By Mpho Kuhlmann
Tshepi is a student in Mr *Thebe’s History class. Mr *Thebe is everyone’s favourite teacher but he makes Tshepi very uncomfortable. He asks her to come alone to his classroom to discuss her schoolwork but when she shows up he only speaks of how pretty she is and once or twice he puts his hand on her knee. He always asks for a hug when she leaves. He tells her she must attend these afterschool sessions with him every day if she wants good grades. This scenario is believed to be a common prelude to the disturbing sexual relationship between male teachers and their female students.
President of the Botswana Teachers Union Johannes Tshekedi however presents a contrary scenario where male teachers are the prey and female teachers the predators. “There are instances where older students tend to get a little ahead of themselves and flirt with teachers but teachers should always have the upper hand in a case like that and nip it in the bud before anything goes far. We do have cases although not too many of intimate teacher and student relations and appropriate action has been taken on those cases. On most occasions, the student has reported the matter to the guidance and counselling teacher, and in other instances the parents have come forward to report the matter. It is a matter the union frowns upon as it demeans and degrades our dignity.”
Tshekedi further states that the BTU frowns upon teacher and student relations. “The Education Act, chapter 58 strongly states that any teacher and student relationship is prohibited even all the way up to university level. We in the union strongly advice teachers that their relationships with students should to be highly professional and that if found out with evidence that such a relationship ensued the teacher will be dismissed from work.”
Khumo Radira who works at Sebele Pharmacy in Gaborone presents another dimension to the teacher/ student romance quanundrum. Radira says often times the male teachers get a bad rep but female teachers are equally to blame. “There is also a double standard where public viewpoints of male teach offenders are considered disgusting and perverted whereas female educators who offend children as well get praised as hot and wild. The public sometimes believes women are less likely to act out of violence in these situations until the act is exposed and the good reputation is disposed. When it all starts out, the child usually doesn’t say anything, perhaps he’s afraid of a poor grade, he may like the extra attention or he may feel guilty and/or fearful. Secondly, parents aren’t usually immediately (if ever) alert to it, because they may brush it off with thoughts that the teacher’s extra attention is an effort to help their child. Lastly, if other kids do hear about it, they usually feel confused, concerned with who to tell and, often times, say they didn’t believe it.”
The conflicting perceptions between the general public and the teachers union on how the courtship between teachers and their students play out betrays how little Botswana understands the thorny subject.
Although teacher student romances are taboo, things can get complicated considering that over two-thirds of all high-school graduates attend college where they are taught by adults quite near to their age. Morals can get muddled when age lines blur. Teens are more susceptible to this type of violation because of puberty, psychological reasons and accessibility. They also spend a lot of time at school where a natural rapport is going to build between school teachers and themselves.Many teachers prefer to be seen as friends to their students, and not just as teachers. When they become confidants, friends or counsellors of students a somewhat dual relationship is created which creates an ambiguity in the student-teacher relationship where the roles are less defined.
This ambiguity fosters inappropriate actions and misconduct. In some cases, a new teacher may be just a few years older than the students and may mistakenly view them as peers ÔÇôbecause they may share common interests, the same music tastes and possibly an overlapping circle of friends. In addition, teachers also bring their own vulnerabilities to work. For some experiencing difficulties in their personal lives or might even be socially or emotionally immature may be susceptible to the slippery slope thus the attention, admiration and adoration bestowed by students on a teacher can be overwhelming particularly when a teacher is emotionally vulnerable.
While some shower their students with gifts, others leverage on text messaging and social media platform to get closer to their students. The spike in this trend in recent years could be because there are more opportunities for social interactions between teachers and students. Such relationships are also difficult to detect or trace ÔÇô until things go awry, or parents notice something amiss and raise the alarm. Often times, both parties know it is wrong and it is in their interest at least at first to keep it a secret. Extra praise and over the top attention might be a warning signal where a student has drawn the affections of their teacher. Some teachers’ groom their student(s) so this is their secret and it becomes a thrill or a ‘game’. They sneak around because both are aware of the consequences but do not want to jeopardize their ‘romance’. Part of that is thrilling and makes the relationship euphoric.
When the classroom crosses over to the bedroom, the people who surround teachers who become sexual predators ÔÇô other teachers, school administrators, counsellors, and police all have a duty to stop it all. Bad boundaries, harmful behaviour, unethical conduct, and illegal sex acts with minors best describes illicit teacher and student trysts. Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says the relationship between a teacher and a student should strictly be professional. “ These relationships shouldn’t happen at all because of power relations.
There will always be one with the upper hand in the relationship ÔÇô economic power hence making the power dynamics inherent. Although it does happen that kids sometimes tend to get a little funny and actually come onto their teachers, they should be treated exactly as that ÔÇô as kids. The responsibility should never be put on the younger party in this scenario.