The teacher and her oh-too-close relationship with a minor

I first learned of Empire High School English teacher Christine Elliot this morning at the gym, sweating away on the cross-trainer and reading the closed-captioned news story on the silent TV. Then I heard more details in the dentist’s chair an hour later and read even more a bit ago over on Ryn Gargulinski’s Dating Game blog.

Each time, I’ve thought one thing: Maybe there needs to be an age-restriction on teachers in middle and high schools. (My second thought was: Way to go parent for checking the text messages of your kid’s phone! And as a parent of a 25-year-old, my third thought was, “Her parents must be going through hell.”)

My age-restriction thought comes from reading recent research about the frontal lobe, the little part of the brain Frontal300x300that controls “executive function” i.e. decision making and impulse control. Some research shows that that part of the brain is not fully developed until 26. Other research says it fully develops “sometime between 18 and 26”, and some says “mid-20s”, which of course, is smack dab where Elliot, 25, is at.

There are, of course, cases like Mary Kay Letourneau and Mary Gowans, showing that criminality and/or stupidity do not necessarily know an age limit. But there does seem to be an upswing of late with 20-somethings crossing the line with their high school (or, yuck, middle school) charges and maybe – just maybe – the not-fully-developed frontal lobe has something to do with it.

During one of my observations in my teacher certification classes, I spoke with a 40-something teacher who said she felt something was “really wrong” with the most recent crop of younger teachers because they seemed unable to separate themselves from their students. There was too much overlap socially, not enough space professionally. She wasn’t sure what caused it or why it was happening, but the sign that things were bad was school administrators giving new-teacher-orientation sessions devoted to “appropriate teacher-student relationships.” Those sessions were unheard of two decades ago, and now they are standard fare.

The biologic development of the frontal lobe surely didn’t slow down in the past two decades, but maybe the social construct has been so rearranged and rules so relaxed that the frontal lobe immaturity shows up more. Any ideas?


17 thoughts on “The teacher and her oh-too-close relationship with a minor

  1. Tough problem Renee.  How about mandating all new teachers out  of the university to begin their teaching career with kindergarten and first graders?  After a year or two at that grade level permit them to move up to K-2 to K-6 for a few years.  By the time they are twenty nine or thirty they should be mentally ready to be set free in a middle school or high school environment.  Don’t know if that’s workable, but that’s my 2 cents worth.

  2. I was sort of thinking along the same lines. I mean, I’ve got kids ages 21 to 27 and all of them would think this is gross (they thought it a few years ago when it happened at Salpointe). But knowing what I now know about teacher responsibilities and all you’ve got going on in a high school classroom – you need a lot of “withitness” going on, and I’m not sure most 22-25 year olds have that. Perhaps they wouldn’t even notice if there was a student who was crossing the line… before it was too late. Really sad.

  3. That’s just silly.  There are literally thousands of teachers in their early 20s who do NOT engage in this behavior.  That stat tends to get overshadowed when you hear about these cases.  Don’t penalize or judge all the responsible educators because of specific instances that happen.   Why not ban men under 25 (all of them, not just teachers) from dating, since there are so many rape cases at universities?

    1. In the absence of some type of structure built into the educational system that would allow for the maturation process to complete(We restrict the population from alcohol consumption until they achieve an age we feel they are mature enough to be drinking, we also constitutionally restrict the minimum age of the U.S. president.),  the courts should be handing down maximum sentences for these crimes.  Apparently some teachers aren’t getting it.  Twenty years in the slammer should send a pretty clear message.

      1. So Lefty, what would you suggest as appropriate  punishment for a teacher that had seduced one of your children(assuming you have any)?

      2. Well, if this were to happen to my child I would be very angry, of course.  So angry, in fact, I might even suggest that the perpetrator  pay the ultimate penalty-reading all of your comments.

        Surely you know that, as a commie, I am in favor of all manner of depraved sexual behaviors, but only after drugs have been consumed and the American flag burned. 

  4. It’s a matter of self control on the part of the adult teacher and realizing the consequences of crossing the sexual line with an under age 18 student (statutory rape in most jurisdictions).  Most of us must have had young, attractive teachers fresh out of college while we were high school students, but they knew better than to cross that line.   And we knew what was acceptable in our society as well.  Has that really changed?

    1. I spoke to an educator today, Carolyn, who said this is “attractive woman syndrome” and that it is covered inthe media b/c it is a young, attractive woman … but that it happens more than we know. I hope he’s wrong. But, in answer to your question, there does seem to be a change in what people find acceptable.

  5. The understanding that a students brain is not fully formed is forefront in my mind and attitude while teaching. I recently subbed for a second grade class and the teacher I subbed for was an amazingly attractive young woman who had been teaching for only a few short years direct from college. So she was maybe 26 or 27. I was taken by her at the age of 49 and had to keep my eyes concentrated on the whiteboard so as not to appear to be the drooling teenager I was feeling like inside. If this young woman had taught middle school boys or High School, I think it would have been very tough for her. I have seen soem pretty horrible behavior from high schoolers towards attractive teachers and actually ended up charging a couple of young men for their beahvior.

    That said, I think it is time that we re-evaluate the forced political correctness of who teaches where and who learns where. I think we should start seperating boys and girls at sixth grade. Not seperating them from the schools as in seperate buildings but at least seperate classes. Girls learn science and math better and boys learn language and reading skills better when they are seperated from that age on at least till age 16.
    Just my thoughts.

    1. I agree with this idea there is to much distraction at the middle school level due to growth. The students flirt day in day out with one another and poor subs, I have seen some cry and yell for help. Some parents also need to get involved, and they should tell their kids that adults need their respect. We need to go to the good old fashion style of educating our children. A good swat here and their would do wonders!

      1. I have taken over many classrooms where the sub left in tears or frustration with student behavior. I walked out of a High School once to never look back due to the behavior of a vice-principalwho would not follow the basic laws of education in Arizona. That same person is now no longer an educator in Arizona. Can you guess the reason why? Let’s just say that person allegedly has done the same thing that the Empire High School teacher has done.

  6. I think there is something to that idea that the undeveloped frontal lobe contributes to some of these cases of teachers having inappropriate relationships with students. But I think teachers of all ages need to be trained when it comes to appropriate teacher-student relationships and avoiding pitfalls. I’ve seen teachers of all ages succumb to various pitfalls. But I don’t know, that’s just my impression. I think the best teachers are the ones who decided to teach after doing some other career first. 😉 But, maybe that’s my bias speaking.

  7. So does the high school boy think he was “victimzed”. Someone has to say it. He knew what he was doing.

    1. Thomas: Exactly – someone has to ask: Did the boy feel “victimized.” Then again, would a teen boy KNOW he was being victimized? He’s immature, full of raging hormones and lacking in self-control. The older person needs to take responsibility… by law, under 18 you are still a child.

  8. I think they should study that part of the human body  which they can not control. You know they old saying think with your brain and not with your sex organs. Teachers should be checked out like policemen, with extensive background checks and they should step into the class with a mom and dad attitude. The hugging and kissing should be eliminated in the upper grades. The little baby kinders to third grade some times need a hug as they are more lovable with teachers. But if i see a girls coach hugging a high school student, I would be suspicous and I would ask him to stop.

    1. Al: I think you’re on the wrong track. All people – esp. teens – need appropriate physical affection. One of the arguments raised re: promiscuity, particularly among middle/high school girls is that Dad stops hugging them – stops giving them physcial affection. People need that and crave that and coaches, esp. can be life savers for troubled kids – and those pats on the back or “shoulder hugs” are really necessary.

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