I am always amazed when a teacher, coach or anyone else in a position of trust uses the excuse of lapse of judgment when it comes to the emotional and sexual well being of a child. Maybe I was lucky, I don’t know. But when I was teaching children that was always foremost in my mind. And no one had to teach me to do that. It was innate – the feeling of treating others the way I wanted to be treated regardless of their age, recognizing that when you are in a position of trust you have the power to save or ruin a young persons life. I don’t remember anyone pounding that into my head when I got my teaching degree – it was assumed you knew. But I guess you know what they say about assume.
How a 50+ year old man can “assume” it is ok to “horseplay” by taking showers with 10 year old boys makes my blood boil. He has admitted to that and that in itself is an abomination. I know men tend to be wired differently and some have less inhibitions than women as it relates to their naked bodies, but children do not. Ten year old boys are children. Children are very easily taken in by adults, especially those who give them things they would not have otherwise had or enrich their lives with experiences they thought were never possible. Someone who does this for a child has to have pure motives, right? Someone who does this has to care, has to have a child’s best interests at heart, right? Someone like this would never hurt a child, right? Alas, the trap…
I taught young children for fourteen years. In the back of my mind was always the thought to first to insure their safety, and then to provide them access to a responsible, caring adult always making sure the line was drawn, however delicately, between adult and child. I was not their friend (in light of how they perceived friendship at that age), I was someone who was not their parent but cared for them as a pseudo-parent or older sister when their parents could not be around. I made sure they understood the ground rules and I also expected them to expect from me no less than what I expected from them.
I never worried about physical contact – I taught dance and that was part of the program. Showing a child how to position their leg to have correct turn-out, positioning their core so that they had strong balance, adjusting arms, shoulders and elbows for correct form – I never worried about this. But there was a reason. This was always done in class and always done with many other classmates around – this was never one-on-one in a private place away from everyone else. Often I would demonstrate on myself if I sensed a child might be uneasy with any type of physical demonstration on them. And this was never done out of the context of the classroom. I made sure it was clear that it applied to the physical discipline I was teaching.
Then there was the hugging. Young children, and I taught mostly girls, love to hug. It was a demonstration of love and something they naturally did with their families and friends. To them I was family. But again I made sure hugs were not done when you were alone with a child, and however sad that may sound a teacher can never afford to have their motives questioned. One question and your reputation can be ruined for a lifetime. That is all a part of being in a position of trust – it is the best position in the world to be in but it carries tremendous responsibility.
So as I think about what is going on now at Penn State I find it hard to swallow that a grown man can have that type of “lapse” of judgement with a young child. It angers and frustrates me to no end. And in the end it affects all of us by making the job of a good teacher even that much harder.