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 that 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?