Allegations of amorous relationships between students and teachers are one of the complex and controversial issues in the modern civilized societies. It is even more complex and controversial to us because issues of sexual engagement by nature, and in an African perspective are secretive. In this era of human rights and civilization, they become more challenging to precisely address them. It is also true that sexual desires and attraction between two people of the opposite sex are normal and God ordained. Despite their complexities, sexual relationships between teachers and students remain a bizarre and emotional shock to many. To avoid hurting human rights activists, lawyers, psychologists, cultural and religious activists and other professionals concerned with human behaviour and rights, I will confine my argument to professional standards and ethics of educators.
In recent years the media has been awash with allegations and reports of teachers having sexual relationships with students. I am not sure if this is because of increased awareness of the problem or because the problem is becoming more common in our schools. There are many cases that were reported in the media, but the prominent ones are the Maun Senior Secondary School of 2012, in which some students allegedly burnt the school in protest against student-teacher love affairs, (Mmegi, 15 October 2012), Ledumang Senior Secondary School of 2013, where the School Head and a Biology Senior Teacher were suspended (Sunday standard, 21 March 2013) and the highly publicized Shakawe Senior Secondary School scandal of 2013. The latter came to pass as one of the highly politicized student-teacher sexual relationships cases in the history of our country and attracted more coverage from both government and private media houses. Pre-judgments and conclusions were made on the fate of the alleged teachers long before the commencement of disciplinary hearings.
The fact that amorous relationships are secretive and private affairs is even more difficult to affirm or deny their occurrences. It might be argued also that sexual abusers use various and high level strategies to trap students. There is also an argument that female students fantasize about having a sexual relationship with their male teachers to the extent of lying or faking relationships with them. Untruthfulness and high level of students indiscipline in our schools also make amorous relations between teachers and students difficult to prove or deny. These allegations true or not have a negative bearing on teaching as a profession and dent the professional integrity of educators.
My warning to our female students is, in teacher-student sexual relationships there is no commitment and mutual respect let alone love, but USE- using the student for the teacher’s self gratification. Even if it is consensual student-teacher, sexual relationships have negative and long lasting implications on students’ developmental, emotional and academic needs. To my fellow colleagues and professionals, all human beings have powerful sexual drives that if allowed to prevail between us and our clients (students) with less regard to ethical conduct, our schools will turn into brothels and “sex parks.” Once this arises, there will be no mutual respect between us, students, and the community. Mutual respect is much needed for quality teaching and learning. The end result of such is lawlessness, poor academic performance and destruction of our moral standards or integrity as professionals.
BOSETU and other educators’ unions therefore have a responsibility to ensure members adhere to the highest standards of professionalism in the discharge of their duties. For educators’ unions to remain relevant and uphold their integrity, it is important for union members in their day to day social interactions with students to behave professionally. That will also help in building mutual trust and respect between unions, students and the general community.
Hence the BOSETU’s belief that amorous relationships between members and students for whom they have current and direct academic or other responsibilities compromise the integrity of the Union and members, and thus constitute unprofessional conduct. Such relationships are therefore shunned and discouraged in the strongest terms possible. BOSETU members therefore should know that, even an apparently consensual amorous relationship breaches professional standards and BOSETU code of ethics, when the member involved with a student has professional responsibilities toward that student. Here we are not talking of rape or defilement, but breach of professional and ethical standards.
In our culture today, the prevailing mindset is increasingly to mock and demonize those alleged to have had an amorous relationship with students. The mere mention of a teacher’s name is enough to prove him guilty that we do not even care about the source and authenticity of the allegation. Funny enough we all fall prey to these prejudicial actions, starting from fellow educators, union members, members of the community up to the political leadership. In one of the disciplinary hearings I attended representing a colleague, a complainant asked me why I was representing such a disgraceful character and whether I would do the same if it was own daughter molested by this teacher? Were you going to represent this teacher? Those of course are tough questions to answer with a “yes” or “no”. Instead I asked her a similar question, imagine if the accused was your own son or brother, were you going to complain and make a dismissal charge against him? What if the guy is framed or wrongly accused?
I think we can all agree to the complexity and ugliness of the student-teacher sexual relationship. All complex issues need sober and rational minds. There is a compelling need to inform ourselves before passing judgment on such matters. I borrow from the Dalai Lama philosophy which teaches us that we must not hate those who do wrong or harmful things; but with compassion, we must do what we can to stop them for they are harming themselves, as well as those who suffer from their actions.