A teacher who has poor boundaries not only reduces her effectiveness as an instructor, but puts herself in a situation that is professionally and legally precarious. You can prevent even the merest suggestion of impropriety by maintaining strict professional boundaries. This doesn't mean that your classroom must be an icebox, however. You can still build warm relationships with students without placing them or yourself at risk.
Touch is a boundary that must be observed in all aspects of life. When you are teaching, however, this boundary becomes especially important, as you are working with people who are younger than you and who are below you on the power hierarchy. The Ed Training Center, a service provider to several state education departments, points out that while it is difficult to avoid touch when working with children in grades K-2, touching older students can be very problematic, as some students might feel uncomfortable and report the touch as being inappropriate, opening you up to charges of sexual harassment or abuse. To avoid such accusations, with the exception of a handshake, avoid touching students. Also, try never to be alone with a student, even if that student is of the same gender. If you must be alone with a student, keep your classroom door open.
Always keep your conversations on a professional level. This means completely refraining from profanity, suggestive humor and overly personal discussions with students. If you become aware that one of your students has a problem, refer her to the school counselor, who is trained to handle difficult situations and make reports to agencies when necessary. Keep in mind that troubled students can draw you into a professionally sticky situation, especially if you are attempting to counsel them on sexual or romantic matters.
You must also set financial boundaries. For example, the National Education Association's Code of Ethics states that education professionals "shall not accept any gratuity, gift, or favor that might impair or appear to influence professional decisions or action." This means that it is inappropriate to accept gifts from parents or students that are significantly more lavish than gifts from other students in the class. The same holds true for establishing dual relationships with students and parents. Avoid hiring a current student to be your baby sitter, for example.
Outside relationships with students can be tricky. For example, a student might attend your church or be a member of your Boy Scout troop. In such cases, continue the relationship — while always maintaining the appropriate boundaries between a child and an adult. Otherwise, avoid outside relationships with students, as well as their parents. For example, dating a student's parent puts both you and the student in an awkward situation that doesn't facilitate learning and that can harm your stature in the student's eyes. This applies to online relationships as well. Never 'friend" a student on a social network, advises licensed professional counselor Raychelle Lohmann. Doing so can result in potentially embarrassing situations or even termination.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.