Teacher-student affairs changing, trauma is not

by | Sep 24, 2017 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 0 comments

Why are so many high school teachers having sex with their students? Female teachers, in particular? I hear this question a lot. But I never hear a good answer.

Last week, we learned of an Arkansas art teacher who was accused in a court filing of having sex with four male students from two different school districts. Last month, it was a Pennsylvania science teacher who allegedly had sex with a 15-year-old male student on a park bench.

Earlier in the summer, a married Kentucky teacher was charged with raping a male student. And a Connecticut teacher in her 20s was charged with sexually assaulting a special ed student.

These are just in the last few months. The cases are piling up like dead leaves. If you are old enough to remember the Beatles, I don’t have to tell you how weird this seems. The phrase “that never happened when we were in school” quickly jumps to mind.

Remember even 21 years ago, when Mary Kay Letourneau, a 34-year-old married teacher and mother, professed her love for a 12-year-old student? Disgust was rampant. Parents were outraged. Eventually, when she wouldn’t stop seeing the boy, Letourneau, who had a child by him, went to jail, had another child with him, then married him when she got out. It was tabloid fodder. A TV film was made.

Today, that story would be gone in 24 hours. That’s how frequent these trysts have become. The latest available data, collected in 2014, showed that a third of nearly 800 student-teacher sex prosecutions involved women — which is well above the average of around 10% for sex crimes in general, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management.

This in no way diminishes the awful acts committed by male teachers – an issue that cannot be ignored. But it makes the question even more acute:

What’s going on in these classrooms?

Hot for Student consequences

The answer depends on who you ask. Many blame social media, and the ease with which a teacher and student can now communicate without others knowing. Others wonder if it isn’t an increased aura of sexuality in society, stimulated by movies, videos and other images.

The internet? Music videos? Heightened power? Lowered morals? I don’t know what it is. But I do know what it is not.

It is not a joke.

It is not cute. Or cool. Or weirdly sexy. It is as inappropriate as any older male teacher engaging a young female student. It is just as wrong, just as assaulting, just as confusing and just as illegal.

I know there are corners of social media that think it’s “hot” when a female instructor comes on to a teenage boy. There is even a blog site that rates the teachers in these sex scandals.

But life is not a Van Halen video. And being Hot for Teacher — or Hot for Student — has severe consequences, ones that can change, or ruin, the lives of both parties forever.

Violations of trust

So it’s not cool. It’s a violation of trust. Teachers in high school are not just there to recite lesson plans. They are steering adolescents through the toughest and most awkward phase of their lives.

Men have violated this trust for too long. But the seeming rise in female teachers doing it shows not only that things are getting worse, but that the damage done to female teens by predatory male teachers is all but being ignored by women who choose to do the same.

Many of these teachers are in their 20s or 30s. Presumably there are plenty of men their age if they wanted companionship. What prompts them to prey on students? I don’t care if that student is 18, or stands 6-foot-4. Maturity is not measured in height, weight or chronology. These things always end badly — often publicly. Charges. Investigations.

How can that not mess a kid up?

Let’s be clear. This is terrible when a man does it. And terrible when a woman does it. We are talking about teachers and trust, not some kind of fantasy.

Abuse is abuse. It’s not funny. It’s not applause worthy. It’s not a reason to say “attaboy!” It’s sad and it’s opportunistic and it shouldn’t be increasing while we brag about how enlightened we’re becoming. You don’t need a teacher to know the math on that is wrong.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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