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What Should I Do About...

Risky Student Behavior Outside of School?


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Q.
A high-school teacher in Texas writes
"I teach freshman English in a mid-sized high school in a working class neighborhood. Recently, I confiscated a note from one of my students. When I read it, I was shocked to discover explicit descriptions of risky sexual behavior this girl apparently was engaging in. The note also expressed the girl's fear that she might be pregnant. After a little investigation, I learned that other teachers also have confiscated disturbing notes by this girl, but have simply thrown them away. My question is: What should I do? What should any teacher do when inadvertently presented with private information about a student's behavior outside of school -- whether it's promiscuity, drinking, drug use, shoplifting, or street racing? What would you do?"


What Would You Do?

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A.
A teacher educator from Pennsylvania replies
"I don't believe in turning a blind eye to anything I consider a cause for concern. I wouldn't approach the girl, though; that's not my place. I would definitely inquire of her other teachers to see if they had noticed anything untoward in this regard. As it happens, other teachers have had similar experiences with this student. But whether or not other teachers had witnessed similar behavior, I would take what I know to the principal of the school and leave the matter in his or her hands, trusting that the principal would involve the parents or guardians. No doubt the principal first would inquire further with the student's other teachers, as I had done, and also consult with the student's counselors, but that would be up to the principal to decide. By reporting the matter to my principal, I would feel that I had fulfilled my duty, and that I had not stood idly by while a young person's life hung in the balance."

A.
A high-school teacher from Massachusetts responds
"I don't generally confiscate notes, so I'm considering your question in the event that I had found such a note on my classroom floor. My specific response would, of course, depend on my relationship with the student. Finding such notes early in the year presents more problems than finding them after establishing some sort of rapport with her. I would ask the girl to meet me after school and tell her that I had found notes with troubling information that suggested she might be in a difficult situation. I would say that although I did not want to violate her privacy, I was concerned about her situation and felt obligated to offer her access to the school counselor, nurse, or social worker. I would ask if she had an adult with whom she could speak confidentially and safely, and I'd ask whether her parents were aware of her relationship. I would recommend that she meet with the school social worker, and point out that she also could access many online resources.
"I stay away from getting too personal with my students, meaning I am in no position (interest-wise or professionally) to be a counselor, so I don't "fish" for confidences. I do, however, make kids aware that I care about them and their lives, especially vis--vis their success in my class, and I always make sure they know I'm referring them to the proper authorities because I care about them, and not because I'm "ratting them out."

A.
An elementary school teacher from Florida says
"While it's possible that this girl is not really in danger or afraid of being pregnant and might simply be seeking attention, the absolute last thing a teacher should do is disregard a note that implies a dangerous situation for a student. We teachers have a duty, and in many areas, I believe, a legal requirement, to act when we learn of such things. A high school student should have an assigned guidance counselor who's trained in handling such situations. So were it I who discovered this note, I would consult with a guidance counselor myself and ask her or him to meet with the student as soon as possible. Even if the girl is not really engaging in sexual activity, the notes repeatedly found by teachers are a plea for help."


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Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

10/14/2005