Tue, Feb 10, 2009
Crossing the line between teacher and student

Is the line between teachers and students getting blurred?

A 32-year-old ex-teacher pleaded guilty in court yesterday to having sex with an underaged boy.

In the first case of its kind here, the married woman and mother of two young children admitted to having sex with the 15-year-old six times in a span of two months.

About the case:

The court heard that the woman had struck up a friendship with the boy, then 14 and in Primary 6, while on an overseas school trip together.

They continued texting each other after their return, and their friendship deepened. They met often to go out together, and she even acknowledged him as her 'godson'.

Their relationship took a more amorous and illicit turn after he left the school to go to Secondary 1.

He confessed that he had fallen for her, and she agreed to be his girlfriend. The pair first had sex at a Pasir Ris chalet on Mar 10 last year. They had sex five more times thereafter at chalets, and twice at her marital home.

When she felt the boy had become 'overly possessive and temperamental', she tried to end the affair. However, he refused and threatened her and her family with violence.

Ridden with guilt and afraid of the consequences, she confided in a school counsellor and lodged a police report on her own the next day. That was when the affair was found out.

Her sentence will be passed on Feb 23.

In a previous case where a male teacher was charged in court for molesting male students in school, High Court judge VK Rajah commented: "A teacher is a role model, and should be aware of his conduct and how he manages his relationships with students. He should not overstep boundaries and intrude upon the student's private space, causing unnecessary misunderstandings."

Should relationships between teachers and students be kept strictly within the classroom and should teacher-student friendships be frowned upon?

Lianhe Wanbao gets the opinion of educators, parents and students:

What do teachers say?

Huang Yan Ling, 27, a secondary school chemistry teacher, believes that friendships formed between teachers and students can help to deepen the trust between both parties.

She reveals: "(As friends,) students are more willing to open up to me about problems, and they still respect me."

She exchanges mobile phone numbers with her students, and chats with them on MSN. "A few parents have told me that they know their children trust me, and they hope I can teach them well," she says.

Liu Shao Jun, 26, a JC biology teacher, feels there should still be a distance or barrier between teachers and students, so that students will still maintain a certain respect for them. Being too close "may affect the students' learning, and may also lead to unnecessary misunderstandings".

What do students say?

Says Wang Mei Jing, 17, a polytechnic student: "If teachers are willing to be friends with us, it makes us happy. I will also trust the teacher more, and am more likely to seek the teacher's on problems that I have outside of school."

"Personally, I will interact with the teacher through MSN or through blogs. This way, I can also get to know him or her better," she says.

Lu Shi Yun, 17, another poly student, has other ideas. She says: "I think only the younger teachers will interact more with us students. When we have any problems with schoolwork, it is also easier to turn to them for help. Occasionally, I would text my teachers on their mobiles to ask about school work."

"Even then, I still view them as teachers. It is difficult for me to treat them as friends, so outside of school work, I don't talk to my teachers often."

What does the principal say?

A principal from a school located in the west says: "I make it clear to the teachers that they should maintain a professional relationship with their students, because at school, the teachers assume the role of parents to the students. They cannot be friends. Therefore, I do not support teachers and students conducting personal activities together outside of school as misunderstandings may occur.

A parent's opinion

Mrs Zhou, 44, whose son is in secondary school, says : "I will approve of my son and his teacher having a friendship, because this will take some pressure off him. If he faces any problems with school work, he will be less afraid of clarifying them with the teacher," she says.

As to what extent the friendship should develop, Mrs Zhou is not so sure: "It depends. If the teacher wants to bring the student out after school, I am fine with it. But I will need to know which teacher it is, and where they are going."

MOE says

According to a statement from the Ministry of Education (MOE), teachers play many different roles in a student's life. "They may be a teacher or counsellor. However, it is important that they keep the relationship professional. When teachers undergo training, they are taught how to manage their relationships with their students. If there are any problems between teachers and students, it is the school's responsibility to investigate the matter."


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Crossing the line between teacher and student