We see it every day. A news story of a teacher, somewhere in our country, is being prosecuted for some type of misconduct. While these stories are easy to find we rarely hear about the other side of the coin. The moral, upstanding teacher, who is falsely accused by an angry student. In today's society even the accusation of abuse or misconduct can lead to the destruction of a teacher's entire career. How can you protect yourself?
The past few weeks have seen what appears to be a glut of news articles talking about band directors being accused or convicted of molestation, sexual abuse, or or even worse. While I have posted many of these news articles on the MusicEdMagic site I must admit that there are many more that I have not published simply because of the negative feelings which so many of these stories bring to our profession. It occurred to me that while it is likely that most of these accusations of misconduct were valid, there must be some that are unfounded, perhaps brought on by an angry student wanting to get back at their teacher. This has happened before to hundreds of teachers, all of which had their name and reputation tainted by the false accusation of a belligerent student. Most teachers carry liability insurance to protect themselves from the legal ramifications of being accused of misconduct, but once accused the emotional and professional damage that has been done often can never be repaired. Would it not be better to find a way to prevent any such accusations from occuring?
The Answer May Lie With The BSA!
The simple answer to this problem is to never allow yourself to be alone with a student for any reason or for any length of time. The Boy Scouts of America have had a policy for many years that they call two-deep leadership. The policy states that no youth will ever be in a situation where he is alone with an adult. There must always be a second adult leader in the room or close by where he or she can passively monitor what is going on between the scout and the scout leader. In a school setting this is a bit more difficult to accomplish, but still a useful deterrent.
Speak with other teachers (or ask your administrator to speak to the entire staff) and set up a simple and obvious hand gesture that will visually let another teacher know that you need to speak privately with a student and that you want them to be an uninvolved witness to the conversation. Whenever possible hold this conversation in a hallway, near a video camera, or in view of another teacher through their classroom window. If necessary hold the conversation in full view of another group of students while still keeping your voice down to maintain privacy. While not as ideal, students can be an effective witness and in most cases will speak truthfully if an accusation is brought against you. Regardless of how you accomplish meeting this requirement of two-deep leadership remember that the intent is to make sure that if an accusation comes at you from a disgruntled student that there will always be someone else around to witness the event and back up your side of the story.
These suggestions are simply a way to safeguard yourself and your reputation against unwarranted accusations. While we all hope that such a thing will never occur to us we also must realize what our students already know. They have learned through television and the news in general that even the slightest hint of impropriety can lead to the downfall of a teacher. It only takes one accusation from an angry student to ruin your career forever.