I was a teacher in Ventura County from 2003-2006 and 2011-2016. Being a teacher is sold to young adults in many ways. There’s the idea of making a difference in the lives of students. Sometimes the promise of summers off and holiday pay play a role in selling the idea of teaching as a profession. Many times, people go in with the intention of doing good for the community and even add onto their plate the extra hours of overseeing clubs, coaching sports and helping produce class plays and musicals. Most go into teaching to be a positive influence. The saddest days are when we find out the people we trusted with our children abuse that power. While most teachers do not violate that trust, there are too many that do. The question becomes, why does this happen, and how can we prevent it?
In the opening days of May alone, one wrestling coach from the San Fernando Valley was convicted of 47 counts of child abuse; a Simi Valley resident and Birmingham Charter School teacher was accused of inappropriate relations with students; and now in Santa Paula, a local teacher has been arrested for having a sexual relationship with an underage student. So far, the teacher in question has been kept anonymous.
“At this point, we just can’t compromise or jeopardize the investigation,” said Ikani Taumoepeau, Santa Paula assistant city manager. Taumoepeau also gets to speak on behalf of the police department.
The school made their own statement: “We were shocked and disappointed when we were informed late today that a teacher at Santa Paula High School had been arrested off campus for sexual misconduct with a student [. . .] The Santa Paula Police Department has informed us that at this time, early in the investigation, they do not have any information that the alleged incidents have occurred on the Santa Paula High School campus [. . .] Student safety is our highest priority and any misconduct goes against our core values.”
As I write this, I know that parents are worried about the possibility that their children will be the next victims. As a former teacher, the best advice I can give is make sure parents sit down with their children, especially teenagers, and explain that the best way to stay safe is to never be alone with a teacher after school or after class. Students should bring a friend to address issues with teachers, if only to protect them and the teacher from making accusations or allowing inappropriate behavior. Do not let students exchange cell phone information with teachers. Keep social media accounts unfriended and private. While coaches and other extracurricular teachers may need to get in contact with athletes, actors in the school play and mock trial participants, having them reach a parent or older sibling would be safest. Even texting apps can be used inappropriately.
We live in a new era. An era where those who are hired to protect are now the perpetrators. Even female teachers have become culprits, going after young men. Many of these teachers are married, with children, and are well liked among staff and students alike. Do not think that the only teachers capable of lude acts are single men with a “creepy” face.
Sadly, writing this article hurts because I know so many wonderful teachers, but I’ve also known the ones who were found guilty or fired for stepping over the line. One of the reasons is because of technology, no doubt, but another reason is because so much emphasis on grades and extracurricular activities has plagued our schools. By forcing students to build a college application worth reading, relationships build faster between adults and students, as they spend hours upon hours with each other, causing lines to be blurred, and the mentor power relationship creates confusion in students. How could this person who has helped me be hurting me?
No one is saying to stop the sports or school plays or extra tutoring time, but parents must take precautions now more than ever. There are bad teachers. We know this. So, let us build the walls ourselves before others have to build them for us.