I'm a teacher who went too far with a former student

I shouldn't have let it happen. Tell me I was right to break it off!

Published July 28, 2006 11:00AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a first-year high school teacher.

This is incredibly difficult to place down into words because of the shameful nature of what I have done. Following the graduation of one of my students, who is 18 years old, we began seeing each other socially. Within about a month, this led to an admission of attraction, and eventually, we acted on this attraction.

By sheer providence, he went on vacation for a couple of weeks, which gave me time to step away from the emotion and ridiculousness of this situation and glean a little perspective. He returned last night, and I adamantly ended the relationship forthwith, but it was not easy.

Now I am left with the fear that knowledge of this tryst will circulate, and if it does, I know I deserve it. I very well may lose my job. I probably deserve to lose my job.

I know that nothing like this will ever happen again; but what I am looking for, I suppose, is the reaffirmation of my decision to walk away from someone that I actually do care for.

I Can't Believe I Did This

Dear I Can't Believe,

Yes, I can reaffirm that you should walk away from this.

News of this relationship, even if technically legal, would be troubling to parents, teachers, community leaders and members of law enforcement. It is a very touchy area.

You may have done nothing wrong in a technical sense. You were no longer the young man's teacher, and he had reached the age of consent, which varies state by state in the U.S. but nowhere is older than 18.

But you sense that you have crossed some line. The line may be technically blurry but in your heart it is quite clear: To the young man, you are still his teacher, still a person in a position of trust and authority. Sex with such a person carries heavy contradictions and confusion -- not only for him but for you. That's not to say that two mature, committed people could not resolve those tensions and confusion; perhaps they could. Stranger things have happened. But to attempt to nurture this fleeting tryst into a mature relationship would be difficult, risky and probably doomed.

So I suggest that, having broken it off, you henceforth avoid all contact with the young man. Moreover, I suggest you contact a lawyer, explain what has happened and get some good advice. Someone could tell someone who could tell someone's parents and next thing you know charges, while baseless, could be filed. So get the advice of an attorney about how to respond should it come up. For instance, you and this young man might have had some perfectly innocent interactions prior to his graduation and 18th birthday that could be misconstrued if clumsily expressed; you would want to think carefully about what to say in that regard.

Having said all that, I would also like to say that while child sexual abuse is an abominable crime, there also seems to be a certain tabloid hysteria in this country about teachers, students and sex that neither protects children nor helps them grow into responsible, caring, thinking adults.

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