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Too cool for school? Teachers need to know where to draw the line Add to ...

Winnipeg high-school teacher Chrystie Fitchner appears to be accumulating points for "easiness" from students on the website RateMyTeachers.com. But it's not her grading style that has set them abuzz.

Students are alternately cheering and jeering over her part in a graphic lap dance that was performed with another teacher at Churchill High School during a pep rally last week and has since turned into a YouTube sensation.

"She's a good butt slapper," one rater wrote, giving Ms. Fitchner top marks.

"Save the lap dances for the bedroom," wrote another.

Most educators agree that Ms. Fitchner and her dance partner overstepped the boundaries of professionalism. But some are sympathetic, saying the pressure to look cool in front of students can cloud the judgment of younger teachers.

"There's a fine line between being friends and being friendly [with students] and it's so easy to cross that line," said Heather, a Vancouver school and student support worker. She acknowledges doing so on occasion herself.

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Heather, who did not want to give her full name, said students have come to her to discuss their sex lives. She has even counselled them on where to go for birth control, going beyond the parameters of her job.

In being concerned for the well-being of students, "you can get too involved in things not to do with school," she said.

Heather added that some teachers also feel a need to dress in ways that are not entirely appropriate, arriving at school in Lululemon sweatpants or the latest trendy hoodies in an attempt to impress their students. Others have been known to add students as friends on Facebook.

"Kids are so judgmental ... so I think some teachers go out of their way to be their friend," she said.

Robert Bisson, co-ordinator of member services at the Alberta Teachers' Association, said it is only natural for teachers to want to be liked by their students, which is why his organization sets out clear expectations of conduct for those entering the profession.

"Sometimes it can be [difficult]in terms of trying to relate to students at their level, to build a relationship," he said. "Yet you have to recognize that you're not building a relationship on the level of a student by acting like a student."

Mr. Bisson said that while bad behaviour isn't exclusive to younger teachers, they may be more likely to feel compelled to appear "with it" in front of students, especially at the high-school level. "The generational gap is not as significant, so it may be more difficult for them to see the difference," he said. "Plus, it's a new role for them, whereas experienced teachers have grown into that role and realized the limitations that are there."

The pressure to fit in is constant for teachers, he explained, especially as students are always trying to push boundaries. "Comments in class, joking with students, all of that is part of building rapport. The issue then becomes what's the issue of the jokes? What's the nature of the conversations? ... And that's where [teachers]need to know where to draw the line."

Philip Carter, manager of communications for the Ontario College of Teachers, said he has encountered only a "tiny minority" of teachers who have crossed professional boundaries. Building relationships with students "requires a constant application of good judgment," he said. "Teachers are expected to be professional. They are the adults."

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