Pitfalls and Precautions is a series that aims to educate teachers on professional conduct issues by highlighting situations addressed by the ATA Professional Conduct Committee. The purpose of the series is purely educational, so some non-essential information from the actual case may be omitted or changed.
A teacher was charged with failing to treat students with dignity and respect after complaints were received about the teacher massaging students on the back and neck. There was no concern in these situations that there was a sexual motivation on the part of the teacher; rather the teacher massaged students to relieve pain, stress or lack of concentration.
The teacher believed that students may be more focused and have better posture if he briefly massaged them when they were in pain, or when their attention or posture failed. The school principal directed the teacher to cease the behaviour, but the teacher persisted in the behaviour. The teacher did not obtain permission from the student or parents to massage students and some students were uncomfortable with the massaging.
The committee rejected the teacher’s position that his massaging was a matter of student safety, to protect them from poor posture or diminished concentration resulting in reduced learning. The committee noted that in the Alberta classroom context, matters of safety are generally confined to those that pose an immediate and significant threat to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of students.
The hearing committee ordered a letter of severe reprimand and noted that the teacher was in a position of authority and that his misuse of this authority showed a deliberate disregard for the circumstances of his students.
“The profession expects teachers to be considerate of students’ circumstances at all times. The public and the profession expects that teachers will maintain physical boundaries that are appropriate to the teacher/student relationship,” the letter stated.
In consideration of penalty, the committee heard that the teacher had faced substantial loss of reputation and employment as a direct result of these matters.
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