Thou revealest too much!

Our church group teaches the facts of life to 13-year-olds. One of us goes way over the line.


Cary Tennis
April 26, 2006 2:00PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I teach a comprehensive, nothing-left-out sexual education class to teenagers, offered through our church. (OK, we're not exactly Southern Baptists). I do so in conjunction with four other adults, all of us playing the role of co-teacher.

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I have had several problems with one of the teachers who has real problems with personal boundaries, and I want to ask you for help in figuring out how to handle it. She often leads the class into discussions that are entirely about her and seem to make the students uncomfortable, or at least fail to teach them anything they need to know. Some examples:

She has described sexual fantasies she had recurrently as a teenager (in great detail), and talked about the first time she had sex in great detail, including how her boyfriend didn't use the condom correctly. She talked about seeing one of the male students outside of class with a group of people, and embarrassing him by saying that the people she was with were joking around and asking her if she was trying to get his phone number. (These kids are 13. She's in her 30s.)

Not only does she focus on her own sex life in exhibitionist ways, she also ignores the students' real concerns. The class has a question box, where each student writes any question he or she might have on a card and puts it in the box anonymously, and each week we answer questions. No less than three times she has forgotten to answer the questions the next week, which really breaks the covenant we have with these kids.

I have approached one of the other teachers, the only one I feel very close to, and shared my concerns about her, and he admitted he shares them. I am not sure what to do from here.

I feel like her narcissistic self-centered behavior and her constantly treating the students like she's their friend instead of an adult is jeopardizing the rest of the class dynamic.

There is a committee that exists to administer this sex education program. I have considered going to the committee with my concerns, or talking with the other teachers. Should I talk to her directly about her boundary issues? Should I talk to the other teachers and only then talk to the committee? Should I talk to the committee? Or am I just being insane and this is all perfectly normal behavior?

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What to Do?

Dear What to Do,

I like the idea of talking to the other teachers first and then going to the committee. That will give you an opportunity to clarify your expectations and how she is failing to meet them. It would be useful, I would think, to reach consensus on where the line is drawn. The behaviors you cite strike me as out of line, but teachers may differ about where exactly that line is drawn in general. You might therefore want to discuss just what is sensible use of personal experience and anecdote in teaching, and how you distinguish that from narcissism, exhibitionism, sexual exploitation and the like.

It may be that in discussing this you find some disagreement among the teachers about whether the use of any personal experience in a sex education class is appropriate. This would be good to explore in advance, before going to the committee. If most of you want to continue to be able to draw on your own personal experiences in your teaching, you might want to have a strong rationale for doing so ready to present to the committee. Because the simple answer might be to simply avoid all personal experience in teaching about sex. Some might find that the most sensible thing to do.

I'm just trying to think ahead about what possible reactions you might get from the committee.

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Some committee members might overreact and want to shut down the program altogether. If other teachers fear that possibility, you may face a difficult choice. It might seem safer to try to curtail this teacher's inappropriate behavior on your own.

But you take a risk if you do this. What if news of her behavior reaches parents and parents contact the committee before you do? If you knew about this teacher's behavior and did not report it to the committee, you may appear to have been negligent -- if not in a legal sense, at least in a common-sense sense.

So if the other teachers strongly do not want to take the issue to the committee, for fear the committee would shut down the program, the option would then be for your group to meet with this teacher and tell her to cool it. If she refused, or failed to do so, then you would have no choice but to take your concerns to the committee and hope for the best.

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