Letter: Ethics of teaching

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your leading article of 23 April: "Some 18-year-olds are unusually mature and some 21-year-olds can do unwise things without being bad teachers." This suggests that the professional ethics demanded of, say, doctors, need not be required of teachers. But students of all ages are vulnerable to approaches by teachers of any age because of the differences in status and power between the two roles.

Students are encouraged to see teachers as founts of knowledge and role models, and school discipline to some extent relies on this. Crushes on teachers are an established, and generally harmless, part of school and college life. A similarly established part of British sexual culture involves fancying schoolgirls and, for some, schoolboys. So for some teachers students can be seen as easy pickings for sexual adventures. As a lecturer I was consulted by a 30-year-old female student who was being subjected to advances by a tutor. She was concerned that he could arrange for her to "fail" the course if she rejected him.

I do not comprehend why you go on to describe as "a bad law" a measure which seeks to protect students from abuse, maintain professional relationships and ensure fairness for those unwilling to become a particular sort of teacher's pet.

While I would hate to imply that any of these points could possibly apply to the relationship between Chris Woodhead and Amanda Johnston, his claim that such relationships can be "educative" is the type of fantasy beloved of middle-aged men. It is probably also one of the few statements he has made which might encourage applications to the profession.


Ashburton, Devon