who has made this declaration knows that something isn’t quite right with what they have said or done. A hearing committee of the professional conduct committee has adjudicated on such a matter.

A teacher recently answered to three charges of failing to treat students with dignity and respect. In this case, the hearing committee heard that the teacher acted as a coach for one of the team sports in the school. Additionally, the teacher had also previously attended a session on observing appropriate boundaries with students.

The committee heard that a student, who was a player on the team that the teacher coached, sought one-on-one assistance from the teacher relating to the subject matter that he taught. During the discussion on academics, the teacher engaged the student in conversation about the student’s romantic relationship with another student. Later that same day, the teacher sought out the student and told her sexually graphic things related to their earlier conversation. Later, in the evening of that same day, the teacher texted the student to remind her that their earlier conversation was to stay between them.

The committee also learned that the teacher had a practice of texting individual players on his team, and that the teacher would make uninvited physical contact with some team members both during games and in the hallway at the school. Students had become accustomed to this behaviour but were not comfortable with it.

The teacher was found guilty of all three charges of unprofessional conduct. 

In making an inappropriate comment to a student at the start of the day, the teacher made a poor choice. However, despite having an entire day to think about it, he made an even worse choice by following up later in the day with a more graphic comment and then a subsequent text urging the student to keep the comments confidential. 

This was not the teacher’s finest day, nor was it a day that will rest positively for the student. Quite the contrary.

The student was asked to be loyal to her teacher and coach to a higher level than any obligation she had to herself and her own well-being. When coupled with the teacher’s ongoing practice of initiating physical contact with students during games and in the school hallway, the teacher displayed an ongoing practice of inappropriate behaviour and a willing disregard for the respect and dignity of these students. 

Upon establishing guilt on three charges, the hearing committee imposed a penalty consisting of three letters of severe reprimand and fines totalling $2,500. The committee considered precedent cases and relevant factors deduced in evidence when making its decision on penalty. The teacher initiated all of the inappropriate communications with the student. Each time it was the teacher who broached the topic of the student’s relationship. Speaking to the female student in isolation and following up the verbal conversations with a text to remind the student to keep the conversations confidential demonstrates that the teacher was keenly aware that these conversations were inappropriate. 

The Association does not condone the encouragement of secrecy between students and their parents. In addition to that, the teacher’s comments were highly disparaging to the other student in question. These comments also failed to treat that student with dignity and respect.

Though the hearing committee considered mitigating factors such as the teacher’s relative inexperience, his subsequent transfer to a different school, and his pursuit of personal counselling, the committee recognized that the public and the profession expect that teachers will behave in a manner that upholds the honour and dignity of the profession. 

A letter of severe reprimand and the significant fines are intended to serve as a deterrent to this teacher and to members of the profession a whole. There is a need to promote a deterrence in the teaching profession, particularly on issues when trusted coaches betray the trust of athletes. ❚



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