As a teacher, I ran the school football team in an inner-city primary for several years. I would involve parents – in the training sessions, helping out with washing the kit, running the kids to away matches – they loved it and their kids loved it too.
One evening after an away game, we’d just dropped all the kids off at their houses and one of the dad’s who’d been helping me – the father of a particularly challenging boy in my class and a man I was very keen to have involved because it clearly made a difference to his son’s motivation and behaviour – asked me would I like a cup of tea before I went home. It was a kind gesture and so I accepted.
I entered their home… was greeted by his wife… and by their slightly embarrassed but excited son… offered a seat on the sofa… chatted about the game (we’d lost)… drank a nice cup of tea…
and before I knew it, his wife had made me a sandwich and the father was taking a couple of beers from the fridge…
Now… have I crossed a boundary?
Have I now moved from a ‘professional’ to a ‘social’ context?
There’s a risk there isn’t there? A judgement to be made.
On the one hand, ‘Little Johnny’ – as nice a boy as he was – might go in to school the next day and tell all his friends in the playground: “Hey..! my teacher was drinking beer with my dad in our house last night..!” and the possible perceptions that might flow from that.
On the other, I could politely decline the offer – a gesture of hospitality genuinely intended – and risk causing awkwardness and offending parents who I really want to be involved in their boy’s schooling.
There are always risks. And there are always judgements to be made.
Where and how do you make yours? What would you do?
My judgment was this: I accepted the offer of their hospitality, which I considered to be genuinely offered, so I accepted it in that spirit. My motivation was not that I needed a beer at the end of a hard day or that I needed some new friends. My motivation was not to offend those parents but to keep them involved in the school and their son’s education – so it was done with the best of intentions. Let the “best of intentions” guide your judgments and you won’t make that many mistakes. And when you do, they’ll be defensible.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the General Teaching Council. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.
His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.