Our Opinion: Self-policing would allow teachers to heighten their profession’s reputation

October 4th, 2016 7:33 pm

On World Teachers’ Day this Wednesday, let’s acknowledge that we are lucky to have so many professionals in area classrooms who effectively convey to students both knowledge and character.

Let’s also admit that within the teaching ranks lurk some duds and a few horribly bad apples. The “educators” who fall into the latter category probably shouldn’t be near children, much less “instructing” them. Yet we learn about these creepy sorts far too frequently, often after they have been accused of abusing their status as authority figures months or years earlier to sexually prey on a student.

These crimes tend to overshadow much of the praiseworthy work done by caring teachers, coaches and administrators who put a priority on students’ well-being and success. That’s too bad for the credibility of the area’s teaching profession, and in certain cases it’s probably preventable.

The most admirable teachers are the ones who arrive early and stay late. When needed, they spend their own cash to supply their students with materials or experiences that add pizzazz to the learning process. They coax the quieter students to come out of their shells. They channel the exuberant students’ energies into productive activities, some of which develop into later career paths.

These teachers, as the saying goes, shape our future.

These teachers, it also should be noted, are the adults perhaps best positioned to prevent their peers from taking advantage of students, sexually or otherwise.

Coughlin High School in Wilkes-Barre, for instance, would have greatly benefited from more aggressive self-policing within its faculty. Instead, more than a decade ago, one teacher engaged in sex with a student at the school while another teacher allegedly acted as a lookout to keep the tryst from being discovered. And retired principal Frank Michaels failed miserably in his obligation to act when made aware of allegations about the improper relationship.

Michaels, 68, last week pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of children in connection with the case.

To earn and maintain the public’s respect, teachers can be forthright about the problems within their profession and speak up about potential solutions. Are policies in place, for example, that encourage the reporting of suspected teacher misconduct?

Likewise, do school districts adequately discourage inappropriate communication between teachers and students via cellphone calls and texts? The National Education Association posted an online article in May on this topic, highlighting the potential use of apps such as Remind and GroupMe, which allow teachers to blast out assignments and such without divulging cellphone numbers.

Teachers stand to raise their collective reputation by taking seriously the actions of their colleagues and acting to stop further misdeeds.

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