Over the weekend a teacher friend of mine was telling me a story about a student who tried to hide a cell phone from her. Because the phone fell out of his pocket in the midst of her confrontation she won that battle, but other teachers have lost this battle and others like it. As she described her situation I immediately wondered why she didn’t just pat search her student, and almost as quickly I marveled at my paradigm shift. Teachers can’t search students! When did my thinking change?
Eighteen months ago, when I learned that I would be responsible for searching prisoners for all kinds of safety reasons, I trembled at the thought of touching my students. I was really nervous at the thought of touching violent criminals, some of whom would get a thrill out of it. Months passed before some metal went missing in the housing unit. Instead of shutting down the facility, the teachers lined up outside of the school and searched every student before he entered the building. Suddenly I forgot everything from the Training Academy, but it came back.
“Do you have anything on you or in your pockets that I should be aware of?”
Pray that there are no needles or anything else that will hurt you.
“Remove your jacket.” Search the jacket while he stands with his back toward you. Respectfully set the jacket aside.
To my left I saw a co-worker check a shirt collar. I ran my fingers along the collar, swept my hands over a torso and down two arms. You wouldn’t believe what these guys can hide under their loose shirts.
I looked to my right. Did I really have to do this? As a team we were clearly sloppy about checking a certain area, and I was OK with that. Quickly, but firmly, I checked two legs and socks. Finally, I returned jacket, folder, and pocket contents to a student. My student wandered up, looked at me, and moved over to the principal. To my surprise, my students avoided me with an air of propriety, so I practiced my pat searches on strangers, learning that I can do this efficiently and professionally. This experience calmed my concerns. I no longer dread pat downs–in fact, I now see them as a tool–but I also hate them. They taint the student-teacher relationship.
Then again, many aspects of my job distort that relationship. I’m kidding myself if I ever think there’s anything normal about what I do where I do.