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Teachers' 'Lap Dance' Raises Questions About Appropriate Behaviour
The videotaped "lap dance" between two teachers at Winnipeg's Churchill High School has parents and students across the country weighing in on what is appropriate behaviour for teachers.
The two teachers performed a dance at a school spirit rally. The female teacher sat in a chair, laughing and cheering, while a male teacher danced in front of her, bumping-and-grinding in time to the music, at one point bending down towards her lap and simulating oral sex. The incident was caught on video by two different students and the footage has made the rounds on YouTube.
The Globe and Mail reports that the teachers have since been suspended without pay. Since the sensational story broke, it has turned up in blogs and newspapers all over the world. In media reports of the incident, interviewed parents and students from the school have come down on both sides of the argument: Some say the teachers should be fired outright, while others say the situation has been exaggerated and that the teachers should be allowed to return to the school.
The incident has also raised questions about whether, in a quest to connect with students and be considered "cool", teachers might be crossing the line into inappropriate behaviour. Dance moves like the ones in question can be found in dozens of popular music videos, and even on popular TV programs like "So You Think You Can Dance" or "America's Best Dance Crew." But even if the dancing was acceptable in broad cultural terms, was it appropriate for teachers to be acting in this manner?
Jane Gaskell, Dean of the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute of Studies In Education, won't comment directly on the incident, but says that professional behaviour is important for teachers, and not just when they are in the classroom.
"I think that a teacher is in a position of modelling behaviour," she says. "Teaching has always been about more than imparting skills in a classroom. It's been about citizenship development, and that means that there are expectations around interactions with young people that are part of the job."
Gaskell says that in order to become role models for their students, teachers must first earn students' respect.
"That's not an easy thing to do, especially when you have a lot of cultural differences between the students and the teachers who don't understand each other," she says. "The generation gap has always been an issue in schools."
Since the flappers cut their hair and went jazz-dancing in the 20s, and hippies "tuned in and turned on" in the 60s, teachers have always had to deal with changing social norms and attitudes towards sexuality. And they've had to make decisions about what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to interacting with students.
But can teachers be "buddies" with students, and still remain authority figures?
"I think you're both," says Gaskell." It's like being a parent -- You're a friend to your child hopefully, but there's power relationships that have to be respected and understood. I don't think it's an either/or situation. As a teacher, you have a personal relationship and you have a position of authority and trust, they are both there all the time."
Though Gaskell acknowledges that although this balancing act can be challenging, she says it is essential in order for teachers to maintain the respect of their charges.
"Part of what it means to be a teacher is to get respect that's not just based on your position," she says. "Kids will look up to who you are as a person, your values and your ways of negotiating the world."