John Doggett is a business school professor, management consultant and lawyer who lives in Austin, Texas. In 1998, Talkers Magazine selected John as one of the 100 Most Influential Radio Talk Show Hosts in America . In 1997, Headway Magazine selected John as one of the 20 Most Influential Black Conservatives in America. More ↓Less ↑
Who taught you how to read, write and do math? I bet it was a
teacher. Who taught you about science, history and music? Sounds like
the work of a teacher to me, but you know, a very strange thing is
happening in America. Instead of appreciating and supporting the men
and women who train our children, we are allowing irresponsible children
and parents to attack them.
On Tuesday, USA Today published a very disturbing story by reporter
Scott Bowles about the explosion of false misconduct reports against
teachers. Let me share part of this story with you.
In Chicago, a 9-year-old elementary school girl pays fellow students
$1 bribes to accuse a substitute teacher of sexual abuse.
In Florida, a social studies teacher is accused by a high school boy
of molesting him during a field trip. The teacher is suspended from his
job without pay for the duration of an 11-month investigation.
And in Maryland, seven sixth-graders tell police that a gym teacher
fondled girls and stared at their breasts in the school locker room.
In each incident, police say, the children made up the stories to
punish their teachers for disciplining or flunking them.
Each time, the teacher was yanked from the classroom until exonerated
Educators say these and other cases underscore a troubling trend in
“A few years ago, we got one or two calls a week from a teacher
saying a student was making a false claim against him,” says Karl Pence,
president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. “Now we get one
or two a day.”
While no agency tracks the number of abuse cases by teachers
nationwide — or the number of allegations made against them –
educators say the threat of being accused of misconduct is changing the
way schools teach.
“Beyond ruining teachers’ reputations and calling the credibility of
children into question, you have a more widespread impact,” Pence says.
“Teachers are getting more and more afraid to interact with kids. You
can’t put a hand on a student’s shoulder for fear it will be deemed
Bowles ends his story with this chilling warning of what we are doing
to our schools:
In Buffalo, a videotape called “Falsely Accused” is made available to
teachers. The presentation warns them not to be in a classroom alone
with a single student.
“It’s terrible that it’s coming to this,” says Pence, who is also an
English teacher. “But it’s scary to think you’ll wind up in court.
We’re forced to distance ourselves from our students. It’s gotten so
that you can’t pat a kid on the back anymore for a job well done.”
This is insane. When did we start losing our sense of values? If we
allow this trend to continue, who in their right mind will want to
I am a hard-core conservative, so I am not normally on the same side
as the teachers’ unions. However, on this issue, we agree. Because I
am also a university professor and the son of an elementary school
Good teachers teach their students how to think. They do this by
both challenging them and counseling them. They do this by holding all
of their students to the same standards and grading them fairly. This
means that some students will do well and others will not. The negative
and positive feedback that teachers give students is an essential part
of the development of children and young adults.
Some students have real problems accepting objective evidence they
are not doing well. Some parents refuse to accept hard evidence that
their child is not the next Einstein. So instead of giving teachers the
benefit of the doubt, we are creating an environment that punishes
teachers for giving honest feedback.
A few decades ago, a teacher could console a student who burst into
tears because of a bad day or a hormone attack. Now, if a teacher hugs
a student, they can accuse her or him of sexual abuse. A few decades
ago, the greatest gift a teacher could give a struggling student was to
stay after school and tutor them alone. Now, teachers are afraid to be
alone in a classroom with a single student. This is insane.
When I had my talk radio show, I interviewed the director of a
conservative teacher’s association. She told me that the No. 1 reason
teachers join teacher’s unions is for the legal liability insurance.
Did you know that? Each teacher’s union gives their teachers a $1
million legal liability insurance policy when they join. This is to
protect them against law suits from parents who are upset that Johnny or
Jill got a bad grade or from false charges of sexual abuse. It is
insane that you now need legal liability insurance to teach elementary
In Japan, they pay teachers a 10 percent premium over other
government employees in the same job rank. In the United States, people
who throw bags of mail onto the back of mail trucks make more than many
of our elementary school teachers. This is insane.
My friends, it is one thing to abhor the federal government’s
increasing intrusion into our local schools. It is one thing to oppose
“government schools.” It is another thing, however, to support the
growing war on teachers. Let me share with you one last horror story.
Michael Gallagher learned the hard way. The former first-grade
teacher in Abington, Pa., was forced to take early retirement in 1998
after a former student alleged he raped her on his classroom desk in
1985, when she was 10-years-old.
Gallagher, 61, says he was stunned by the presumption of guilt by
police and the school administration. After charges were filed,
Gallagher was arrested and suspended from school without pay.
“The whole time, police kept telling me it would be OK if I
confessed,” Gallagher recalls. “Once you’re accused of something like
that, everyone assumes you did it.”
The case was dropped a month before trial when the accuser gave
conflicting reports to prosecutors and failed a polygraph test.
Gallagher said it was impossible to return to the job he held for the
past 25 years. “Your reputation is all you have as a teacher,” he
says. “It would have been too hard to go back and face people who still
might be suspicious. Or talk to the administrators who assumed I was
guilty and suspended me.”
For teachers, “being accused does 80 percent of the damage,” says
Paul Kemp, the attorney for Maryland gym teacher Ronald Heller. “It’s
almost impossible to fully restore your reputation.”
Let me be clear: Some people who call themselves teachers are sick
and do abuse children. Not every child who makes a charge is lying. So
we have to create an environment where it is safe for children who have
suffered abuse to speak out and be heard. However, we cannot destroy
the profession of teaching and the lives of decent men and women in the
process. We must have balance.
It is time for all of us to remember who taught us to read this
column. It is time for us to restore respect to the noble profession of
teaching other people’s children. It is time for us to understand that
when in doubt, we must give adult teachers the benefit of the doubt. At
the minimum, let us at least guarantee their constitutional right of the
presumption of innocence.
If we allow this insane war on teachers to continue to escalate, no
sane person will want to become a teacher.