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Avoiding false accusations of sexual misconduct: Tips for teachers

You worked hard in college, and you’ve done everything right. You love being a teacher. You have a great reputation among your colleagues, and students and parents both seem to like you.

Yet, all it takes is one false allegation of sexual misconduct with one of your students to destroy everything you’ve built. Your reputation could be in tatters very quickly, your career tanked. This is a nightmare scenario for every teacher, which is why the National Education Association (NEA) has put out guidelines designed to help educators avoid problems:

The governing rule is “teach but don’t touch.” Here’s what that means:

  • Never put yourself in a position to be alone with a student. This means not giving students rides at home, not inviting a student into your closed-door office or room and generally avoiding one-on-one encounters where you aren’t in full view of others.
  • Resolve to maintain your professional demeanor. Don’t let students become familiar confidants (and don’t become theirs). Don’t make contact with students over their phones, email or social media — unless it’s directly related to schoolwork or functions.
  • Don’t make physical contact with a student. It can be very tempting to offer a distraught teen a hug — but that can be misinterpreted. In general, it’s best to avoid physically touching your students whenever possible.
  • Stamp out crushes and obsessions early. Students do sometimes get crushes on their teachers. If a student is inappropriate toward you, immediately rebuff them and consider letting your NEA representative or another faculty member know what happened.
  • Be cautious with troubled students. You cannot be their primary source of emotional support, and you aren’t a licensed counselor. Students who have emotional problems may mistake your compassion for attraction and act accordingly. Students who are angry may make false allegations simply because they understand the power they wield.

If you are charged with inappropriate sexual contact with a minor or something similar, an early consultation with a defense attorney is your wisest option.