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Pitfalls and Precautions

April 5, 2016 Gaylene Schreiber, ATA Secretary to the Professional Conduct Committee

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. The committee dealt with the following case during the 2015/16 school year.

Teachers responsible for maintaining professional boundaries

Teachers are always responsible for setting and maintaining professional relational boundaries with students. To maintain appropriate student–teacher relations, teachers must immediately shut down inappropriate communication received from students.

A high school teacher received texts from a former student who was still in high school. While the student-initiated texts began innocuously enough at first, the student soon accelerated the texting topics to include references to drinking alcohol and sexual activities. In response to each text, the teacher did not make any statements that escalated the conversation, but she did not assertively end the texting conversation nor confront the inappropriateness of the content.

The teacher’s behaviour soon came to the attention of the school administration, resulting in a jurisdictional investigation and subsequent complaint to the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The teacher was charged with failing to maintain the honour and dignity of the profession by engaging in inappropriate messaging with a student. The teacher was found guilty of the charge, the professional conduct committee ordered a penalty of a letter of severe reprimand and a fine of $500.

In its written decision, the Professional Conduct Committee noted that the teacher had in no way initiated or escalated the inappropriate communication, but she was ultimately responsible to immediately deter the student at the first sign of inappropriate communication. The responsibility to maintain professional boundaries rests entirely with the teacher. By her lack of action to end the communication, the teacher failed to maintain the honour and dignity of the profession. ❚

Read more Pitfalls and Precautions articles here.

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