Sunday, August 29, 2010

The ‘Pied Piper’

Guest Post by Paul Shaviv

There are certain teachers that are very popular and have what might be called Charisma. They can be great role models and motivators. But not all charismatic teachers are that way. They are what we might call the pied piper. And they are actually quite destructive. These pied pipers tend to be somewhat anti establishment a characteristic that is very appealing to adolescents who are trying to assert themselves through their own developing personalities.

These teachers tend to break boundaries and in doing so become very attractive to their students – especially if their home situations are less than ideal. The pied piper becomes substitute a father figure and certain adolescents willfully follow them in an almost abnormal way. Often, very often, these pied pipers turn out to have a sexually abusive dimension.

Paul Shaviv is the award winning Director of Education at TanenbaumCHAT - the Community High School of the Greater Toronto Jewish community. He has submitted the following extract from his excellent book: 'THE JEWISH HIGH SCHOOL: A complete management guide' wherein he deals with this issue.

The ‘Pied-Piper’ is one of the most difficult situations for a Principal to deal with.

Many excellent and highly professional teachers have elements of charisma in their personalities. In the ‘Pied Piper’ situation a powerfully charismatic teacher has exceeded appropriate boundaries. The teacher’s personality has become the centre of the classroom rather than the course content. A ‘Pied Piper’ will deeply affect and influence some students – but will almost always leave a trail of emotional wreckage in his/her wake.

‘Pied Pipers’ - charismatic teachers who misuse their charisma - are often themselves deeply immature, but their immaturity is emotional, not intellectual, and it is not always obvious. They can be brilliant in inspiring students to go beyond their wildest expectations, and are often regarded (by their following of students, by parents, and by the Board or the community) as the ‘most important’ or ‘best’ members of staff. There is always, however, a price to be paid

One of the effects of charisma is to convince the recipient that he or she is the centre of the charismatic personality’s concern. A teenage student (or a particular class) may feel as though he, she or they is/are the protégé(s) of the charismatic teacher. The moment they realize that they are not (sometimes when the teacher ‘moves on to the next’), deep emotions come into play. Many charismatic teachers will lavish attention on a student or group of students – as long as the student(s) do things the teacher’s way, or accept every piece of advice or “philosophy” or Torah uncritically.

The moment the student shows independence or objectivity – they are dropped. As soon as they are dropped, they are written out of the teacher’s story. Deep disillusion sets in. The student(s) are devastated. Often such students, very hurt, leave the school. Whatever brand of identity and loyalty the ‘Pied Piper’ has inculcated – religion, sport, poetry, art, politics – may be abandoned overnight. The next set of ‘favorites’ takes their place.

Tears are a feature of meetings between the abandoned students, their parents, and the Administration. Mild characteristics of cult leaders may be observed.

Other parents, however, will rave about how their son/daughter “adores” Mr./Ms/ or Rabbi X, and is “learning so much from them”. Events linked to that teacher will be showcase events, and in the Principal (or Head of Department) will come to be dependent on the teacher. “We need something special for the prize-giving...or the ground-breaking … or the community event… can you put something together?”

The teacher will protest that the time is short, and it’s impossible, but will, of course, accept and do a fabulous job.

The problem is that at core, these are not educational relationships.

The emotional dependency and entanglement between teacher and student leads to boundaries being crossed. The teacher throws open his/her house to the students. Teens idolize the teacher, and dangerous fantasies begin to develop. Boundaries are crossed; the usual rules don’t apply to the Pied Piper, or, sometimes, his/her students. The ‘Pied Piper’ will solve the teen’s angst and will sympathize with their intimate family problems.

The teacher becomes party to knowledge about students and their families that reinforces the ‘Pied Piper’s” view that s/he is the only teacher who is “really” reaching the students. (Disdain for other teachers is another common symptom.)

The teacher, however, is neither a trained counselor nor a social worker. That knowledge becomes power. A ‘Pied Piper’ can end up running a ‘school within a school’.

In the classroom, the teacher will often employ techniques (and texts) which take students to the extremes of emotion or logic, and will then triumphantly show them how they, the teacher, are holding the key to resolution:

At this moment, you have agreed that life has no meaning -- but here is the answer. Part of the reason of why these teachers are difficult to deal with is that they are often blissfully unaware (perhaps deliberately unaware) of their own emotional power, and see their activities in the school as huge self-sacrifice: Look at how many extra hours I put in!

Faced with this situation, the Principal is in a quandary. Parents are telling the Board that this teacher should be promoted. Local rabbis are letting it be known that “X” is “doing wonderful work with the kids” – and in fact may even be “the only teacher in the school who’s really worth anything”. And the truth is that ‘X” is contributing a huge amount of positive things to the school.

The other teachers, in the main, cordially dislike ‘X’, for both good and bad reasons. The more emotionally stable teachers see an adult playing ‘mind games’ with the students, and feel – probably with some justification - that the influence is ‘unhealthy’. They are also angry at Administration for allowing this situation to develop. Other teachers are simply jealous of ‘X’’s influence over the students, which they cannot even dream of. Those that choose to drink coffee with ‘X’ in the staff room (although, in my experience, charismatic teachers often avoid the staff room) are also ‘groupies’ – themselves frequently the less mature teachers.

Although under pressure to turn a blind eye to what is going on – “X is doing so much good!” - the Principal must act to bring these situations under control. Make sure you have some facts to use as examples – inappropriate meetings, student distress, parental concerns, students asking to join his/her class (or drop it) – and invite the teacher to a meeting, with another Administrator present.

I need to talk to you about your relationships in the school, which is causing increasing concern. I have asked my colleague, Mr/Ms/Rabbi G to sit in on this meeting. Being a teacher can be very difficult, and part of the difficulty is drawing boundaries between intense, but professional and appropriate relationships, and relationships which go over those boundaries. I am very apprehensive that you are crossing some red lines, and for your own protection, and for the welfare of the school, we need to have a serious talk. Let me go over some examples of what I mean……

Curb any excesses that are taking place (some of which may emerge during the meeting, as the teacher, protesting, goes to great lengths to show how much he/she cares for the students and how close he/she is to them). Lay down guidelines for future conduct; and try and save for the school the best of what the teacher has to offer. The meeting will probably have to deal with:

• The teacher’s professional duties as a member of school staff

• The teacher’s relationship to students

• The teacher’s relationship to other teachers

The exact list will obviously vary according to circumstances, but may well include required undertakings from the teacher that:

• S/he will strive to act professionally and objectively, delivering the classroom curriculum with equal attention to all students, and maintaining proper professional relationships with colleagues

• Inappropriate discussions and/or introduction of inappropriate material in the classroom will cease

• Contacts with students outside the classroom on matters not connected with the curriculum, direct or indirect, will cease

• No meetings will take place with students off school premises or in any non-professional context without prior consultation and the permission of the Administration

• Students approaching the teacher for counseling or advice on personal matters will be directed to a school Guidance Counselor or other qualified professional. The teacher will not be concerned with the emotional issues of students

• The teacher will immediately disclose to the Principal any event or incident concerning a student that may be construed as being outside their professional responsibility or outside professional boundaries

A letter summarizing the meeting should be sent to the teacher, with a copy in their personal file. The charismatic teacher’s behavior may lead to situations that expose the school to legal and other action. It is the Principal’s duty to safeguard the educational and professional integrity of the school.