So you want to be a teacher? Here’s rule number one: don’t touch the children.
It’s a rule and not a law because there are exceptions. I’ve not taught the cello or golf but I have broken up a few fights in my time. It’s a split second decision: does the imminent danger to these children justify the risk to myself and the risk of me messing up or making things worse?
With a clear conscience, I believe I have always acted well. Nobody has ever raised a complaint. But what if they did? By using physical contact I have crossed a line. We are now in the realm of policies and guidelines. Have I followed them? Will a court agree that I have followed them? Even if I have followed them will the court agree with the policies and guidelines?
I’d rather not go there. No teacher wants to go there and it is a plain fact that you are not going to go there if you simply avoid touching children.
It therefore beggars belief that the Times Educational Supplement – an education newspaper in Britain – would advise teachers to touch children in order to manage low level behaviour problems. Yet, according to a screen-grab tweeted by one of the editors, this is what their behaviour expert suggests we do:
“Circulate the room, using your presence to minimise the chance of disruption occurring. And if it does arise, then a simple hand on the culprit’s shoulder will often put an end to it.”
I am not arguing for no-touch policies. As I have already mentioned, I am aware that there are situations when contact is necessary.
But to manage low-level behaviour? How do we know how the child will react? As a child, I would have hated someone placing a hand on my shoulder. A child who is already off-track may explode. It might be the case that individual teachers know their students and can make the right call. But that’s still a risk and I would advise any professional to think very carefully first.
The nightmare scenario plays out in a courtroom set-up to establish the truth of whether it was a gentle touch or a hard, punitive push.
My advice: don’t touch the children.