Advice from Amy: Former Teacher Goes Too Far
He's not her teacher anymore, but the boundaries still matter
Dear Amy: I am a woman in my 30s. Recently I received a Facebook message from my eighth-grade teacher, “Mr. K,” wanting to say hello and reconnect.
He even mentioned meeting up to give me one of my papers that he still has. When I was in his class, I really liked him — he was fun, smart and made school interesting. All the kids liked him.
As an adult, however, I look back on that year and feel unsettled and squeamish; Mr. K would often comment on my looks and how he liked my hair styled best. He would drop by my house unannounced to bring me books, and once on a school-related outing, he drove me and a few other students to his home (he lived alone) to give us a tour of the house.
Nothing completely inappropriate occurred, but looking back I see that none of it was entirely appropriate, either.
My question is: Do I just ignore this message? Do I respond and let him know that in hindsight he comes across like a bit of a creep?
Am I overreacting? He is no longer teaching, but apparently he volunteers at schools (when they are open).
— Conflicted in OR
Dear Conflicted: You say that nothing “completely inappropriate” occurred back when you were in eighth grade, but everything you report about this teacher’s conduct is completely inappropriate.
I think many of us can look back and realize in hindsight that an adult in our life pushed the creep meter to 11, and often it was an adult who was nice, friendly and popular with kids.
But people who really love and understand children respect their emotional and physical vulnerability — and behave accordingly.
All of these events happened over 20 years ago, but the standards for teacher conduct were not radically different then than they are now.
The only difference is that you were an adolescent then. You were still sorting out the difference between positive attention from a skilled and wonderful teacher, and an adult in a position of power who wasn’t respecting the necessary boundary between him and his students.
No teacher should ever take children to his house, ever — for any reason.
No teacher should drive students in his private car. In fact, no teacher should drop by a student’s house, unannounced and uninvited. No teacher should single out a student to remark on how pretty she is, or how he likes her hair.
I assume that some of this teacher’s actions were firing offenses, even 20 years ago.
And — why has this man kept a paper of yours for over 20 years? That paper belongs to you.
Yes, I think you should respond to him, saying a version of: “Thank you for being such a good teacher. However, as an adult I realize that your conduct toward me and some other students was extremely inappropriate. I am not comfortable being in touch with you.” And then — do not respond to any further contact from him.
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068
© 2021 by Amy Dickinson