As the silly sideshow of our perennial presidential campaigns rolls on, touching is in the news. As thoughts and memories flow through my mind, one conclusion is clear: It’s s really not that hard to figure out when, where, how, and why touching students and colleagues is appropriate and when it’s not.
See what I mean below by reading each of the cases that I’ve seen or experienced.
1) In my first or second year as a teacher, I walked into the copy room and saw a male teacher grab a female teacher’s behind. They were veterans and had been working together for years. She jumped in surprise but I couldn’t tell if she were angry. They didn’t know I had seen, and I played ignorant. I thought about telling her what I saw and if she wanted to complain, I’d back her, but I never did.
2) After several years teaching I had a female student who would come up at the beginning of class and want a big hug. I’d make light of it and tell her there were only about three people on the planet I allowed within an arm’s reach. Later, if other students came for a hug, she would repeat my rule for them. It broke my heart to learn that at the end of the year she was pregnant.
3) A female monitor from Mexico bonded with several female students also from Mexico. At the gate at the end of each day, they exchanged the culturally common hug and kiss on the cheek. It was sweet and tender. Still, I spoke to her about how I thought it was fine, but someone might think it showed too much affection and make things difficult. They stopped the practice, but it saddened the, and now I wish I hadn’t interfered.
4) I saw a female colleague after Winter Break and opened my arms. She turned 90 degrees for a “side-hug,” after which we had a pleasant chat about our time off.
5) In a blog on another platform I wrote highly of an administrator. Later she told me she wasn’t sure how I was with hugging, but she’d like to give me a big one. I accepted it happily.
6) A veteran male teacher was always giving young female teachers hugs. As far as I know it’s always in public and seemed reciprocal.
7) At the end of class one day a female student asked if a teacher can slap a student on the butt. “Oh boy, here we go,” I thought and told her to stay back. She said a male teacher had done just that at the end of the previous class. This was fairly early in my career, and mandatory reporting wasn’t around or at least wasn’t well-known. I told her I didn’t have status as a teacher, but that she had to tell her parents and asked if there was someone higher up at the school she felt she could talk to. She did and that person told the police officer assigned to our school, but any investigation went nowhere.
8) A veteran female teacher always gave big hugs to everyone – parents, students, and colleagues. She was known for her relationship building skills and loved by all. I never saw anyone seem remotely uncomfortable with this and was alway happy for the hugs she gave me.
9) There is a handful of male colleagues that I’m close to, but rarely see. Whenever our paths cross, they come to hug me. I’m ok with that, it’s just that I don’t know how to hug a guy, and it always feels like I get it wrong.
10) A girl student told me once that she didn’t like a nickname her teacher had given her. It wasn’t overtly offensive, she just wanted to be called by her name. She added that when he called her that, he’d playfully punch her on the arm. I told her to tell her mom and I would tell the principal, and if it didn’t stop, to let me know. The principal called in the assistant principal and said that so-and-so was using nicknames again (which in the past had included Greaseball and Buddha). The girl never never mentioned it again, and at the end of the year I got a nice card from her mother thanking me for keeping her child under my wing.
I could go on, but I think these samples, apart from endless handshakes, high fives, fist bumps, and side hugs that go on all day between teachers and their students and colleagues, represent touching in schools. So, is it really hard to tell what’s appropriate and what’s not?
Apparently not for some, examples 1, 6, 7, and 10 are all about the same teacher.