Don’t touch the children

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.

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3 Comments on “Don’t touch the children”

  1. jennifer stephenson says:

    Definitely don;t work in special education then where physical prompting is a research-based strategy!

  2. I agree with the need to act quickly in situations that can cause harm. I’ve restrained children. I have separated them during fights. I have never received any complaints because I believe my actions were minimal but necessary. In terms of managing behaviour, I think teachers have to be careful. Most kids I know would find the “touch on the shoulder” a little creepy! I think as a teacher of a new class, it’s an absolute no. But I think as well it comes down to getting to know the students and how they respond to things. The other major factor is that we are all human beings and sometimes there is a need to drop the professional distance and comfort a student. I recall a year 9 student break down on me when he was approaching the first Christmas only weeks after losing his mum. What words could I give him to make this better? Nothing… which is why I just hugged him whIle he cried. Sometime we need to make the judgement when the rulebook or policy document goes out of the window.


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